Andrew Costello:Student Association leadership needs to break new ground

At this point in the semester, most of the student body is recovering from and rejoicing in the end of midterm season, reviewing their accomplishments – or lack thereof – and planning out the next month until winter break.

But some students in particular should take time to review their progress so far this year is – including the leadership of the Student Association. The semester is almost over, and so far, the student governing body’s leadership has accomplished much less than it’s capable of and should set more ambitious goals.

Dowd won the election in the spring with more than half of the vote and a 15 percentage point lead, which, coupled with her abundant experience in the SA, gave the president-elect a legitimate mandate to execute her vision. Unfortunately, her vision was limited: Her campaign platform included placing sexual assault resources on the back of GWorld cards, integrating the graduate student body into the GW community, focusing on student health and wellness and solving the perennial 4-RIDE problem that has been a mainstay of SA campaigns since at least 2009.

These aren’t necessarily steps in the wrong direction. But absent are the larger-than-life initiatives that defined past SA presidencies. Ashwin Narla fought for Gelman Library’s renovation in a push for more student space, Julia Susuni fought for a relocation of the student health center to campus and last year, Nick Gumas pushed huge initiatives like improvements to mental health services and sexual assault prevention. So far this year, we haven’t seen anything like that from Dowd.

Dowd told me she has three aspects of student life she hopes to improve: health and wellness, campus safety and “building GW’s future.”

“It is our job to advocate for students,” Dowd said. “It is not only important that students know their resource, but also that they feel supported.”

Arguably, Dowd’s greatest accomplishment this year has been the peer support hotline. She told me she was very proud of the new network, and views it as a key component of her legacy in supporting students with an emphasis on health and wellness. However, it was Gumas that originally conceived the idea and pushed it forward, so Dowd can’t take all the credit.

During the election last year, some had doubts about Dowd’s potential to make meaningful progress on issues important to students. The doable but non-essential proposals Dowd put forward, like improvements to 4-RIDE and developing a new crime alert system, may simply reflect that she’s realistic about an SA president’s ability to actually effect significant change over just two semesters.

Dowd told me she prides herself on her personal outreach efforts to students, and she should be lauded for her efforts to maintain a personal awareness of student issues firsthand. But it’s important that the outreach is matched with results.

Our SA president has chosen good areas in which to develop effective and beneficial policies. However, she needs to break new ground in some of these issues instead of building upon established legacies.

Nonetheless, Dowd has accomplished a good bit of what she has set out to do. She has attempted to make the SA more accessible through detailed newsletters describing efforts by the governing body on behalf of the students, and has also led a switch to all digital check-ins at the Colonial Health Center in an effort to increase confidentiality. Dowd also successfully got campus safety resources onto the backs of GWorld cards and she is working with a computer science professor to work on the 4-RIDE app.

In the end, the SA is a student governing body that acts as a liaison between students and officials. It’s essential that its leadership not only sets the tone for discourse by promoting well-designed initiatives, but also that it takes decisive actions to see those initiatives enacted by the University.

Thus far, Dowd hasn’t put forward a clear message or plan of action for the remaining several months of the year. Dowd told me that the legacy she wishes to leave is that of a “student government that truly supports students.” Although she has produced measurable changes to a number of services key to student life, Dowd should go further.

There is more than a semester’s worth of time between this administration and the next. I hope that Dowd takes advantage of that time and uses it to emulate the actions of her predecessor, by having her initiatives be a bridge on which her successor can follow, not just a few stepping stones.

Andrew Costello, a senior majoring in political science and economics, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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