No Contest? Not No Problem


By Guest Contributor

We have a lot of problems on this campus. There are a lot of issues that keep people up at night, issues that people believe need to be solved in order to make life here better for everyone. We are too racially segregated. We sexually assault one another. We need to divest. We need a multicultural center. We drink water out of bowls. I could not agree more with these sentiments, and I love student activism. Unfortunately, what many students do not understand is that we have a wonderful, effective and abysmally underutilized tool for enacting effective change: the Student Government Association.

For those who aren’t sure, the SGA is an elected body of student representatives (senators) working in conjunction with a group of students appointed by the student-elected President to serve certain functions (alumni relations, athletic relations, LIS-relations, etc.). In the eyes of the College Administration, these elected senators act as the voice of their respective constituencies. That means that if a senator votes for something, the administration draws the implication that at least a simple majority of the members of that constituency also support what that senator has voted for.

People complain that the SGA doesn’t get anything done. I would take serious issue with this misconception. Since 2010, the SGA is directly responsible for MiddView, the implementation of Pass/Fail, the YouPower spin room, pointed but failed efforts to achieve academic credit for summer internships, ice-skate rentals, the new cafes in BiHall and the CFA, the arts space in the Crest Room, decreases to our parking fines, a recent, faculty-supported effort to reform the AAL requirement, and much more. None of this would have happened without the SGA. That’s a fact.

I have heard a lot more complaints as well. The SGA is too white. It’s too rich. It spends more time dealing with its proceedings than its pronouncements. It’s full of people who “aren’t cool” or who are “out of touch”. That I agree with some of these claims and disagree with others is beside the point. This is not a defense of the SGA. It’s a call to arms.

When I ran for President in Spring 2013, Ms. Liddell crushed me in the votes. I was sad at first, but Rachel has done an absolutely unbelievable job, better than I ever would have been able to do. I remember a big sticking point during election season was how exciting it would be to have a female SGA President. We hadn’t had one in ten years! I agree. It was an excellent move for our student body — electing a female SGA President.

This year, one person ran. A white man from Massachusetts. Unopposed. He could have received one vote, from himself, and then assumed his position with exactly as much political legitimacy as Rachel Liddell did last year. That’s not the SGA’s fault. That is solely, exclusively, lamentably the fault of the student body.

I’m not a big time social activist, although I support those who are. I like small changes. I want dishes in the dining halls, better food, better knowledge of our classes before we take them, better financial aid. Simple stuff. I have been on the SGA for four years and I’ve worked hard to do my part to listen to my peers and do what little I, as one person, have been able to do to meet their interests. Sometimes I have succeeded, and sometimes I have failed, but at least I have tried.

This year, in 10 elections for voting positions on the SGA Senate, there was ONE competitive election: for sophomore senator. We had ten winners and one loser. At the same time, we have rampant dialogue taking place, often anonymously, on platforms such as Midd Confessional, middbeat, the Campus, and beyond the green about contentious issues. Certainly, there are cultural and social problems here that are beyond the scope of the SGA to change. There are so many students here who want, nay, demand, change, but who refuse to engage with the most powerful change-making implement that we have created for ourselves. This is counterproductive and pernicious behavior.

I have sat in on the SGA and witnessed ten-minute debates about whether or not we have followed proper election procedures. I am sick of wasting time on issues like this. People that are aggravated that this is “all the SGA does” would serve themselves better by running for office and bringing more spirited, controversial, impassioned voices to the floor.

Where is the Brainerd Senator that tirelessly pushes divestment legislation until, with the voice of the entire student body behind her, the administration is forced to listen? Where is the Junior Senator that thinks sexual violators or academic cheaters should be expelled after one strike? Where is the President who thinks all student organizations’ budgets should be cut by 10% to raise enough money for the construction of a new multi-cultural center on campus?

The SGA is a powerful tool. To try to get more people involved, I have brought the Competitive Elections Act to the Senate floor. This is an amendment to the Elections Procedures of the SGA bylaws that gives students, after the manifestation of uncontested elections, additional time to decide whether or not they are interested in seeking office before the candidates are finalized. There are few things more destructive to accurate representation of student views’ than uncontested SGA elections.

Run for office. Or don’t. Every student is entitled to bring bills to the Senate floor, and every Sunday our 7 pm meeting is open to the public. Only those who are elected get a vote, though. And a vote is a powerful tool.

NATHAN LABARBA ’14 is from Oakland, N.J. Artwork by JENA RITCHEY.