Sometimes it seems as though there is a gap between the needs of the student body and the actions of the University administration. From the major on-campus issues we think require principal priority (see: Gelman Library) to the less substantial but still gripe-worthy inconveniences (see: GWireless timeouts), the importance of having a student-to-administration messenger is great.
GW’s best-kept secret is that the Student Association is tasked with that exact role.
An SA senator cannot guarantee free printing on campus. An SA senator cannot single-handedly resolve the alcohol amnesty policy’s inconsistencies. A member of the SA will not, because of his or her own power, make the food in J Street taste better.
But he or she can ask the administration to do so. In fact, that is one of the only substantive responsibilities we vest in SA members with our votes.
The SA is the student lobbying arm of the University. Its members have access to hard-to-reach administrators and their harder-to-find time. At these meetings, effective SA members can solicit improvements or inform the campus higher-ups of student concerns. The SA is the student body’s conduit – it is required to have a keen understanding of concerns, cull student suggestions and rally for or on our behalf in appointments with administrators.
But if the upcoming SA election looks anything like those of the past, candidates won’t tell you that. In fact, dear voters, they might instead advertise that if you help elect them, you will in turn find SmarTrip on your GWorld.
The SA does not wield that kind of power.
Its responsibility on campus is to singularly serve as a liaison between the greater student body and the University administration. SA hopefuls are aware of that, and those who are not are misguided about the powers of their desired positions.
Campaign websites often inconspicuously disappear from the Web after elections conclude so that SA candidates can’t be held accountable by the student body. The revolving-door organization thrives on the fact that the student body quickly forgets that SA members cannot make good on their campaign promises.
As elections creep closer, those promises will dominate campaign platforms. Freshmen are particular targets of this false advertising, as they are guaranteed improved dining by almost every candidate. But the SA cannot improve dining. What it can do is solicit improved dining from the administration. Candidates who know that freshmen comprise a huge potential electorate and are swayed by only a few key issues, will exploit that easy vote anyway.
SA candidates have always told prospective voters they will do things that they can’t. It’s politics. But when they do, they are lying to the student body. Candidates should be honest in their platforms and not make commitments they know very well they cannot keep.
Next month, when the time comes for you to cast a vote for SA senators and executives, choose the candidate who is honest with his or her limitations. Vote for the person who knows that he or she is a lobbyist, not a lawmaker, and promises to be the best possible student voice. Go with the candidate who has done his or her research and knows a great deal about the important issues. It won’t sound sexy, but it will be sensible.
I emphasize this because too few students understand what it means to be an SA member and so are disappointed by the lack of substantive changes it can effect. The actual objective of the SA is a critical element of the campus, but it’s different from the politician’s promise. It is our job to vote for the student who we believe can best curate our concerns and advocate on our behalf.
An SA that devotes its short time in office to collaborating and creating the best possible lobbying strategy is needed now. That is what the voter should expect from a candidate. No more, no less.
Annu Subramanian, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.