In an effort to move on from mass resignations and overall lack of voter participation that occurred in the spring semester, the Student Government Organization (SGO) is embracing student voices and looking for better ways to advocate the needs and interests of the student body.
According to SGO Vice President Akshay Srinivasan ’21, SGO has three main goals for this school year. First, SGO is striving to be more proactive in terms of its relationship with administration and students. Second, SGO is working to provide more social spaces in the absence of the fraternities. Third, SGO is planning to gather more student opinions on a wide variety of issues on campus by hosting town-hall meetings and improving the functionality of their website.
To help usher in these new changes, SGO welcomed five new members to the student senate after the Fall 2019 election closed on Sept. 18. Out of the nine first-years that released policy platforms, Mina Liang ’23, Derrick Zhen ’23, and Mary Camuso ’23 garnered the most votes and each earned the position of 2019-2020 first year senators. The race for 2019-2020 senators at large was less competitive with Colin Donahue ’22 and Quin Seivold ’22 running unopposed.
The election process was overseen by Srinivasan, who first advertised the election at the Student Activities Fair a week prior to when position platforms were due for candidates on Sept. 13.
Candidates ran on issues including SGO transparency, safety, and student life. Camuso, a past member of her high school student government, looked to students in her dorm for policy ideas.
“I talked to the students that I lived with; a lot of them are first-years, and some of them are upperclassmen,” Camuso said. “I just talked to them and asked, what are some things you’ve noticed that are an issue? And definitely, the lighting on campus was an issue because I know I live in DK where walking around is a little bit dark.”
In addition to resolving safety concerns, Camuso said she plans to advocate for lounge space refurbishments. Liang also focused on practical policies that would improve student life, such as making shuttles more accessible, increasing the availability of textbooks on reserve, and decreasing the number of photocopied textbooks.
“I think those are issues that I feel like I can manage, and that I was comfortable putting on my platform,” Liang said. “But I’m also super up to people giving me more ideas. But I definitely am very careful about promising what I can and cannot.”
Zhen took a less practical position on his platform. In regard to transportation, Zhen said, “No one should have to do cardio to get to class. As your senator, I will fight for the most underprivileged (ML residents) and push for Mary Lyon to be airlifted by multiple apache helicopters and plopped next to Parrish.”
Similar to Camuso, Zhen said he also drew inspiration for his policy ideas from peers.
“Of course, people just toss out like, the stupidest things,” Zhen said. “Like, ‘I should move ML closer to campus. You should, like, make sure everyone knows what the parties are like. Yeah, you should. You should make Willets cooler.’ I’m like, yeah, like, these are valid concerns. They’re [really] stupid, but they are like some of the things that we’re dealing with.”
Although students have many opinions on a wide array of issues, this concern is not represented in the voter turnout for this fall election as only 138 out of 418 first years voted. Srinivasan said this low voter turnout is typical in SGO elections.
Despite SGO’s several attempts to increase student participation in elections by sending out emails and hanging up posters, many students either do not get the message or do not care. For Elise Decker ’23, it was somewhere in between.
“I think I did open [the SGO email about the election], and I scanned like the first couple of lines. And I was like, ‘This isn’t as important as some other emails I just got.’ And so, I put it on the back burner, and then I just forgot about it,” Decker said. “I was interested in it when I first heard about it, but then I just got super distracted by everything else.”
Increased student engagement in elections falls under SGO’s third goal to better represent the student body by collecting more student opinions.
While optimistic about the year ahead, Srinivasan said breaking the cyclical nature of student voter apathy and subsequent student discontent with SGO will be challenging.
“We [SGO] need to work on getting people to vote,” Srinivasan said. “But a part of the issue is like, when we come to larger issues in the future, which we inevitably well, people will start criticizing us or like coming to us saying unfavorable outcomes are a result of us. But they can also be resulted in those same people not voting which is a thing to consider. And so in the future it would be great if, when people look back on those things, it can be kind of like an inspiration to vote. That’s what we’re hoping to see this year.”