One semester into the academic year, the Student Association leadership has not accomplished nearly as much as previous administrations.
After an exceptionally dramatic and scandal-plagued election season last spring, Peak Sen Chua and Sydney Nelson became SA president and executive vice president, respectively. During The Hatchet’s endorsement hearings before the election, both Chua and Nelson presented platforms to show what they planned to accomplish if elected and proved to be personable candidates who were happy to answer questions about their plans. Now an entire semester has passed and it is disappointing to see that this year’s SA administration has few accomplishments to show – but it’s not too late to make a difference. It is time for Chua, Nelson and the rest of the SA to utilize the time they have left before the next election to refocus on the platform points the two set as their agenda.
Following changes in the election, Chua and Nelson released a revised agenda that incorporated seven points. But there has only been visible progress on three of them – a student engagement committee to recruit more freshmen for the SA, Joint Elections Commission reform and the relaunch of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences dean’s advisory council, which was ultimately a decision made by administrators. Students who voted for Chua or Nelson should be disappointed in their lack of action this semester because they voted for platforms whose contents have largely not come to pass.
The student body should not have to have low expectations for what the SA can accomplish.
The revised agenda contained strong platform points that would have benefited students, including making an 18th course credit free, expanding hours at Mental Health Services and reducing the costs to use student spaces. However, there has been no concrete action taken on the majority of these plans. Even Chua’s proposed international student directory has not come to fruition. This was – and still is – a feasible goal because it does not require going through University administrators. It’s something that would benefit the international student population, a population Chua – who is from Malaysia and the first international SA president in recent history – had been especially vocal about wanting to serve.
Naturally some efforts and goals will be more successful than others, but that does not mean the student body should have low expectations for what the SA can accomplish. While the goals that Chua and Nelson set when they took office are ambitious, they are attainable. Past SA administrators have accomplished goals even larger that were seen as almost impossible. Achievements such as moving the Student Health Center to the Marvin Center in 2015, adding a fall break in 2016 and implementing a freshman forgiveness program earlier this year became a reality with determined SA leaders. Chua has the potential to push for the agenda that he and Nelson agreed upon after their campaigns, but there has been no progress on those goals since he became president.
While Chua and Nelson are the faces of the SA and it is vital that they push for the agendas they campaigned on, the SA is not just its leadership. It is also equally important for the individual senators to push for the proposal of strong and impactful legislation.
The SA does have some accomplishments that should be acknowledged. Last month, the SA, Feminist Student Union and The Store launched the People for Periods project, which stocked four bathrooms across campus with free menstrual hygiene products. The SA has also partnered with Greek life on a sexual assault task force.
The senate has been focused on filling vacancies this semester, and their efforts have been successful. The SA currently has a full senate, but there is no point in having a full senate if we cannot get anything substantive done with it. In September, a new policy was implemented to allow student organizations to formally endorse SA legislation – but this isn’t effective without legislation to support. The SA has also spent the semester working on more long-term projects off the senate floor, though we do not know much about what specifically these projects are.
It is pivotal for these next few months to be about creating legislation that truly improves the student experience on campus.
Only four bills have been passed this semester, compared to 12 last year. While the bills have been productive by reforming the Joint Elections Commission so elections are more fair and calling on the University to better support sexual assault survivors, there have not been any resolutions passed that focus on the daily student experience. And that is what is even more concerning than a number. If these SA leaders want to be remembered for making an impact on campus, then they should have already put their proposed plans in motion. There are only about four more months until the next election cycle, so it is pivotal for these next few months to be about creating legislation that truly improves the student experience on campus, which can be done by refocusing on their platforms.
Another part of Chua’s campaign revolved around how the SA should be more proactive in reaching out to students. The SA hosted a town hall meeting in October, and while this is a step in the right direction, asking students to show up to a formal meeting with concerns was not the most effective way. There are other engaging ways that the SA can use to keep increasing transparency and improve communication with students. Chua had previously proposed an arts week to showcase the performing student organizations on campus in his EVP platform. This could increase student interaction as well as increase face-to-face interaction between the SA and the student body.
Regardless of what Chua decides to do next, he is paid $10,000 by the University to do his job. Chua, Nelson and the Senate must aim to improve the student experience – which means moving past this slow progress and lack of clarity. SA leadership should publicly state what they want to get done in the next four months to be transparent and held accountable for their promises. In order for Chua and Nelson’s terms to be seen as a success, they must make moves before the next election, while the senators who run for re-election must answer for the lack of progress since the start of this semester.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.