The Student Association’s leader is accusing the body’s senate representatives of inaction in a rare outburst of internal strife.
SA President John Richardson is calling out members of the SA Senate for a semester of fruitless advocacy efforts.
“I’m frustrated because I work so damn hard, and the people on my team work really hard, but our larger organization, they’re just not doing anything,” Richardson said. The junior, who pledged during campaign season to avoid internal politicking, blasted the 34-member senate for a lack of initiative and energy in tackling student issues.
“The senate – they’re just not doing anything, and they haven’t for years,” Richardson said, frustrated that senators do not share his sense of accountability to students.
Leader of the senate, Executive Vice President Ted Costigan, defended senators’ progress on issues like Gelman renovations, pedestrian safety and the budgeting process for student organizations.
“You can’t measure work by non-binding resolutions,” Costigan said, explaining Richardson’s removed position in the senate prevents him from seeing the ground-level advocacy. “It may look different from an outside perspective.”
The senate, which met six times this fall, passed two non-binding bills since September, supporting Allied in Pride’s efforts to install condom dispensers on campus and a bill advocating for vending machines in Gelman Library.
Non-binding bills indicate support for an initiative but carry no weight administratively.
When asked how he would turn these demonstrations of support into policy, Richardson said he did not have specific ideas and would step in when the senate communicated the need.
“I always say, ‘If you need help, ask.’ I’m willing to lend people on my team to help them,” Richardson said.
The last public eruption of discord among Student Association leaders occurred in 2008, when five frustrated members of SA President Vishal Aswani’s cabinet resigned citing ineffective management of the organization.
Richardson said he is vexed that the issues students communicate to the SA through forums like town halls or the online soundboard G-Voice are largely unheeded by senate representatives.
At a senate meeting Sept. 17, Richardson urged representatives to commit to a school-specific issue. About a month later, Richardson assigned senators to follow up on ideas that had been posted on the Student Association’s website. With no headway to report so far, Richardson said he is disappointed that senators do not feel pressured to move the projects along.
“It’s tough to see inaction at other levels,” Richardson said. “Besides us asking them to take initiative, what else can we do?”
Josh Goldstein, U-CCAS in his third term as a senator, said he understood the frustration but said Richardson was generalizing in his judgment of senators’ commitment.
“There are plenty of people who will run [for senator] because it is a cool thing. Then they see how hard it is. I understand why he must be frustrated, but I also know there are people consistently meeting with administrators and working on issues,” Goldstein said. The senior lauded Richardson’s ability to keep a pulse on the big student issues.
“John has made a better effort than most SA presidents to try to get students involved,” Goldstein said.
After removing fees for University Counseling Center sessions in the first month of his term, Richardson spent the fall launching the Student Association website, serving on a committee to modernize the University’s career services and compiling a list of all student fees in an attempt to weed out unnecessary costs. In an interview Jan. 12, Richardson reported no progress on the fee task force since it was formed last semester and said he could not discuss ongoing progress on the overhaul of GW’s career support.
Richardson’s start comes on the heels of broad changes made to Gelman Library, J Street, Student Judicial Services and 4-RIDE by last year’s leaders Jason Lifton and Rob Maxim. The 2008-2009 administration of Julie Bindelglass and Lifton was best known for coordinating First Lady Michelle Obama’s service challenge.
Freshman senate member Kai Neander, U-ESIA, said there is a disconnect between the Student Association executive team, the senate and the student body that has stinted the organization’s effectiveness this semester.
“Until we get the student body and the SA to acknowledge each others’ existence more than they do now, not much is going to happen,” Neander said, emphasizing that students outside the Student Association need to lobby their representatives on issues that interest them. “Senators are not going to do a lot unless people pressure us to get things done.”