The SA is student government, not the U.S. Senate

A legislative battle is brewing in D.C. – bills are being introduced, vetoes are being issued and court challenges are being filed. But this is not happening on Capitol Hill. It’s happening right here at GW, with the various branches of the Student Association locking horns on the issue of first-year SA senators.

This entire episode is embarrassing and nearly incomprehensible. It began with the introduction of a resolution in the SA Senate that would establish a referendum on whether first-year undergraduate and graduate students should have dedicated senate seats. The SA’s Office of the Legislator General then filed a lawsuit against the resolution in the SA’s Student Court, contending that it violated the SA’s governing documents. The court will hold a hearing on the constitutionality of the resolution Sunday and release a decision soon after, but in the meantime, a bill that would revise the SA’s bylaws to provide for electing first-year seats was vetoed by SA President Brandon Hill.

Between court hearings and debates over constitutionality, the SA’s maneuvers on the first-year senators issue are more reminiscent of politics summer camp than of an organization ostensibly charged with advocating for students’ best interests. There does not seem to be any discernible movement among students in favor of the policy, nor do there seem to be any overriding reasons why it should not be passed. One thing is clear: the SA has the opportunity to focus on substantive issues but instead wastes time on meaningless and asinine procedure.

The stated goal of the SA is to “further the interests and promote the welfare of all students at GW.” In practice, mainly on the part of the senate, this means embarking on meaningless debates about creating committees and changing bylaws that produce zero tangible benefit for students. Instead of spending all of their time talking about issues impacting the GW community, student legislators have spent hours and hours making aimless procedural maneuvers or debating breathlessly about the organization’s multiple separate governing documents.

Over the course of the first-year senate seats kerfuffle, there has been a lawsuit, a preliminary injunction, a hearing date set and members of the SA’s various branches chin-strokingly opining on their options to obstruct or facilitate the legislation. It remains an absurd web of meaningless parliamentary language and motions that build on each other until the central issue at hand is not even visible in the debate.

Everyone needs to take a moment and realize that this is not an episode of The West Wing. This is not the floor of the U.S. Senate. Student government is not real government. Sure, procedure is important, but when you have members of a student organization asking other members of a student organization to file a preliminary injunction or set a hearing date, that’s not procedure. That’s playing make-believe. It’s both unproductive and nonsensical. This is why people dunk on the SA constantly.

It does not have to be like this. There is precedent for the SA accomplishing important tasks that will significantly help the student body. In our last staff editorial, we praised SA Vice President Kate Carpenter and the SA for working with administrators to expand the scope of SafeRide. Last month, after students complained that they lacked a centralized resource to buy and rent used textbooks from other students online, the senate voted to establish a textbook exchange program on Google Sheets. The Hatchet’s reporting found students had positive feedback on this initiative, saying it would alleviate the concerns about buying brand new, expensive textbooks each semester.

The meaningful work the SA has done goes even further than that. Students with periods might have noticed that there are free tampons and pads in restroom dispensers across campus. To accomplish this, the SA executive branch worked with the Division for Student Affairs, Finance Division and Division of Safety and Facilities to fund the installation of dispensers across campus buildings in September. Though this effort was spearheaded by the student-led People with Periods project, which has stocked restrooms with menstrual hygiene products since 2017, the SA was able to carry that initiative forward and solidify it into something of which officials are cognizant. The senate also passed a resolution urging officials to increase the amount of GWorld that students receive to combat food insecurity. The following year, administrators did just that.

But even in the SA’s successes, we see its failures: most of these actions took place through members liaising and directly working with University officials. The most important things the SA has delivered for students lately have had little to nothing to do with the parliamentary pageantry or procedural drama. In fact, they seem to have been in spite of it.

There are plenty of people who get involved with the SA for good reasons and who want to get involved and help students. Imagine what would happen if instead of getting bogged down in imaginary lawsuits and pretending to be members of an actual legislature, the entire SA spent all of its time making small, meaningful changes to student life. That would be an SA worthy of the people who join it and of the students it’s intended to serve.

This is student government, not the U.S. Senate. The SA needs to act like it.

The editorial board* consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by opinions editor Andrew Sugrue and contributing opinions editor Shreeya Aranake, based on discussions with culture editor Anna Boone, contributing sports editor Nuria Diaz, design editor Grace Miller and copy editor Jaden DiMauro.

Assistant copy editor Karina Ochoa Berkley recused herself from this piece because she serves in the SA. 

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