It’s not surprising that Student Association elections are a big deal – after all, we go to a politically active university in D.C. But as a freshman, I didn’t really know what to expect of SA elections until late last month, when students were regularly showing up at my door asking for my signature in support of a candidate. Then, I started to question what really went into these elections and at what cost.
Elections require time and money – and the level of dedication all candidates must have keeps some students from running. In order to run, a student must have the funds and free time to collect signatures and pay for a campaign. Of course, to many students, having to pay to campaign might not seem like a big deal – given that 14 percent of students come from families in the top 1 percent of incomes. But the highest positions in the SA should be open to any student, not just those with money.
The SA recognized that elections were expensive, so the senate voted in 2015 to lower campaign spending budgets. Those running for SA president and executive vice president can only spend $750, and students running for at-large positions have a spending cap of $500. But for many students, that’s still too much money. The SA Senate should further lower the campaign budgets to create an even playing field for students who want to run for the SA. By lowering spending limits, SA elections will be more inclusive, which would attract students of diverse backgrounds to student government positions and thereby better represent the student body.
Even though officials are actively recruiting students from different socioeconomic levels, the barriers that stop lower-income students from getting involved at GW might keep them from wanting to attend altogether. It’s important to have socioeconomically diverse students running for student government positions because it will show future and former students that they can be involved.
I ran for student government once. It was, admittedly, lower stakes than running for the SA because I was in fifth grade. Back then, all I had to do to run was make a short speech and convince my peers that I was the best for a representative from my class. Running for a position in elementary school is vastly different from running for the SA, but at least in my election, no one was left out from the race because their peers could outspend them on websites and posters. The SA’s elections should be just as open because students deserve the opportunity to become leaders within their community, regardless of socioeconomic background.
Aside from money, time limitations keep students from running, too. Students who run for top positions need to spend a lot of time outside of class running their campaigns – and so do their peers who work on campaigns. But students who need to work to pay for their tuition and housing can’t take on the time commitment when they have to focus on working and being full-time students. The SA must acknowledge that there are students who would make great leaders on campus but don’t have the time to run a full-on campaign, because they spend their time working to afford attending GW.
Although the SA took a good first step by lowering the costs of running in 2015, there’s more that needs to be done. If students and administrators want to improve campus diversity, these elections need to be more inclusive. Diversity is key in creating a campus where prospective students will want to come, and where current students feel represented. Without inclusive elections, the SA will continue to make some students feel that they are not represented.
Saara Navab, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.