Candidates for student government office gave speeches in favor of their election in McFeely’s Thursday. Senator elections are held every spring semester following the election of Student Government Association (SGA) officers.
Concerns have been raised over the lack of participation in student government elections. Of the 14 offices available for petitioning in this election, only three petitions were received for two positions — one for Class of 2026 Senator and two for Class of 2025 Senator. Each class has two senator positions representing them.
The officer elections — which wrapped up on March 15 — saw a similar deficit in participation. Five positions were open, and only two petitions were turned in — one for SGA President (Harun Pacavar) and one for SGA Vice President of Internal Affairs (Kennedy Holt).
The Vice President positions of External Affairs and Student Groups were filled in that election by write-in candidates — Joyce Suah and Justin Brajkovich, respectively. Although election results show a number of write-ins for the position of Vice President of Finance, no winner was announced.
Returning to the speeches, first up to speak was Lillian Sellers, a junior political science student who is running for the Class of 2025 Senator position. Sellers placed a strong emphasis on accessibility and open communication.
“One of my proudest achievements here at Shippensburg University is founding the Disability Advocacy Club,” Sellers said.
This topic of accessibility was one of the topics later discussed during the Q&A. “There’s a lot of focus at Shippensburg University on labels and awareness and not a lot on actions and what struggles are attached to those labels,” Sellers said.
Candidates also noted the lack of utilization of OAR — the Office of Accessibility and Resources.
Sellers also noted other accessibility issues on campus. “Right now, there’s no accessible dorm on campus that my chair can fit into. I go in straight, and cannot turn around.” They also noted Shippensburg University Police Department’s unwillingness to accommodate people with mobility issues and disabilities into their evacuation policies.
Next up to the mic was Malu Takahashi, also a junior political science major running for the Class of 2025, who currently serves as Commuter Student Senator. Takahashi focused on student engagement with SGA, and encouraged students to vote, saying, “Your vote counts, your voice counts. It’s not only your civic duty, but also your right to express your vote.”
Ali Sina Sharifi was the last to give his speech. Sharifi is a sophomore political science student, and is running for one of the two open Class of 2026 Senator positions. Sharifi also currently serves as the 2022-2023 International Student Senator. In his speech, he touted his experience — his student government experience began in first grade in Afghanistan.
Sharifi shared his experience as a student in Afghanistan, recalling an incident in which Islamic fundamentalists had attacked his school with stones and gas cans. Sharifi explained his reasoning for running, saying, “I want to help because of the help that I got, and the help I didn’t get in my home country.”
The SGA budget was also discussed which, due to a number of factors, currently has a six-figure deficit. The 2022-2023 budget allocates over 50% of its $3.2 million expenses toward Intercollegiate Athletics, compared to Student Groups, which received just $8,301.
“First and foremost, this is an educational institution,” Takahashi said. “Half the budget to Athletics — that’s ludicrous in my opinion because it’s not half the campus.”
Sharifi proposed increased funding for department-related student groups like the Political Science Club.
Sellers suggested SGA needs to “look at what exactly that money is allocated for within sports, and why that budget is so high.” They also noted that student athletes receive scheduling privileges, something that students with disabilities do not receive.
Disinterest in SGA was another issue discussed in the Q&A session. “There is an unwillingness from the students toward the student government,” Sharifi noted. Referring to the spring 2023 officer elections, he questioned why SGA only received 68 ballots out of a student body of over 4,000. Attendance at the speeches, for example, was dire — only the three candidates, SGA President Kennedy Holt and I were in attendance.
“There needs to be much more transparency,” Sellers noted. “We need to be more open, honest and personable in telling the students what’s going on.”
Sharifi suggested the idea of the 2023-2024 school year being a “Year of Befriending” — having SGA focus on outreach to both student organizations and the student body at large. He continued, “Part of leadership roles is not just sitting there in meetings or making speeches.”
Members of SGA have called the 2022-2023 school year a “year of rebuilding.” Subject to write-in candidates filling in positions, it seems SGA may enter the 2023-2024 school year in a similar state of disarray.
Polls opened Monday, April 10, and will close Thursday, April 13, at 4 p.m.. Students can find the link to vote in an email from Lisa Laughlin to their ship.edu email, or via QR codes placed around campus. Those elected will go on to serve the student body in the 2023-2024 school year.
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