I don’t know how best to start this. With the Student Government Association (SGA) elections suddenly moved up with such short notice to the student body and beginning on Friday, I find that this may be the most, if not only, appropriate time to air these opinions. Having been a senator for almost a year and a half, I wanted to share some personal thoughts that have stuck with me since last semester about SGA. The views reflected in this piece are mine alone.
Many students may not realize that SGA is a heavily time-consuming and emotionally-taxing commitment. In a typical week, I devote at least five hours to Senate, Senior Class Council and committee meetings. But these five hours do not include the time I spend outside of these meetings writing bills and legislation, planning and hosting Class Council and committee events, corresponding with fellow SGA members, and meeting with administration, students and other stakeholders.
When I came into SGA seeking to better mental health and wellness on this campus, I did not realize how much of my own mental health I would have to sacrifice. At the end of the day, mental health on our campus is still an issue, one that cannot be solved by one person alone overnight. In a similar vein, changing our culture within SGA is going to take time and involve multiple people. However, those who typically join SGA are not making strides to address these issues.
Ill-informed and underqualified students are being easily elected into SGA. Their involvement, or better yet, lack of it, is stalling and perhaps even impeding optimal progress. Many members frequently miss meetings, participate minimally in Senate discussions, and have seemingly no individual projects or goals to pursue, let alone introduce pieces of legislation.
You may be wondering, like I am, why these individuals chose to be in SGA when they cannot show up and do the work that they ran for. While I don’t know the answer to that, I do know that many of them are running for re-election this week, and that is a problem.
There are 23 candidates running for SGA, and only eight have never been in SGA. This is bureaucratic nepotism. Yet for most of those with previous SGA experience, I could not tell you what, if anything, they have done in SGA.
Historically, the lack of experience among incoming SGA members has been incredible. Many students join SGA without a basic understanding of the ins and outs of the organization or a concrete plan to address the issues that they ran on. Most SGA members don’t even seem to have a good grasp of general Hopkins procedures such as registering a student organization, scheduling an event on Hopkins Groups or booking a space on campus. This is grim considering that SGA members should be looked to as the experts on student affairs and the go-to people for student operations.
The duties of an SGA member require basic task-planning, organizational and communication skills, which some members also appear to flag on. They also require the basic skills of being an adult: being punctual, responsive, accountable and most importantly, self-driven — a trait that many seem to lack. Many SGA members seem to have trouble finding plans to pursue and even more trouble leading and executing them when they do.
The point of saying all this is not solely to criticize SGA but to show students that relatively little is needed to be a part of SGA. You don’t need SGA experience to run. I certainly didn’t have any when I ran as a junior. But what I did have was motivation. What SGA desperately needs more of right now are student leaders who are experienced with student affairs and are passionate about getting work done.
In spite of all this, I don’t want to put all the blame on new and incoming SGA representatives for not knowing all the different arms and realistic capacities of SGA. Part of it is SGA’s fault.
SGA doesn’t do a good job of publicizing what we do. We don’t put on regular events. We don’t publicize our weekly meeting time and location. (Very few people outside of SGA know that Senate and committee meetings are open to everyone.) We don’t have a central SGA office. We rarely use our email. We don’t use our Facebook or Instagram pages, but it doesn’t matter because students don’t check them anyways. Only recently did we start posting meeting minutes on our website again, which also recently got updated. We don’t communicate with students at all. In fact, if it weren’t for The News-Letter sitting in at our meetings every week, I am not sure how information from SGA would even reach students. Why would students run when they don’t understand what SGA does in the first place?
However, most of the issues I outline did not start with this year’s Congress. The lack of visibility, action and transparency has always been a problem for SGA. It does not help that Hopkins does not have a student culture that takes pride in student governance, which I believe would change if the right people were elected into SGA.
To the voters reading this, I implore you now to engage with your candidates. Ask them what they have done in SGA. If they are running on the same issues again, ask how they tackled the issues this year and what they hope to do differently next year.
To the candidates seeking re-election, I highly encourage you to ask yourselves whether you have the capacity to carry out meaningful work next year or whether it would be better to have someone else assume your position instead. Are you taking an opportunity away from someone who would simply do the job better?
Lastly, to all the write-in candidates, I applaud you for your courage. I would push you to put yourselves in the role of an actual SGA member and lay down concrete plans for issues that you would address, if elected.
Having said this, I also acknowledge my own shortcomings as a Senator. There were times when I voted on legislation that clearly should have had a more in-depth discussion, and when I silenced my opposing views for fear that I would be challenged. There were specific initiatives I came into SGA with that I now realize are no longer feasible and have discontinued. I say this now because no one else in SGA is saying it, and I genuinely believe that there are students who want to hear what an SGA member honestly has to say about the organization.
Regardless, the elections are happening on Friday, and I encourage all of you to do ample research on your candidates. These people are running to be your representatives, and they are after your votes.
Look at who is trying to represent you. And if no one is, have you considered running yourself?
Chanel Lee is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and French from Aldie, Virginia. They are a Senior Class Senator and the Chair of the Committee on Health, Safety and Sustainability in SGA.