The Student Association Senate’s decision to publicly release its $12,750 budget last month is a welcome exercise of transparency, but GW’s student government has revealed far more than its spending. The organization’s bloated budget, which includes $4,000 just for catering alone, reflects its misplaced priorities and self-centered mindset. Students pay for the SA, and they deserve a government that serves them first – not one that helps itself.
Just like a tyrannical government, the senate can’t help but shovel money away from its constituents and toward itself, sending a simple message – “let them eat cake.” The senate is allotting itself $7,250 for hosting events, $4,000 for food and drink, $1,000 for travel and $500 for office supplies while student organizations clamor for funding to maintain their operations. Instead of playing pretend and padding their resumes, members of the SA must be held accountable for their financial frivolity.
This year’s senate budget is admittedly smaller than last year’s roughly $19,000 operating budget, and the SA senate won’t necessarily spend all the funds it allocated. Most students understandably don’t care about the SA’s bylaws or keep up with its latest drama, but its financial frivolity should catch their attention – its budget largely comes from a $3 per credit hour fee students pay each semester on top of their tuition.
If the senate’s mission is to “advocate, allocate, advertise and assist,” it’s falling short on every metric. The 269 student organizations that applied for funding from the SA this year received about 30 percent of their requests on average for a total of roughly $1 million out of the nearly $5 million they collectively requested. Of those 269 clubs, 258 received less than the SA’s catering budget. Organizations like GW RAGE, a reproductive justice advocacy group, and J Street U at GW, which focuses on finding diplomatic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saw their funding slashed to mere percentages of their initial requests – from $600 to $100 and $2,860 to $30, respectively. And other clubs, like GW Maternal and Child Health Network, received nothing at all.
Granted, it’s not easy to disburse hundreds of thousands of dollars in a way that makes everyone happy, and lower enrollment over the past several years has dried up some of the SA’s funding. The SA also rejected some requests that student organizations should have made to the University-wide Program Fund, which has a separate budget to support large-scale and multicultural events. Tightening the SA’s purse strings for student organization allocations creates an imperative to preserve funding for clubs that need it the most. That’s why the SA prohibits them from spending money on food and drink at internal events. Yet while student organizations pay their own way, the SA plays by its own rules – with its massive catering budget, senators chow down on Chipotle and feast on &pizza at their meetings.
If a platter of bean burritos or boxes of flatbreads gave the SA the energy it needs to radically improve GW, perhaps we could forgive what would otherwise seem like naked hypocrisy. But such change is few and far between and often the result of only a handful of people. While former SA Vice President Kate Carpenter spearheaded plans to expand SafeRide and worked alongside former SA President Brandon Hill to push U-Pass over the finish line, what accomplishments, if any, can this year’s SA tout? Or is it too busy with its own sophomoric squabbles and parliamentary procedure to do anything besides spend students’ money on itself?
This self-induced budget blunder is just a symptom of a broader problem – the SA’s members care more about padding their resumes, feeling powerful and, as we know now, getting a free meal or two than they do about helping their constituents. What reason do students have to care about the SA when it hardly shows any concern for them? They already laugh off or otherwise tune out of its ongoing made-for-TV drama, and only about one in 10 students voted in this year’s elections.
The SA can either continue its race to the bottom, empowering its members’ worst impulses and excesses, or it can begin to claw back from the abyss and earn the respect it demands from students. The SA as it stands now can’t rely on fresh blood to fix its longstanding problems, but it can start by meeting students where they are. Senators should ditch the suit and tie, grab a table in Kogan and introduce themselves to the people they claim to represent. Any senator who talked to a student for even a moment would surely have understood the poor optics and worse policy behind the SA’s operating budget. Evidently, none of them did – the vote to approve the budget was unanimous.
It will take more than an attitude adjustment for the SA to prioritize the student community above itself. Its size, scope and, most of all, budget must come down. Democratic representation doesn’t come from simply electing dozens of our peers whom we never see again. It comes from people who care about what students need and are determined to help them every step of the way – people the SA sorely lacks today. The SA’s mindset and membership can either change, as impossible or unlikely as that may seem, or student government at GW can wither into oblivion.
We are tough on the SA because we know it can and should be better. Make no mistake, students deserve representation – just not like this. If the SA wants students to wine and dine them, it needs to earn their trust and respect first.
The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn and Contributing Opinions Editor Riley Goodfellow, based on discussions with Research Assistant Zachary Bestwick, Sports Editor Nuria Diaz, Copy Editor Jaden DiMauro, Culture Editor Clara Duhon and Contributing Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.
This article appeared in the September 12, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.