The platform items of this year’s candidates for Student Association president fell into two camps: On the one hand, a focus on large-scale issues that have dominated campus discourse over the past few years, like mental health and sexual assault, and proposing daring new initiatives to ensure their continued place in the dialogue.
On the other, taking up doable but less critical issues that have fallen out of the spotlight, like improvements to 4-RIDE.
Andie Dowd adopted the second tactic. She pledged to get emergency information placed on the backs of GWorld cards, update 4-RIDE’s technology and better integrate graduate students into the student body. She has advocated for health and wellness-related issues, as well as new student priorities, as a member of two SA presidential cabinets.
Meanwhile, the chair of the SA finance committee, Ben Pryde, U-At Large, chose to focus on issues that have been mainstays in the campus conversation for some time now, including sexual assault, mental health and dining.
Neither of these platforms breaks new ground, and neither is perfect. An ideal platform would have had a mixture of the two types of initiatives – both ambitious, large-scale projects and ones that are easy to accomplish during a one-year tenure.
But campus as a whole will never improve if student leaders solely concentrate on the same issues that have been prevalent over the past year. It’s crucial that student and GW leaders continue to prioritize issues like mental health and sexual assault. But going forward, the wisest approach would be focusing on following through with this year’s successful lobbying.
That means pushing administrators to make good on their interest in a peer-counseling program, and developing specific ideas for the proposed mandatory sexual violence prevention training at Colonial Inauguration. We’d worry that those priorities would get muddled in the minds of the administration if a new group of student leaders comes into office and changes the priorities entirely.
But there are more issues plaguing campus. We can’t have tunnel vision and push aside other problems students might care about. It’s time for an SA president who will follow through on past work on these issues while turning the bulk of the attention toward other areas. This election cycle, the person best able to accomplish this is Dowd.
Based on the candidates’ platforms and a discussion with the editorial board, we endorse Andie Dowd for SA president.
It was clear to us from reading Dowd’s platform, and from how she spoke about her research in her endorsement hearing, that she chose her priorities based on conversations with students about the issues that most trouble them every day. She seems deeply in touch with the realities of campus life, and we were impressed by the amount of student outreach she’s done in preparation for her campaign.
She also has an energetic disposition and a charismatic nature – something that was somewhat lacking from Pryde’s demeanor during our hearing. That will be immeasurably important when it comes time for the future SA president to go head to head with GW administrators to advocate for students – something Dowd, a member of the SA’s health and wellness task force, already has experience doing.
You’ll notice we’re not endorsing Dowd because of her particular platform initiatives.
For the most part, her goals are small-scale, lackluster and relatively attainable. It’s great that she’s realistic about what SA presidents can accomplish in their tenure – and GWorld resources and improved 4-RIDE technology would certainly fall into that category.
But an SA presidential platform should also include large-scale goals. Dowd has no marquee item, no one big initiative she wants to accomplish, and that’s disappointing: Presidents should aspire to leave a long-lasting, positive mark on campus. Current President Nick Gumas’ peer-counseling program, for example, fits the bill, as well as former SA President Julia Susuni’s success in moving GW’s health offices to the center of campus.
Dowd has a strong grasp on the realities of student life: She spoke intelligently about what she considers a lack of student knowledge about campus resources (something we’ve seen reflected in data) and was realistic about how many students are active in policy initiatives across campus. We’d advise Dowd to, if elected, hitch her wagon to an initiative with staying power – and if she could build off her impressive preexisting knowledge, that’d be even better.
Dowd hopes to make changes to the University Police Department crime alert system, and in our endorsement hearing said that students should receive alerts anytime “something bad happens on our campus.” When pushed, she wasn’t clear on whether that would include every single crime – even those that are not ongoing threats – that occurs in the area.
That initiative is ill-advised and likely impossible to achieve, given past pushback from both the University and campus police to inform students about campus crime more often than is required by federal law.
It indicates a lack of familiarity with the functions of UPD. Her intentions – to give students more information about their safety – are good. But unless Dowd is able to gather enough information to make this priority far clearer and more robust, Dowd should drop crime alerts from her platform and focus her attention on other issues.
Luckily, she showed us in our hearing that she knows how essential it will be to carry on the successful initiatives that her predecessors started while also working on her own. She’s been deep in the weeds alongside Gumas as he’s developed plans for the peer-counseling program, and her goal of putting emergency resources on the backs of GWorld cards shows her commitment to prioritizing sexual assault prevention.
Pryde included those same issues – sexual assault and mental health – as the two central components of his platform, and proposed specific initiatives to address them: establishing an affirmative consent policy and increasing the number of free counseling sessions per year to 20 per student.
It’s admirable that he wants to focus on issues that are so critical to students at GW and across the country. But in both cases, he’s chosen the most difficult solution to a problem. It would take a good deal of advocacy work to get GW to revisit the sexual assault policy, which it overhauled just two years ago, let alone adopt the often-debated language of “yes means yes.”
And despite his experience with finance, Pryde was unable to detail his funding plan for more free counseling.
Furthermore, we know from prior attempts by SA leadership that his other priorities – 24-hour access to academic space, affordable on-campus housing and an overhaul of J Street – while well-intentioned, seem like losing battles.
He’s shooting for the moon and focusing on issues that matter, and we can tell he hasn’t just picked them to check off boxes: In our hearing, he seemed to genuinely care about these issues, affirmative consent in particular. But when you try to go too big, sometimes you wind up going home, and we worry that without any other mid-sized, accomplishable goals on his platform, a Ben Pryde administration would come to an end with nothing to show for itself.
These candidates showed passion for their platform items, and sophomore Alex Cho was no different. From pledging to throw the SA’s support behind community service to bolstering resources for sexual assault survivors, Cho has done his homework, meeting with administrators and presenting fresh ideas. But he lacks institutional knowledge of the SA and experience negotiating with administrators. In our endorsement hearing, he struggled to outline his specific goals or answer pointed questions about his platform items.
Both Pryde and Dowd have put forth ideas that students clearly care about, and they’ve done an impressive amount of preparation. But when given a choice between someone whose goals are overly lofty or someone whose goals are simple and modest, we see more potential for success in setting the bar at a reasonable height. Combined with a commitment to carrying out current SA initiatives, we imagine Dowd will be able to end her tenure with a full list of accomplished goals. That’s the type of president our student body needs right now.
Vote Dowd for SA president Wednesday or Thursday.
The Hatchet’s editorial board for presidential endorsements included opinions editor Robin Jones Kerr, contributing opinions editor Sarah Blugis, managing director Justin Peligri, sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Sophie McTear, copy editor Rachel Smilan-Goldstein and design assistant Samantha LaFrance.
Listen to the editorial board’s endorsement hearings with presidential candidates Alex Cho, Andie Dowd and Ben Pryde here.