SGA starts semester with delusions of grandeur

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • February 5, 2015

At issue: What is the role of SGA?

Our take: Concrete improvements should trump lofty aspirations 

The Student Government Association is here to focus on real-world issues, or so said SGA’s president, Emily Solomon, as recorded in the most recent meeting’s minutes. Ongoing legislative priorities like dining hall reform? We’ll check in with those next week.

Solomon was as quoted saying that she wanted the SGA to “bring more real-world into what we do, in light of what happened with Ferguson, Leelah Alcorn, mental health, inclusivity, diversity,” in the minutes provided to the Beacon from the Feb. 3 SGA meeting.

These are broad and important issues, but their nuances extend well beyond Emerson’s student-administrator relationship and into the deepest questions facing American culture, identity, and politics that are intractable on a national scale.

Though SGA can—and ought to—have a voice in discussions of power, privilege, and advocacy, it doesn’t need to be the leading voice. Instead, SGA must return to its roots: serving as the voice for students to the administration and trustees and creating small but genuine change. It is still a student organization—the six resignations prefacing its first meeting of the semester are par for the course for any campus group—and should concern itself with students primarily.

Elected student representatives would much better serve their constituents by dedicating their time to initiatives that require measurable action and problems that have yet to receive significant attention. Last semester’s 29-page academic initiative, for example, suggested improvements to attendance policies, course evaluations, and registration. SGA members later delivered student complaints about Emerson’s 24-hour security system to Emerson Police Chief Robert Smith.

But much of SGA’s weekly meetings is dedicated to appointing or electing students to positions, granting rarely disputed appeal money to student organizations, and participating in discussions that seem to be forgotten by the following week, never turning into action. Topics of discussion this year include students smoking in non-designated areas, mental health, student housing, interpersonal violence, and the college’s finances.

As with any organization, SGA’s efficacy is bound to ebb and flow. But at this juncture, it seems SGA could use a nudge. In 2011, then-SGA president Jeffrey Rizzi told the Beacon that he had two simple, practical goals that semester: helping students gain more printing credits and securing more space for students’ extracurricular activities. There’s nothing particularly flashy about either agenda, but they were issues of concern to many students. 

SGA doesn’t have to solve issues as large as institutional racism to have a “real-world” impact. Emerson exists in the real world and we pay many real-world dollars to be here. Plans to solve the problems within the school are a more effective way to demonstrate the importance of student government.

It’s not like Emerson is doesn’t have areas that need significant reform. In fact, most of Emerson’s most glaring flaws—such as food services, the structural integrity of Little Building, the library that closes before midnight—have become cliches amongst the student body, ideas tossed around year after year but never acted upon. Making small but important changes to these systems would demonstrate to students that SGA can have a visible impact. 

And this would likely go a long way toward persuading students to engage with SGA.

In 2011, 240 votes were cast for the winner of SGA’s presidential election. But last year, the top presidential vote getter only received 58 votes, and ultimately declined the position. Solomon—who ended up becoming the president—received only 11 votes.

With its upcoming special election, SGA has an opportunity to attract candidates—and votes—by demonstrating that members can focus on issues directly relevant to students. It’s great to have big aspirations. But for SGA, student concerns should be all the real-world it needs.