Op-ed: Vote no on dividing the Student Association

SA Sen. Thomas Falcigno, G-at-Large, is a student in the Graduate School for Political Management and served as executive vice president of the Student Association from 2016 to 2017.

On your Student Association election ballots, each student will be asked whether the SA should take immediate action to split into an undergraduate and graduate body. I am urging all students to vote no on this question during this year’s elections.

As it stands, most Student Association fees are pooled together into one fund where both majority undergraduate and graduate student organizations can apply for funding, either through general allocations or co-sponsorships. Because there are more graduate students than undergraduate students, it is no secret that fees from graduate students fund much of the majority-undergraduate programming that occurs throughout the year.

Depending on how the SA is divided, undergraduate students risk losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. This would mean fewer events, performances and other organization activities if the SA and the graduate body decide to reserve all money raised from graduate students for graduate student organizations. To make up for this loss, majority-undergraduate student organizations would have to spend more time fundraising, or the SA would have to consider raising fees on undergraduate students. In a time where GW has become less affordable, increasing fees on undergraduates to pay for programming is the wrong approach.

From an advocacy perspective, it is important that the SA speak as one voice. One of the few places where graduate and undergraduate students from all schools interact is in the SA Senate. As someone who served in the senate as an undergraduate at GW, the graduate senators acted as a resource for me. Graduate senators would often explain policies at their undergraduate institutions to me, and in many cases, helped me shape better proposals for administrators. Two initiatives I worked on as an undergraduate, implementing a fall break and a first-year forgiveness policy, were made better because graduate senators had a say in each of these ideas. It is easier to advocate for students when we speak as one voice through a combined body, standing united against decisions and actions that hurt students.

I must acknowledge that the push for splitting the SA into an undergraduate and graduate student body comes from a genuine concern that graduate student issues are neglected at the expense of the louder undergraduate voice in the SA – specifically, in the senate. As a graduate-at-large senator, these concerns could not be truer. However, dividing the SA is not the answer to solving this problem. The better option would be to create additional senate committees focused specifically on graduate issues, expanding options for remote attendance to meetings, adjusting meeting times to more adequately account for graduate student schedules and creating more direct paths to graduate student engagement in the executive branch. All of these changes require either a quick fix of the bylaws or a slight change in tradition. They are also malleable enough so that the SA would be able to fix any of these solutions quickly if they posed a problem down the road.

While at first, this question may not seem like a huge change for graduate or undergraduate students, the result of this question impacts every student that attends GW and should be given careful consideration. The mission of the George Washington Student Association is “to further the interests and promote the welfare of all students at GW” through advocating, allocating, advertising and assisting. I fear that splitting the Student Association into an undergraduate and graduate body hinders our ability to carry out our mission on behalf of all students.

Vote no on the question of dividing the Student Association on April 8 and 9.

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