Last year, I chose not to run for reelection to the Student Government Association (SGA) for one simple reason — I could not tolerate it any longer. The vitriol and infighting were too much, and it began to affect my mental health and academic performance. I am not alone — the past year has seen over a dozen resignations from the student senate and committees, many citing similar reasons.
Part of me hoped that this year’s SGA would make a difference and change things. That part of me died not long into the fall semester. The year began with the resignation of SGA President Andrew Hare, and the election of Kennedy Holt to fill the position.
Holt has often labeled this as a “Year of Rebuilding” for the organization. But anyone familiar with the body can attest to SGA’s continued dysfunction as a legislative body. Looking at SGA minutes shows that it conducted little more than the bare necessities of approving required motions and granting voting rights to committees.
Most of these committees have this year either never met, or have failed to submit minutes as required.
Over the last few years, SGA has been deteriorating. The COVID-19 pandemic can partly be blamed for this decline, but so can flawed leadership and a growing belief among students that SGA just is not worth their involvement.
For a long time, students have viewed members of SGA with derision, believing members to be pompous grandstanders who run simply for an excuse to wear suits and pad their resumes. This most recent student senate has done little to change that perception.
The student body’s distaste for SGA can be seen in the turnout for recent SGA elections. During the height of the pandemic, the spring officer election saw a turnout of 1578 students. In the most recent 2023 officer election, there were a total of 68 ballots cast.
Don’t get me wrong — there are those members of SGA who are professional, courteous, and whom I consider outstanding student leaders. Unfortunately, over the last few years, the proportion of that type of person in SGA has steadily decreased, causing SGA to fall into a destructive spiral.
At a meeting a few weeks ago, I asked a question about a drastic change to student group management. Instead of an answer to my question, I was met with scoffs and groans from members of the Student Groups Committee. They were seemingly annoyed at the prospect of explaining their actions, despite the adverse effects they would have on student groups. At this past week’s final SGA meeting of the semester, the 2023-2024 SUSSI Student Activity Fee Budget was up for approval. More than 60 people showed up to voice their concerns about the deficient budget, but were effectively stonewalled. Public comment was limited to 25 minutes, at a maximum of two minutes per person.
In her farewell speech as SGA President, Holt spoke on the importance of being “quick to listen.” Unfortunately for the dozens of students who wished to express their issues with the budget, SGA does not seem to follow such principles.
For years, SGA has been full of talk of representation, transparency, accountability, diversity, equity and inclusion. Those ideas are — and need to be treated as — more than slogans and buzzwords to include in speeches.
Those who choose to serve in SGA need to take it seriously. It is not enough to show up at the meetings — and some do not even do that much. Serving in SGA is a commitment. If you are not willing to fulfill your duties and take an active role in serving your campus community, perhaps it is time to step aside and make room for someone who is.
If SGA as a group wants to be respected by the campus community — students, faculty and staff — they need to act respectably. They need to be professional and do more for students than the bare minimum. Senators need to act as actual representatives of the constituencies that elected them.
The 2023-2024 SGA was sworn in at that same meeting last Thursday. These 10 members will be joined by over a dozen vacant seats that will need to be filled in the fall. I offer this advice to them: be the change that SGA needs. Don’t continue down the destructive path your predecessors have tread. Do the hard work that needs to be done to make our campus better. And above all else, listen to the students you represent — and heed their words.