April 25, 2013
While serving on Student Assembly (SA) this year as an appointed representative for the class of 2013, I have felt a thick sense of irony whenever the Assembly has made an important decision predicated on the logic that the Assembly is the representative voice for the entire student body. True, on paper, the members of Hamilton’s SA were elected or appointed in order to fulfill a mission of representing the larger community; however, a closer look shows that the student body and the student government are noticeably detached from one another.
As much as I found my year on SA to be rewarding and full of accomplishments, I also found the experience to be extremely frustrating at times, due to this disconnect. Although it is too late now for the Class of 2013 to make significant changes in our approach to ensuring a responsive and truly representative student government, I hope students in the classes below can consider the following to improve the future.
The most glaring matter that needs to be addressed to improve student government at Hamilton is creating some accountability for those who actually sit on SA. For the classes of 2013 and 2014, the entirety of your delegations to SA this year were either elected unopposed or were appointed to fill vacancies. This means, despite elections, half of Student Assembly didn’t actually need anyone’s vote before assuming the title of representative. For the Class of 2015, last year saw seven candidates vying for five seats—slightly more competition, but hardly the chance for real accountability as at least three incumbent members were guaranteed victory if they sought reelection.
Meanwhile, the President and Vice President of SA were elected unopposed last fall and the SA Constitution was amended to suspend campus-wide elections for Honor Court and Judicial Board due to a consistent shortage of anyone running. Whether you believe SA has done great work this year or not, the fact is your opinion really doesn’t matter. The job performance of SA is becoming largely inconsequential due to the fact that there is no accountability being exercised through contested elections. It shouldn’t be surprising that our student government has shortcomings when reelection is equally ensured for both the representative who demonstrates leadership and the representative who shirks responsibilities.
If you’re someone out there who has not yet served on SAs, I urge you to throw your hat into the ring at the next chance you get. I realize this suggestion is a few days or perhaps a few weeks late because the election process for next fall is already underway, but keep this suggestion in mind come next semester. Even if you don’t expect to win, by having more candidates in elections, the members of our student government will hopefully be forced to be accountable for their work and, in theory, this will better serve the interests of the student body. Imagine a campus where student assembly members must consistently be facilitating outreach and making a tangible and positive impact on campus in order to be reelected. Imagine if everyone on Student Assembly was like Tara Huggins ’14. We would get serious work done.
In the meantime, until the next election, help SA by connecting with your representatives. If you don’t know who your representatives are at this moment, look them up now. As much as SA can try to improve our outreach, incorporating methods other than listserv emails to engage the student body in conversation, we also need you to bring up important issues. When Physical Plant presents us a report on bike safety to us and announces an intention to put up signs, there is no way we can know you disagree unless you tell your reps.
Similarly, we have a difficult time taking a stance against administration decisions like changes to the first-year experience without knowing exactly what students’ concerns are. We have an entire section of every weekly meeting designated specifically for bringing up “new business.” If you want a rep to introduce something into discussion, it is as easy as sending them an email with a request. You can find a list of your reps and their contact info on the recently updated SA website.
Overall, I think the best descriptor for our SA is the old political adage “we get the government we deserve.” I urge younger Hamiltonians to take the time to seriously consider the importance of a well-functioning student government on campus and to invest in its future. The improvement of SA will benefit us all.