The campaign season for the Student Association is in full swing.
Every year, a range of contenders vie for the top SA positions of president and executive vice president. Some are experienced Student Association members looking to continue their climb up the GW political ladder, while many are considered “outsiders” who have no previous SA experience.
While the electorate, and the candidates, often focus on their status as SA insiders or outsiders, there are more important factors that candidates should concentrate on.
Candidates must understand that they are lobbyists for the student body – not legislators. Only by working with different administrators and campus leaders will one be able to accomplish his or her goals and initiatives.
While prior SA experience is not necessary to be successful, anyone seeking to make a difference must have a thorough understanding of how the University operates and which administrators are most attuned to certain student concerns. The reality is that it can be extremely difficult to promote change at the University, and without knowing how to effectively navigate administrative bureaucracy, an executive’s advocacy effort will lag.
Student Association President John Richardson admitted to recognizing too late how slowly institutional changes come about in a meeting with The Hatchet’s editorial board this month. Student Association executives only get one year in office to attack student problems, so having a comprehensive plan of how to solve problems is just as important as having a thorough platform. If a candidate only has ideas, but is unable to vocalize how those problems will specifically be solved, he or she is not prepared to lead the SA. Anybody can think of a laundry list of needs for the student body, but not everyone take those grievances and chart how to solve them.
An executive must be able to take student feedback and solidify which issues he or she will tackle at the outset of their term, and should be ready to hit the ground running. Any significant delay in lobbying for specific issues will be a setback for advocacy efforts, as there is only a limited amount of time to create significant change.
Executives must also be adept at gauging the needs and concerns of the student body. Having frequent conversations with a wide range of students and campus organizations will allow an SA president or executive vice president to curate ideas and concerns to present to administration. The in vogue issues of today might matter little to next year’s student body, and executives must be able to finish their problems and tackle new issues without letting any fall through.
When developing a platform and deciding which issues to confront, candidates should be mindful of their unique access to and influence on the University. Almost no other student at the University has as much sway and influence as an SA president or executive vice president.
It is also critical that the president and executive vice president have a good working relationship. Not only is this important for successful lobbying, but it may also lead to a more effective SA Senate. The legislative wing of the SA can be an important mechanism for identifying the needs of specific student groups and organizations throughout the year.
In recent years, women have been notably absent from the campaigns for president and executive vice president. Having a diverse electoral field may shed light on previously unheard concerns, and can draw new students to the electorate. Hopefully this year’s field for the Student Association will be less male-dominated than it currently looks to be and new candidates will bring fresh ideas for the student body to consider.
It is an exciting time for students on campus, but it is also a critical period for student advocacy throughout the University. Hopefully this year’s field will produce an able candidate who will be the leading voice for students.