A chance for change

The Student Government Association (SGA) recently announced that applications for SGA president and vice president for the 2016-2017 academic year were available.
As a graduating senior, I’m hoping there will be a few candidates that truly care about Augustana’s student body that step forward. While the efforts this year from David Sommers’s administration are commendable, I’m still awaiting a candidate who had to fight for the position. The recent elections have been extremely tilted in one direction, leaving SGA dynasty candidates with no real opposition.
Similar to the political dynasties of the U.S. presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, Augustana has its own. What’s defined as “true” leadership at Augustana, worthy of SGA administrative office, can be derived from very few places, it seems. SGA, the Office of Student Life (OSL), and Greek Life are the seemingly magic trifecta. Involvement in one or more of these organizations often leads to an easy victory.
However, there are leaders I’ve met, ones who don’t always have the backing of communities like Greek Life to support them, that deserve to fulfill the role. There are students here that care beyond crunching numbers, beyond Greek incentives and beyond collecting leadership titles like Girl Scout badges. They’re a dying breed at Augustana, but there’s a chance for change. I’m hoping those students, the ones that keep Campus Ministries thriving, the ones who revive clubs that could’ve disappeared (College Democrats and College Republicans) and the ones that are attempting to make real change (Black Lives Matter protestors). After all, we’re still waiting on those gender neutral bathrooms and yet another round of protests and petitions have occurred. If the recent SGA presidents have been Bush or Clinton, we need a Bernie Sanders of our own to step forward.
There’s a solemn resignation for many students surrounding SGA elections. It’s no wonder that students don’t always feel like their vote counts, even on the regional and national stage. Why? Even at one of the lowest levels of political office, students feel helpless. It’s not just the candidates that are cookie cutter, the voters are too.
Last year, Peter Siepiora and Danica Gray attempted to break the mold, but it was clear to see that the debate room wasn’t packed with students they could influence. The pair were up against an audience consisting of two Greek Life powerhouses, Rho Nu Delta and Delta Chi Theta. Without the backing or endorsement from previous SGA executive board members, the OSL, or a Greek group, it’s hard to get noticed. We need smaller organizations to band together, to truly support the candidates they prefer.
There are so many ways to impact the election. For example, its not impossible for students to give their own endorsements on social media, in discussion with others, etc. Each club technically owns its own endorsement. Give them, it might be worth your while to truly invest your support to a candidate that you feel strongly about. Make sure people know that candidates made the effort to reach out, to really listen to students, and the concerns they have.
We need more debates, concerning specific issues, and at different times. After all, students have varying schedules and debate locations should shift. Both candidates should be allowed a space in which they feel comfortable, and both should be placed in an environment where they feel estranged. The main debate can remain in the Gävle Room, but there are plenty more venues available that will push students to go. Why not hold a miniature town hall in the Westerlin Lounge? Why not broadcast a discussion with both candidates in the Philosophy Forum? We barely get to know these candidates, other than how they look on a poster.
In recent years, when the candidates have been announced, its clear to see who the victor will be. There’s no surprise, there’s no heated debate, there’s just a winner. As a college, our resources should be dedicated to making it a fair system. While we have the democratic vote, the path to victory is paved with money. Posters, stickers, websites, etc. have all become influencing factors.
I’ve been disappointed for two years now, and I’m awaiting another predictable cycle. While the Observer has endorsed candidates in years previous, my hand didn’t always rise for the majority vote, even within our offices. At one point, I even abstained. There were no options that I truly felt would benefit the student body, and my personal endorsement felt false and definitively forced.
While I expect the Augustana pool to resemble the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate field in numbers, I’m hoping for a grassroots uprising and a few honest debates to match. It’s time to make the political process important again.
Applications are due by 4:30 p.m. on March 11 to the Dean of Students office in Founders Hall.