The perfect Student Association presidents should be larger than life. They should be charming and respectful enough to have the ear of University officials. They should be convincing and genuine when they listen to all students’ concerns. They should have the institutional knowledge required to make change. They should have at least one big idea that will make a lasting and important mark on GW, with a detailed plan for its execution.
This year, students won’t find anyone with those qualities in the list of presidential candidates on their ballots.
Of course, it’s a tall order. But “SA president” isn’t just a title the winner gets to put on his or her resume. The SA president is the face of students at GW – and we have to hold that person to incredibly high standards. Unfortunately, none of this year’s candidates meet all of our standards.
Being able to lead calmly and fight for change respectfully is one of the most important qualities in an SA president. But in her meeting with our editorial board, Erika Feinman, CCAS-U, did not display that quality. Her convictions were strong, and her drive to make change was evident. However, while answering questions, at times Feinman was combative and condescending.
When pushed to give more details or back up her initiatives, Feinman instead sometimes noted that they were just “ideas” and said, “Part of running is about ideas.” While that may be true, these ideas have to be grounded in reality, strong research and extensive planning. Simply having ideas isn’t good enough.
Feinman said that her main goal as SA president would be to add one undergraduate and one graduate student to the Board of Trustees, but that goal is nearly impossible and quite frankly, a mistake. A change like this would require altering the board’s bylaws with a two-thirds majority vote, but Feinman said she had not spoken to any members of the board about this plan.
Instead, she explained that a friend had talked to board members who seemed receptive. But it’s unreasonable for her to gauge the feasibility of her main goal on an anecdote from a friend. Feinman also suggested that the SA’s success in lobbying the board to rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree was evidence that she’s capable of persuading its members. But the two issues are so unrelated that they can’t even be compared. Rescinding Cosby’s degree only affected the University’s image. But adding a student to the board could completely change the way it operates, and would be a much harder sell.
Over the past 15 years – including in 2004, 2006 and 2013 – students have lobbied for student representation on the board, with all efforts ending in failure. When asked how her efforts would be different, Feinman again noted that she believes the board seems particularly receptive to students right now. But she failed to lay out a specific plan of action, which did not convince us that she understood the difficulty of this initiative.
Another core part of Feinman’s platform was creating a student-accessible list of health and counseling services in D.C. The list, currently available on the Colonial Health Center’s website – broken down both by specialty and by health care provider – was last updated in the fall of 2015. But Feinman explained that friends told her some of the details are outdated, such as which providers are currently accepting patients.
Several of the past SA presidents have made mental health their top priority, and it’s particularly concerning that Feinman’s goal demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about which improvements to mental health services are the most pressing. GW’s list already includes hundreds of health and counseling services, and updating it weekly or even monthly would be a massive undertaking. When pressed for more details, Feinman balked, and said that her plan to rearrange and add positions to her cabinet would help with her “research-heavy” initiatives.
Feinman did highlight specific groups of students in her platform, like LGBT and minority students, but was unable to demonstrate why some of her main goals would benefit the student body as a whole. She hopes to expand the Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund, for example, which was allocated to 27 students this spring. But since the funds available for KACIF are limited, its expansion would hardly affect a majority of the student body.
She also wants to adjust the price of double-sided printing by two cents, but that wouldn’t have a measurable effect on GW’s cost of living. And Feinman believes Greek life needs a more substantial voice in the SA, even though the Greek community has more than adequate representation through leadership in groups like the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Association and the Multicultural Greek Council.
Overall, Feinman’s biggest platform points feel unrealistic, and she failed to give detailed plans for their implementation. And while she emphasized the need to incorporate the voices of different communities on campus, she also made it clear that she believes one student can’t represent everyone – even though that’s an SA president’s primary responsibility.
Christina Giordano also had difficulty explaining how she would implement her ideas. Her friendly and open personality is an asset, but her goals were disappointing, and lacked specifics. Though rooted in students’ concerns, her platform is unambitious, and simply doesn’t reflect an SA president’s agenda.
Giordano also demonstrated a disappointing lack of research about her own initiatives – including the top priorities in her platform. For example, she hopes to make groceries more affordable by rerouting the Colonial Express service to Safeway. While it was encouraging that she had talked to officials about this idea, she seemed surprised to learn that the Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue accepts GWorld, and had planned to reroute the Colonial Express all the way to the MacArthur Boulevard Safeway near the Mount Vernon Campus.
And while we agree with Giordano that adding substance-free housing for upperclassmen is a good idea, she struggled to give an estimate of how many students would be interested in this initiative, and wasn’t sure how this housing would be structured. Similarly, when pressed, Giordano could not explain how any of her ideas to improve alumni connections differ from what Career Services and the Alumni Association already offer.
Many of Giordano’s ideas were too small-scale to make a measurable difference in student life. She said her main priority was a creating an online forum where students can post feedback for the SA. But this idea feels more like the goal of an executive vice president – not the main focus of an SA presidency.
While we have serious concerns about the details in Giordano’s ideas, it’s refreshing to hear a candidate discuss new and interesting topics that no other candidate has brought up – like substance-free housing for students in recovery and more alumni connections for international students. And her amiable personality would also help her negotiate with officials and listen to student concerns – so we’re confident she can work well with others.
Unfortunately, due to a family emergency, Tony Hart was unable to meet with The Hatchet’s editorial board for an endorsement hearing, nor was he available to answer questions via email. It’s more difficult to determine the feasibility of Hart’s platform without meeting with him, but either way, his goals felt out of touch with student life. Community service is the main tenet of his platform, even though GW and its students already place an emphasis on giving back.
Many of Hart’s other initiatives – like expanding counseling hours on the Mount Vernon Campus, adding more gender-neutral bathrooms and installing more water bottle fillers – have already been partially completed. Others, like requiring a diversity and inclusion training for all students at GW, simply are unrealistic.
In our extensive deliberations following these hearings, we wondered whether we should endorse anyone for SA president this year, given our disappointment in these candidates’ platforms. But ultimately, we believe that Giordano’s personality will allow her to accomplish some of her goals.
Though she demonstrated few of the qualities we look for in a candidate, The Hatchet’s editorial board endorses Christina Giordano for SA president.
This year’s platforms are wholly unimpressive and missed the mark. Ideas were either too big and impossible to pull off, too small to make any substantial change or too out of touch with students’ concerns. Given national conversations about race on college campuses over the past year, we were hoping to see a candidate propose creative ideas about diversity and inclusion – and none of them did. Plus, the candidates all lacked convincing explanations of how they would actually bring their ideas to life.
Our ideal SA president is not among these three candidates, and as a student body, we should expect more from those who represent us. A leader has to have big, important goals – but it’s also essential to have detailed and well-researched plans for carrying out those goals. But one candidate at least shows some promise.
Vote for Giordano this Wednesday or Thursday.
The Hatchet’s editorial board for presidential endorsements included opinions editor Sarah Blugis, contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee, assistant sports editor Mark Eisenhauer and managing director Eva Palmer.
Listen to the editorial board’s endorsement hearings with presidential candidates Erika Feinman and Christina Giordano here.