Why I Didn’t Vote in the Student Government Election (and Why You Should!)
By: Justin Srsic
Student Advocacy has been incredibly important to me here at Marymount. It’s what drove me to serve on Student Government for two years, assist the University in an Arlington County Task Force to reshape land usage in the lot across 26th Street from Ostapenko and Caruthers Hall, and join the University Diversity and Inclusion Committee. However, developments in the Student Government Association that started when I was a Freshman have led to my own disillusionment with the organization and their ability to advocate for the student body – which in turn has driven my decision to not participate in this year’s elections in an effort to publicly address my concerns.
Over the past few years, SGA has lost it’s standing and ability to effectively work for the students. The most calamitous instance of this is their loss of ability to appropriate the Student Activity Fee (SAF), the SGA-controlled fund for student events and organizations which is made up of $100 semesterly contributions from student tuition fees. While they can budget money for themselves to program and run their office, their power to allocate money to student organizations has been ceded back to the Student Affairs Division, specifically a Board made up of Administration, club treasurers, and the SGA Treasurer. Club leaders like myself may enjoy this dominance over the budget, but the fact of the matter is that all of these members besides the SGA Treasurer were not elected by the student body and therefore have very little right to appropriate the student body’s money as compared to the SGA Senate that used to fulfill this duty. The process is entirely undemocratic and surrenders one of the most important aspects of SGA’s mission to advocate for us.
Another major grievance is the lack of accountability in SGA due to certain legal decisions made by past Senates and also egregious violations of the Constitution and the Student Bill of Rights. In violation of the Constitution and the Student Right to Transparent Government, Spring elections were canceled which in turn led to a four month-long discontinuity of government. The “Acting” Executive Officers were not elected and the Senate was nonexistent – leading to an extended time where the student body was voiceless. Meanwhile, the University made important decisions during this time to re-open for the fall amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, a time where we all needed a voice at the table the most.
While the likelihood of many other grievances is certain, these massive issues stem from years of organizational mismanagement and misguidance. Internal mechanisms for accountability like the Government Operations Committee and the Attorney General have been abolished, the Judiciary Branch of SGA never acts and is never taken seriously, the Senate regularly remains inactive and captivated to the will of the Executive Board and their stipends, and voter turnout has historically been very low, even by the standards of other University Student Governments.
Now I may be pessimistic, and even a tad bit hypocritical seeing as I am not actively running for office to change this and I am choosing not to vote. However, I’m a Senior now. My time here has passed and all I can successfully do now is urge you to take action yourself and not make the same mistakes that I have. Please, do not be immediately drawn to my level of cynicism! There are still positive changes that have been accomplished in the last few years by SGA, like improvements to outdoor seating on campus, efforts to fight food insecurity, a greater institutional focus on diversity and inclusion, and a promised (albeit probably unlikely) physical Student Center on campus. Overall, there have been many missteps in the progress of Student Government at Marymount, but there is broad hope for change and drastic improvement if future SGA Senators and Executive Board Officers step up and actively work to improve their organization and the overall student experience at Marymount.