The Residence Hall Association president is looking to take her leadership skills to the Student Association.
Junior SJ Matthews announced her bid for SA president Tuesday, making her the first to enter the race for the organization’s top spot. Matthews said her platform will change from week to week as she continues to collect student feedback, but some of her top priorities include maximizing community spaces, improving diversity and dropping general education requirements.
“We don’t do enough as a university to make sure they feel comfortable to say their opinion, to feel like their voice matters,” Matthews said. “And I’m running for people like that.”
While most SA candidates’ platforms are finalized before their launch, Matthews said she will continue updating her goals as she holds student listening sessions in the weeks leading up to the election. Starting this week, she will meet with students every Thursday, Sunday and Monday in Thurston Hall, Pelham Commons and the Marvin Center, respectively.
Matthews said that if she were elected as SA president, she would advocate for eliminating the general education requirements in all schools to ensure students can focus on classes specific to their majors. Matthews said she has spoken with members of the Board of Trustees, including chairman Nelson Carbonell, and Provost Forrest Maltzman about implementing the change, and they said they were open to hearing suggestions.
“We get too bogged down in these requirements and trying to knock them out of the way that we don’t actually get to enjoy our academic time,” she said.
Matthews said she will also advocate for more community-building opportunities by pushing officials to give students tap access to all residence halls – something she also advocated for last year while running for RHA president. Officials piloted a program this semester granting freshmen tap access to all first-year residence halls, and Matthews said she will talk with Seth Weinshel, the assistant dean of housing and financial services, about the program.
“Every student should have the ability to go see each other,” she said. “I think that helps build community, as long as it doesn’t compromise safety. I think there’s no reason students shouldn’t have tap access to every building.”
If elected, Matthews also aims to create more campus space for students in the Marvin Center and other campus hubs. She said she plans to speak with Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty and officials who manage the Marvin Center about redesigning the front entrance of the building with couches instead of tables to give students a “more comfortable” setting to study and mingle.
Petty has prioritized increasing community spaces this year after visiting several residence halls last semester.
“How can we create more student-only spaces where students can not only study but also can be themselves?” Matthews said. “Places where you can bond with your fellow classmates and create that community – I don’t think we do enough to create community here.”
Matthews said she also wants to increase the diversity of her cabinet by reaching out to a multitude of student organizations throughout the spring and summer and offering them an opportunity to apply. The SA currently advertises open cabinet positions through its social media pages and website.
She said she will also attend student events in the fall, like the Multicultural Student Services Center block party, to advertise open SA positions.
“If you’re a student at GW, you deserve to be in the Student Association, and you shouldn’t feel like if you don’t have certain experiences or anything that you’re not good enough for it,” she said.
Matthews said she will also mandate that every SA leader hold office hours at various times throughout the week to speak with students about their concerns or ideas. The SA would promote the resources through social media, email blasts and door knocking in residence halls, she said.
SA senators are currently required to hold one publicized office hour each week per constituency.
Matthews said she also wants to promote Title IX resources and the Personal Alarm Locator – better known as the PAL app – which sends an alert to GW Police Department officers if a student indicates they are in danger. She said administrators want to give students the materials they need to seek help, but the SA should push out the resources to students who may not be aware they exist.
She said she will boost the resources through SA email blasts and social media.
“The University, I do believe they want to help students at their core,” she said. “They just don’t always know the best way to do it.”
Nia Lartey contributed reporting.