It is transition time for the Student Association.
This period is filled with promise and more promises as elected executives and senators are motivated by the power of their positions and the chance to make good on campaign goals.
For Student Association President-elect Ashwin Narla and Executive Vice President-elect Abby Bergren – who will become the chief student lobbyists May 4 – it is also time to decide what to preserve for next year and what to leave behind from the former administration.
Narla told me Tuesday his principal objectives are to focus on student health and wellness, create a student calendar, and drive home the need for student space.
These are laudable goals, but the pair also has much to learn from SA President John Richardson and Executive Vice President Ted Costigan’s time in office.
Advocacy does not happen in one year, so continuing to work toward several key issues that were SA focuses this year – like fees and student space – will be vital during the Narla and Bergren administration.
While students always seem to complain about fees we acquire throughout our four years, Costigan’s campaign brought the issue to the forefront of the conversation. It has been flagged as one of the principal student concerns on campus, as too many unexplained fees can ultimately disillusion students and leave them feeling as though the administration levies fees without caring about their affordability. And that’s a problem for the administration and the community. If students feel nickel-and-dimed today, they probably will not care to donate money when they graduate.
Narla and Bergren should continue to question fees levied against students and demand communication from the administration about the fees’ legitimacy. This year’s fee commission attempted to outline every fee students might face, but this endeavor proved too great. That said, the advocacy and efforts to draw attention to the issue did yield some positive results; for example, the printing fee in Gelman Library – originally nine cents – has been trimmed to seven cents. Indeed, some fees are necessary – like Student Health Services co-pays and lab fees – but without a dialogue, students will continue to feel they are footing unjustified costs.
Student space is undoubtedly another key campus issue that requires continued advocacy, and this year’s SA and Marvin Center Governing Board focused heavily on ensuring students are allotted space in the Marvin Center. But the administration has plowed forward with its plans to put offices in the student union, and Richardson and Marvin Center Governing Board Chair Dylan Pyne’s requests have been reduced to merely seeking some of the fourth floor for student organization collaboration space.
Narla and Bergren are considering student space options beyond those offered in the Marvin Center, which is promising, but they should also continue to defend the plans that SA executives and Marvin Center Governing Board student members have begun this year. The Marvin Center is the student union, and while finding student space anywhere would be ideal, there’s a reason today’s campus leaders are fighting so hard for it to be there.
Transition is also a time to leave behind a few of this past year’s initiatives.
This year, Richardson and Costigan organized town halls and spent several weeks at the beginning of fall semester collecting student concerns before going forward with plans. Reaching out to students and keeping your ear to the ground is important, but a yearlong term goes by quickly, and if Narla and Bergren keep waiting to hear from students before carrying out the platforms they were elected to achieve, it will be a waste of time.
If town halls must happen, Narla and Bergren should hold them while carrying out their advocacy efforts to avoid stalling. John Bennett and the SA Finance Committee did a good job of holding town halls efficiently in conjunction with their work, keeping the committee informed of student concerns and also relaying their progress back to the community.
The same goes for programming. Narla and Bergren were elected to be student lobbyists – not event planners.
This year, Costigan focused heavily on organizing the “Only at GW” debate series, which was not the best use of his time as executive vice president. No matter how the SA tries to justify the series, it was still programming, and there’s a whole team called Program Board dedicated to doing just that. Narla and Bergren are both heavily focused on improving student life, but they should not try to do so through organizing events or ensuring beer gardens at campus-wide events. It might be tempting, particularly as programming offers tangible results to point to, but there is enough other work for Narla and Bergren to do.
And then there’s an issue from SA administrations past that could use a revival.
Gelman Library is still abysmal. Former SA President Jason Lifton and former Executive Vice President Rob Maxim helped secure Gelman’s $16 million Board of Trustees allocation in 2011, but there is still more to be done. And while further improvements to Gelman will surely be difficult to advocate for in a year, Narla and Bergren should press the University to be transparent with the community about its operating budget and how that will go toward future renovations.
It is tough to let some platforms go and it’s tough to start some others up fresh.
But it is time for spring cleaning, and Narla and Bergren, the season is ripe for you to decide what is worth giving another polish and what is just unnecessary clutter.
Annu Subramanian, a junior majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.