After more than 1,500 students backed a Student Association presidential candidate who vowed to eradicate the SA, elected SA leaders said their first task is regaining the trust of the student body.
Both the incoming SA president and executive vice president said they will take steps next academic year to increase the organization’s transparency, including updating students on campaign promises throughout the year and posting the SA Senate’s meeting minutes on social media. They hope the changes will show students who supported freshman Justin Diamond – the candidate who promised to abolish the SA – that the organization is more than just a source of annual election drama but a mechanism for institutional change.
“The thing about Justin’s campaign, it did confirm that the student body is not impressed by what’s going on on the Student Association and that we need to do better,” SA President-elect SJ Matthews said. “I’m excited to make it more transparent, more accessible.”
Matthews beat out Diamond for the SA’s top post last week in the first SA presidential runoff in seven years. She captured about two-thirds of the vote after Diamond’s campaign exploded on social media late last month and forced another election after none of the four candidates for SA president garnered enough votes to win the position outright.
Matthews, who is currently the Residence Hall Association president, said she will create a tab on the SA website that benchmarks how much progress she has made on her platform points throughout her term. She said she will update the website as she meets with officials to discuss her campaign promises, like granting all students tap access to residence halls and dropping some general education requirements.
“I want to start publishing exactly what I’m working on so students know I’m not just sitting in a room in Marvin, that I am continuously advocating for them,” she said.
SA Sen. Amy Martin, ESIA-U and the SA executive vice president-elect, said the election cycle revealed that students may feel “disenfranchised” by the SA. She said that as someone who has served in the SA for two years, it’s difficult to see that the organization is perceived as inaccessible because SA leaders often attempt to reach out to students through office hours and town halls, which typically see little turnout.
Martin said she wants to better publicize SA Senate minutes once they are added to the organization’s website by posting Instagram stories with a link to the document or posting it on Facebook. SA leaders must upload minutes to the SA website at least 24 hours before the next senate meeting, according to the SA bylaws.
“While the information is all there, you do have to know where to look right now, and I think that that’s a lot of where that disconnect is,” Martin said.
Diamond, the other candidate for SA president, received enough write-in votes to secure an SA Senate seat representing the Elliott School of International Affairs. He said that in his first weeks as a member of the SA, he will organize one-on-one meetings with senators to discuss a list of student complaints he compiled while campaigning for the organization’s top post.
Diamond, who had also vowed to redistribute the SA president’s $15,000 scholarship to student organizations, said he launched a merchandise line Sunday with pins, stickers and t-shirts featuring phrases like “Abolish the SA.” He said he will donate the profits toward underfunded student organizations but declined to say which groups.
“I think a lot of people will have their eyes on my senatorial term, and I aim to keep it that way and keep momentum among people who are trying to pay attention,” Diamond said.
SA President Ashley Le said students may be unsatisfied with the SA because the organization is often viewed as “elitist.” But she added that students may not recognize that the SA’s top two leaders are minority students – Le is a Vietnamese immigrant, and SA Executive Vice President Ojani Walthrust is Haitian American.
She added that if she had another year in office, she would hold “community hours” in which SA leaders would visit places like Thurston Hall and the Multicultural Student Services Center instead of holding traditional office hours in the SA’s Marvin Center office. She said holding community hours would help SA leaders reach out to constituents instead of waiting for them to visit their office with concerns.
“Given the events of the election with Justin’s campaign, I think future SA leaders and future administration should think about that conversation even more seriously, about how we can actively outreach to students in a more personal way,” Le said.
Freshman Sparkle Mark, an SA senator-elect who will represent the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said the SA may not seem transparent because SA leaders do not frequently update the student body on the progress of their advocacy initiatives, like combating food insecurity or cutting laundry costs.
“This past election just shows how much the SA needs to work harder to express student voice,” Mark said.
Harry Levine, an SA senator-elect who will represent the School of Business, said he will invite student organizations to his office hours next academic year to walk each group through the finance committee’s budget allocations process. The finance committee releases an annual budget detailing funds for student organizations every spring.
He added that he wants the SA to hold more meet-and-greets with students outside the SA office by organizing informal outdoor events in Kogan Plaza. He said the meetings could help students put a face to their SA senator if they have not attended office hours.
“Hopefully, we’ll get to a point where every student will know at least one member of the SA and know what that person is doing on campus,” Levine said.
Ilena Peng, Paige Morse, Parth Kotak and Zach Schonfeld contributed reporting.