Presidential candidates offer distinct visions for student government

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • March 25, 2015

At issue: The three-way SGA presidential election
Our take: Options represent a valuable breath of fresh air for SGA

This Student Government Association election, for the first time in years, represents a true referendum on the future of the undergraduate experience at Emerson. It is exciting that there are three presidential candidates, and that they all offer significantly different visions of student governance, because the student body now has a real choice to make.

Members of the Beacon’s editorial board met separately with the three candidates on Tuesday night for about half an hour each. After over five hours of deliberation, we could not agree on endorsing one candidate.

Instead, we offer this outline:

• If you believe SGA is fundamentally on the right track, and want to give its current initiatives another year to grow, you should vote for Emily Solomon.

• If you believe SGA is generally on the right track, but needs a stronger leader to accomplish its goals, you should vote for Dan Goldberg.

• If you believe SGA requires a leader with a new, distinct vision, you should vote for Alan Vilimaitis.

In some ways, the three candidates have remarkably similar platforms. They all said that SGA isn’t well-recognized among students and want to change that. They all identified Emerson’s Counseling and Psychological Services as an area for improvement. And they all wanted SGA to better connect with, or learn from, student groups.

We asked all three candidates to use a metaphor to describe the ideal student government at a college like Emerson. Solomon, the incumbent, compared it to a stage manager: a behind-the-scenes position that ensures everything on stage is executed smoothly. Goldberg said it was like a laser: It takes light from different sources and focuses it to make it more powerful. And Vilimaitis likened it to parents: No matter what you do, they will always be there to protect and fight for you.

These metaphors rather accurately describe their campaigns. Solomon’s platform focuses on the process—holding discussions and creating committees. Goldberg said he wanted SGA to be the body that channels students’ concerns, instead of forcing them to reinvent the advocacy wheel. Vilimaitis consistently returned to his goal of meeting every Emerson student: “A vote is only for two semesters,” he told the editorial board. “A friendship is forever.”

Each has at least one important quality that the others lack. Solomon, the incumbent, already has experience as SGA president, so she knows the people and processes integral to governance. Goldberg, currently the sophomore class president, has an easygoing, down-to-earth personality that would encourage conversations with constituents. Vilimaitis, who transferred to Emerson last semester, has a passion and exuberance for the position, and life, that could reinvigorate an often-staid institution.

It’s a dictum in design and technology circles that creativity comes from constraints—and SGA presidents are bound by many constraints. There are only 28 weeks in an academic year, and the college’s administrative bureaucracy has a way of muddling the best intentions. So the question becomes: Who can best work within those inevitable restrictions and still accomplish something meaningful? Solomon said she would continue the work on SGA’s longstanding initiatives. Goldberg said, instead of creating more internal committees, he would focus on accomplishing one goal at a time. Vilimaitis said he would strive to foster grassroots authority by creating a real sense of community through face-to-face interactions with students.

With three contrasting options, students have, for the first time in years at Emerson, a chance to make a real decision about the future of student governance—and thus their own future experiences at Emerson. Student government, we believe, should be important, and should play a critical civic role, advocating for meaningful but realistic change on behalf of its constituents—students. All three candidates have visions for achieving this; now it’s up to students to think carefully about those visions and the people behind them.