By: Cody Knapp
Each year, the Student Government Association’s election week here at UGA rolls around, and I hear a collective groan. That week is here again; students who never knew they had an SGA representative, much less interacted with that same representative, are now being asked to cast votes for their next SGA executive and legislature. The phrase I hear repeated consistently as I walk around campus encouraging students to vote: why should I care?
Election week always seems to raise a number of probing questions regarding the purpose and the existence of the Student Government Association. Last year, when there was merely a single ticket for which students could vote, I recall that the Demosthenian Literary Society debated a resolution that called for the complete dissolution of SGA. Interestingly, the Society voted to pass the resolution. With this action, engaged and politically aware students had called for an end to SGA. Election week concluded with only 4% of the UGA student body casting a vote, seemingly lending credence to the call for dissolution.
Among other reasons, this happened because SGA had become largely irrelevant. One year later, it remains irrelevant – earlier this semester, most of SGA’s financial responsibilities were actually revoked for a short period of time during fall semester due to internal issues. In yet another debacle just last week, the President of the University of Georgia, Michael Adams, informed SGA that he would no longer be attending an SGA-sponsored event, Open Mike with Adams. This event had been on his calendar for the duration of the spring semester; he informed SGA of his change of plans on the day of the event. These and other issues have simply added to the air of triviality surrounding SGA, causing UGA students to view the organization as increasingly irrelevant.
So again, why should you care? You should care because, in spite of its serious problems, SGA does take actions that are truly relevant to students at UGA. In the furor this semester that surrounded Georgia House Bill 59, which would prevent all public universities in Georgia from admitting undocumented students, SGA passed a resolution condemning the bill. This resolution, along with subsequent lobbying efforts from certain members of SGA, was a tangible action that successfully presented a student voice to the legislature in Atlanta. SGA has also made great changes in the past, including obtaining student access to Athens Transit buses, adding a $3 green fee, and changing the final exams schedule. These are all just a taste of what SGA could do if it were viewed as a more legitimate body.
Legitimacy is why every student on this campus should cast a vote during election week. Elections are the occasions that provide parties and platforms with their legitimacy; if only a tiny fraction of the student body votes again, the new student government of UGA will have very little legitimacy in the eyes of the University administration, as well as local and state governments. This will limit SGA’s ability to accomplish anything of worth. High levels of student participation are needed in SGA elections in order to give SGA the mandate it needs to pursue meaningful change on behalf of students. If the University administration believed that SGA truly represented the students of the University it runs, it would certainly be more willing to engage SGA and entertain its propositions for affecting positive changes on campus.
Regardless of your opinions of the current Student Government, if you believe that SGA could become a positive force on this university campus, advocating for student issues and representing student voices to higher authorities, then I encourage you to vote this week. Check out all four campaigns platforms, statements, beliefs, and bios, and vote for your preferred ticket: Redefine UGA, UGA Blueprint, IgniteUGA, and Dawgs YOUnited. All have intriguing platforms and are presenting solutions and policies toward issues that need to be addressed. I hope you will join me in voting and supporting our next Student Government here at UGA.