Editorial: New Horizons can deliver the change that SGA needs

April 6, 2017

Student government at Hopkins needs to change. The Editorial Board has unfortunately seen the Student Government Association (SGA) stagnate, and students have undoubtedly lost respect for this critical institution. But because SGA is the only official representative of students, it must regain their respect.

Two full tickets have entered the race. Comprising New Horizons are Noh Mebrahtu for executive president, AJ Tsang for vice president, Mi Tu for executive treasurer and Rushabh Doshi for executive secretary. They are up against the HopForward ticket, consisting of Anna Du for executive president, Alex Walinskas for vice president, Kush Mansuria for executive treasurer and Lucas Rosen for executive secretary.

In an uncertain age, especially in our city of Baltimore, we need an Executive Board willing to be ambitious and prioritize SGA’s long-term trajectory. In this editorial, we will outline what needs to change, which ticket we support and why you should, too.

SGA is not transparent. Few students are aware of its meeting times, the bills it passes and how it allocates the funds it receives every year from the University. Its website is out-of-date, confusing and uninformative. Meeting minutes and passed bills are rarely posted, and the sporadic emails that the current Executive Board sends are widely ignored.

Most students have no idea that SGA’s budget is around $20,000 every year. In the past week, our student government has spent several thousand dollars as the semester rushes to a close and half their budget remained unspent.

We question why year in, year out the same bills are passing, funding the same groups. For example, a member of the Foreign Affairs Symposium’s (FAS) executive committee who is also an SGA senator introduced a bill giving $500 to his own club for the symposium’s marketing materials.

This past Tuesday, SGA passed a bill to buy new couches for A Place to Talk. The bill was sponsored by a senator who is a member of the group.

Are these not clear conflicts of interest? The next executive board must strive to eliminate these unacceptable conflicts of interest in SGA if it wants to earn the respect of students.

Also, SGA has given FIJI, a fraternity, $1,000 to throw their annual “Islander” party. Members of SGA argued that because the event is open to all students, it was a good use of their funding. 

SGA also allocated $500 to FIJI for their annual PUSH charity event. SGA’s role does not include funding Greek life, which only comprises 30 percent of the student body, but even if it did, why was FIJI given $1,500?

This past year, SGA was forced to put two of its members, including the current executive secretary, on trial because they did not attend enough meetings, and one senator was removed. The student body was notified neither of the resignation, nor of the trial in general. If several members of SGA don’t prioritize attending their own meetings, why should students respect the institution?

The Editorial Board does not condemn the funding initiatives detailed above, but we do question the continual funding of the same student groups.

We want SGA to succeed. It can and should represent the concerns of the Hopkins student body as a whole, lead meaningful conversations about the health of Hopkins students and the role of our University in Baltimore. It should advocate for undergraduates’ interests even if they are completely opposed to the administration’s.

All eight candidates running for Executive Board convinced The News-Letter’s Editorial Board that they are passionate, qualified and ready to lead. We commend the effort that they all put into their platforms and the campaign, and we wish them all the best of luck.

The Editorial Board supports both HopForward and New Horizons’ strong dedication to improving communication between the student body and SGA. While many executive board candidates have made similar promises in years past with no concrete change, we are confident that both tickets will strive to revamp SGA’s website, Twitter and Facebook pages. We know that they will improve transparency by posting both detailed meeting minutes and bills as soon as they are passed.

The Editorial Board also commends both tickets’ dedication to reinforcing sustainability on campus and their strong support of the fossil fuel divestment movement, Refuel Our Future. The University must be a leader on combating climate change.

We also support the two tickets’ dedication to improving the poor state of mental health on campus. Both teams have already worked with student groups like A Place to Talk and institutions like the Counseling Center, and convinced us that mental health will be a priority for their administrations.

The tickets have both dedicated large sections of their platforms to furthering diversity and inclusion at Hopkins. The Editorial Board hopes that whoever is elected will be a strong ally of the Black Lives Matter movement, feminism and workers’ rights at Hopkins and will not hesitate to challenge the administration.

The Editorial Board is endorsing the New Horizons ticket because of their dedication to change and their steadfast commitment to fixing SGA’s current problems. We are confident that, with New Horizons’ vision as the backbone, a strong executive board will be able to lead the student body. A vote for HopFoward’s vision is a vote to keep SGA moving in the same direction.

New Horizons’ platform is complex and too ambitious, but the fact that they have a comprehensive and detailed vision for Hopkins is refreshing.

They demonstrated a deep understanding of how the administration works. They plan to make connections with lower-level administrators to express student concerns and then encourage those administrators to relay their ideas to the most influential decision-makers.

Their idea to work with Maureen Marsh, secretary of the Board of Trustees, for their long-term goal of getting a student representative on the Board, is ambitious. But they also recognized that the path forward will be difficult, and making a connection with Marsh is a concrete way to start.

New Horizons was frank with the Editorial Board that SGA has a poor reputation on campus. In contrast, HopForward argued that, while SGA could do more, most students were just unaware of the “great work” that SGA has already done.

New Horizons’ idea to send “SGA Ambassadors” to student groups, where they will listen to student concerns and relay them to the executive board and the senate, is a tangible policy to repair SGA’s reputation. Their plan to record and livestream Senate meetings also demonstrates dedication to reaching out to students, who often do not have the time to attend meetings.

While HopForward plans to provide students with important resources like the means to petition the University, the end result still relies on students to take action.

The Editorial Board argues that a more proactive stance is needed to boost the abysmal level of student participation in SGA. New Horizons demonstrated a better understanding of the work that must be done to improve SGA’s perception outside of SGA itself.

HopForward’s campaign is strikingly focused on encouraging student entrepreneurship at Hopkins. “Innovation” is one of their platform’s three pillars, but they narrowly define it within entrepreneurship, a path that few Hopkins students pursue.

While HopForward advocates for spaces specifically devoted to student entrepreneurship, New Horizons explicitly supports the construction of a new student center. The MSE Library and Brody, which act as a student center now, fail to separate studying and work from leisure. New Horizons recognizes that separating work and relaxation at Homewood will only be possible with a new space.

Both tickets acknowledged that SGA must reform the way it allocates its budget to fund student groups. However, when asked about the Fiji Islander bill, New Horizons demonstrated their willingness to condemn the two questionable funding bills. On the other hand, HopForward told The Editorial Board that the event was open to all students and therefore an acceptable use of funds.

SGA must first and foremost serve Hopkins students, but we do not exist in a bubble. While HopForward fails to mention Baltimore in their platform, New Horizons recognizes that the University’s relationship with Baltimore is complicated and needs improvement.

Although it will take a considerable amount of time, the Editorial Board commends New Horizons’ plan to create a Center for Civic Engagement, a student-run institute that would work with student advocacy and awareness groups to promote action on the country’s most pressing issues.

We would like to commend all eight candidates for their careful consideration of what is best for Hopkins students. Running for SGA Executive Board is difficult, and all the candidates are clearly qualified for their chosen roles. But the New Horizons ticket promises a change, and that is what this Editorial Board believes is necessary to repair SGA’s image.

New Horizons’ vision is ambitious, and it is unlikely that the ticket would accomplish most of its goals. But their specific plan would encourage students to hold them accountable. They understand the administration, the issues that Hopkins students value today, student activism and the University’s complicated role in the Baltimore community.

SGA has lost the respect of many undergraduates, and it is clear to this Editorial Board that change is necessary. We encourage all students to vote for the New Horizons ticket if they want a proactive student government. They will defend students’ interests, promote sustainability, diversity and dissent and fight against conflicts of interest in SGA.

Correction:  Due to unclear language in the original SGA bill, this editorial originally stated that the FIJI Islander restricted those under 21 from attending the event. The event is open to all members of the Johns Hopkins community. The News-Letter regrets this error. The Editorial Board has added a clarification to the editorial, making it clear that we do not condemn the SGA's initiatives detailed above, but only the continual funding of the same student groups.

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