At SGA speech night, the sounds of silence

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • March 26, 2014

At issue: Unacceptable candidate attendance at SGA speech night

Our take: If SGA can’t take itself seriously, how can the rest of us?

The Student Government Association would have you believe that members tried their best to engage the Emerson community in its elections process.

“In my thoroughness to make sure that every candidate knows about press night, it didn’t occur to me to reach out to news outlets,” executive assistant Emily Solomon wrote in an email to the Beacon.

Yet it’s clear SGA failed on both counts.

That email from Solomon arrived to the Beacon only seven hours before its Press Night, where candidates are expected to deliver speeches about their ideas for the upcoming year — scant time for the intended audience to prepare.

Eight of the 17 candidates did not show up.

Eleven positions have no candidates at all.

Even though no-shows were ostensibly required to have sent a prepared statement, five still flouted that mandate, going completely unrepresented at the only public forum for candidates.

And despite SGA’s posts on social media, no students besides reporters and SGA members showed up.

That hardly seems like thoroughness to us.

The gaunt attendance could be attributed in part to the decision to not check with candidates to find a time that worked best for the most members. The argument was that selecting a time blindly would help prevent the appearance of bias toward particular candidates. Of course, there would be a simple response for that: maximizing attendance at speech nights offers students a fuller sense of the candidates when they head to the online ballot box. Simply, objectively choose the time when the most candidates could RSVP affirmatively.

But the lack of attendance by the candidates is only symptomatic of a larger problem: a culture of apathy set by current members of the student government. While the absence of almost half the contestants does raise questions about their motivation and qualifications, it is more important to question why so many candidates found that an acceptable decision to make.

The upper rungs of SGA have set a precedent of impassivity, failing to enforce the organization’s own policies regarding attendance and candidacy statements. This casual and lax approach to running SGA sends a message to all its members — current and prospective — that this is an acceptable attitude. If stability and dedication are to be in the future of SGA, a facelift for the rules and structure should be in its present. 

This indifference trickles down to SGA’s everyday operations. Just this semester, four officials stepped down, and according to its website, 10 positions remain open. And accepting the responsibilities that come with being an elected SGA official include managing the annual student activities fee, an amount that SGA recently proposed to raise $10 per student per semester. It’s an important undertaking that should be done by students committed to their roles. It’s money that funds our student organizations every year — from literary magazines to comedy troupes and cultural organizations, this money allows us to pursue co-curricular interests. Students charged with those decisions should fully invest in what they’re doing.

The attitude that should be more common is that of the candidates who are running for the only contested position — class of 2017 senator — who did show up to advocate for themselves. A desire to attend Press Night and a respect for its validity should be expected from all.

There’s no mandate that says students have to participate on student government. If you don’t have the drive or the time to commit to being an official, there’s a simple solution: don’t do it.