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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Corey Jacobson: An SA conversation worth having

My previous column cited how an ineffective Student Association has prompted Abolish the SA campaigns to resurface year after year. But without a specific plan in place to handle student advocacy and fund allocation, abolishing the SA would leave the student body worse off. In order to find the appropriate balance between those two extremes, we need to understand how, if at all, we can avoid running into the same issues all over again.

Mired by its own bureaucracy

The fundamental problem with the Abolish the SA campaign is that the SA’s most serious flaws are actually just inherent in the nature of any democratic organization, especially student governments. Anyone who has been to a student org meeting knows all too well how a small organization can institute bureaucratic procedures to a laughable extent. There will inevitably be political jockeying and slow movement on important issues, not to mention people who take themselves too seriously.

But beyond the bureaucratic issues, the fact that we attend a 4-year university gives us a clear expiration date for our involvement on campus. Few students wish to spend their entire college experiences in the SA, and there are markedly few senators who seek re-election and thus there is little institutional memory.

If Phil Gardner is right about one thing, it’s that this is a cyclical problem. Aside from the outdated hairdos and pictures of Nixon, one might mistake looking through Hatchet archives from the 1970s with Hatchets from last year. Present concerns such as dining options, course requirements, lack of student influence in administration decisions and library conditions were equally pressing back then.

In reality, the continuity of these concerns among students is a reflection not on the efficacy of the SA but on the fact that, to put it simply, these are the basic issues that college students care about. In 1970, changing the “library conditions” meant a new building called Gelman. Poor dining options meant the dining hall in the basement of Thurston. Things have improved drastically since those days, but it’s in our nature to want what we don’t have. Let’s be honest – we could get a steakhouse in J Street and people would complain that there was not enough chicken.

A conversation worth having

What reforms could actually change the culture of the SA? In searching for an answer, I spoke to people well-versed in the SA, and I heard everything from implementing a 2-year term to installing political parties. Both of these have the potential for disaster. A 2-year term could drive away many well-intentioned and qualified candidates who do not have further GW political ambitions, creating an even greater sense of power entrenchment and disconnect between the SA and the rest of the student body. The idea of establishing political parties to give senators a distinct platform to pursue in office is good in theory, but existing precedents show the reality to be different. A friend at the University of Florida explained that having political parties at her school has created a system where the Greek-life community joins forces with other organized groups to elect a slate of candidates, essentially blocking out any independents.

Perhaps most frustrating, I heard competing opinions about which SA branch was too large and could be downsized. Either of these plans could have merit, but the problems plaguing the SA are brought on by far more than having too many players on the field.

Instead, I believe the key to improving the SA comes with recognizing the link between poor communication and high student apathy. Through both online media and personal interactions, the SA needs to focus on engaging uninvolved students using everything from a weekly update to in-class visits by each school’s senators. Only after students realize how the SA affects their lives can it become a more effective body. This is only the first step, and needs to be followed with a worthy debate over additional reforms and transparent proposals.

While I can’t support the campaign to abolish the SA – at least until there is a more realistic plan as to how the funding allocation and student advocacy would continue unimpaired – I do think this is a conversation worth having. And not just within the SA, or The Hatchet, but as a student body.

Election season is underway. The original Abolish the SA movement may have failed in the long run, but it certainly has implications for the future. If the SA does not heed the warnings, and candidates choose to continue the cycle instead of truly engaging their peers, the Abolish the SA campaign may not be a joke for too much longer.

Corey Jacobson, a senior majoring in business, is a Hatchet columnist.

Editor’s note: This is the final part of a series of columns that examine the Student Association. The first article can be found here

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