SGA struggles to inspire involvement among studentsBy David Williams III | 02/07/2018 10:09pm
After a 7 percent voter turnout from the College of Arts and Sciences in the recent Senate special elections, SGA is hoping to combat voter apathy and encourage engagement during elections in March. But despite their best efforts, many students don't think involvement in elections is worth the time.
Jacob Walker, a junior majoring in operations management, said there are other things to care about besides SGA, like classes and career opportunities. For him, participating in elections doesn’t result in any major changes that he knows of, so it seems like a waste of time.
Senator Rob Harrington, a junior studying finance and economics, said while SGA can’t force the University to do anything, they do the best they can with the best intentions and resources they have available.
Emily Triolet, a sophomore majoring in public relations, said it is great that SGA is able to provide resources for students and advocate for various issues. She thinks SGA is a great support system for campus organizations and helps represent students, but she also said elections aren't particularly important to her. She often misses elections because of how busy she is during the semester.
Sierra Stockley, director of media relations for SGA and a junior majoring in political science, said her goal is to create conversations and meet with students who want to express their ideas. These conversations helped lead to the creation of things like the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. fund for student mental health counseling.
Gillian Dente, a junior majoring in event planning, said while she thinks SGA is helpful to the campus and student body, no matter who is in office, it won’t ever impact her daily life. She thinks the SGA does have some impact on campus, but it is hard to quantify what that is.
Harrington also said while some students may not see impact, they do a lot of work to aid students.
SGA Speaker of the Senate Matthew Childress said in an email that the SGA has passed at least 13 pieces of legislation this year, each making some sort of an impact.
Childress said at the beginning of the fall semester, the block seating process was removed from the constitution and put into the Code of Laws under Bill B-01. Act A-13, the SAFE Act helped donate thousands of dollars to help obtain proper sexual assault resources to West Alabama. With Act A-06, Vice President of Financial Affairs Charlie Steinmetz and Senator Mary Elizabeth Clements improved structuring of scholarship funds.
Richard Terry, a senior majoring in political science, said in his eyes, SGA has turned into a clash between Greek life and independent students. He thinks that this clash takes precedence over enacting change on campus, which makes the SGA ineffective.
“Dependent on the group, yes the SGA has an impact on campus, but the actual election seemingly always puts the Greek population at odds with the regular independent student population,” Terry said. “Greeks, I feel, benefit more from their candidate winning than independent students.”
Harrington said because of low freshman and senior voter turnout, he understands why the Greek system has such a significant impact on elections. However, he doesn’t view it as an excuse to stop people from making change they want to see.
“It is important to have a student government. I think in a student government, you can tell people there is a voice for students as long as students want that voice,” Harrington said.
Harrington ran a successful campaign without the support of any organization. He said he focused on turning non-voters into voters, and that his win proves it is possible.
“That perception leads to independents not wanting to get involved, but if they want to create change they should get involved,” said Harrington. “It shouldn’t stop them from trying at least, if you put effort in as an independent you can do it.”
Stockley said the perception of a Greek-ruled SGA is not accurate.
"SGA is an organization consisting of hundreds of students who are a mix of Greek-affiliated and non-Greek affiliated. Like many student-run organizations, we value diversity of thought and perspective and encourage any and everyone to apply.”
Stockley also said any students who have concerns are welcome to get involved and bring light to issues SGA did not previously know about so they can create change.
“Every year, SGA has numerous positions that students can apply for or even run for, such as Senate or the Executive Council," Stockley said. "Becoming involved is the perfect opportunity to be the change one wants to see, which is what I did."