SA candidates must evaluate current leadership and create realistic goals

The Student Association election season will commence in the coming weeks, which means there will be a new set of candidates and platforms for students to consider.

Cartoon by Jekko Syquia

As future candidates weigh the decision to run for SA president and executive vice president, they should look to past platforms from both elected and unelected president and EVP candidates as a guide to see what has worked and what hasn’t. As they evaluate the current administration and past ones, these students should avoid campaigning on buzzwords and instead create a platform of tangible goals that can be achieved in the timeframe of their term.

Before looking to the future, candidates need to evaluate the present administration – especially since the current leadership has adjusted their goals with fewer than four months left. This month, SA President Peak Sen Chua and EVP Sydney Nelson released a new four-part agenda that they will focus on for the rest of their term. This revised agenda focuses on developing a new vision for the Colonial Health Center, addressing food insecurity, reforming academic resources and updating the current syllabus bank. Although it’s unusual to release new goals so close to the start of the next election, it’s refreshing to see Chua and Nelson re-evaluate their focus in their last months. These goals will likely remain unaccomplished since it is so late in the game, but students who want to run for these positions should consider incorporating parts of this new agenda into their platform.

However, there is one goal Chua and Nelson proposed that can be easily checked off before the end of their term. Updating the syllabus bank is their most tangible point that would help students, since the current syllabus bank on Blackboard is very incomplete.

But the remaining three goals are more lofty and unclear. For one, they want to “overhaul” the CHC didn’t detail what that would involve. Undoubtedly, the CHC and student health overall are a vital aspect of the student experience. Yet the center has faced criticism and scrutiny in recent years, namely for taking 17 months to hire a director who ended up resigning just six months later. Chua and Nelson should advocate tangible changes, like eliminating or even reducing missed appointment fees, which Chua himself originally campaigned for as an EVP candidate last year. The current leaders must at least start advocating these efforts and candidates should adopt them in their platforms.

It’s likely that students will also see food insecurity as a recurring point on upcoming platforms, which is also on Chua and Nelson’s new list of goals. But progress has been made in tackling this issue, as University President Thomas LeBlanc announced a new dining plan this month that includes a significant increase in dining dollars on top of GW’s food pantry, The Store. LeBlanc has heard student outcries and acted swiftly. This major step means that candidates should avoid including food insecurity as a platform point unless they have serious recommendations, like a 10 percent discount for using GWorld that The Hatchet’s editorial board has advocated before.

The last goal from Chua and Nelson includes condensing academic resources by combining offices like peer tutoring, Disability Support Services and career advising into one. It makes little sense for this issue to be tackled by the SA president and EVP because this is an administrative issue and categorizing career advising as an academic resource is unfitting.

But there are other important issues that have not been addressed this year. Aside from continuing efforts for select goals from Chua and Nelson’s current agenda, we also want to see a few key and fresh issues raised on candidates’ platforms.

One simple way to make the University more affordable is to include an 18th credit in the cost of tuition, which a presidential candidate advocated last year. Currently, only students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences can take 18 credits without paying an additional fee. Yet, the majority of our peer schools – including New York, Boston and Georgetown universities – already allow students to take 18 credits without additional fees. There are also other measures that can be taken to further increase affordability, like an opt-in WMATA pass. This was a major part of Nelson’s original platform for EVP and was strongly supported by students in a 2016 referendum, but there hasn’t been any progress announced since.

Candidates should also focus on improving students’ academic experiences by fixing the POD advising system in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, which was implemented in 2015. CCAS students share three to four advisers in a group, which results in students explaining their situation again and again to each new adviser they encounter. The current structure of grouping students by last name is also ineffective because advisers can’t be expected to have comprehensive knowledge of every major. LeBlanc has said students told him their relationship with GW is transactional. Advocating improvements in academic advising would spur students to feel like the University actually cares about their individual academic success.

Lastly, with recent events regarding a racist Snapchat and a newly sparked conversation on the racial climate on campus, it would be tone-deaf for candidates to not feature diversity and inclusion on their platform. However, it would be unwise for candidates to use diversity as an afterthought and not as a structured plan that students have rallied for.

After last year’s dramatic election season, it is time to refocus on the issues. Whatever candidates choose to put on their platform, they must be transparent about how their goals will be accomplished. While realistically not all goals will be fulfilled, students deserve regular updates from the SA president and EVP to know why the platforms that helped them get elected won’t be completed. As Chua and Nelson’s terms come to a close, we hope that this year’s candidates are prepared with clear goals and a willingness to listen to their diverse student body.

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 Zach Slotkin.

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