“Apathetic” is a word thrown around regularly to describe UA students, and indeed, young Americans in 2012. We are, allegedly, a generation bloated with self-absorption and lacking in attention span, too wrapped up in tweets and Facebook posts to understand the world unfolding right around us.
Some would look to Tuesday’s Student Government Association election results as a reflection of that apathy. With political activity at its highest in years (a whopping 16 candidates vied for executive office), turnout remained disappointingly low, with about one third of the campus taking the time to cast an online ballot. Campus politics have been a common topic this year on the CW’s pages, at lunch tables and in classrooms. Still, that conversation did not translate into dramatic voter turnout.
More than 20,000 students chose not to vote on Tuesday. Many of them learned about corrupt campus politics that led seven SGA officials to resign last fall, and they chose not to vote. They learned about the inner workings of the Machine and watched the secretive group develop into a normal part of conversation, and they chose not to vote. They had as many as three options in some executive offices, including president, and they chose not to vote.
Are they apathetic? About student government, maybe. But those 20,000 students are undoubtedly engaged in many aspects of campus life. They are developing new initiatives in the Honors College Assembly, organizing philanthropic events in their greek organizations and hosting massively attended events through Creative Campus. They are vying for leadership roles in groups like the Blackburn Institute, honor societies and Mallet Assembly. They are giving back to the city of Tuscaloosa and hosting video game conventions in the Ferg. Those 20,000 also have a voice.
Too often, we try to align the function of our student government with the function of city, state and national governments. We say that students who don’t vote are not performing their civic duty and are disengaged, apathetic or irresponsible.
It’s not true. Apathy toward the SGA does not equate to apathy toward the University of Alabama and the student experience. We all have a different set of interests and motivations, and not all of them align with the activities of the SGA.
Despite our broad differences, there is an impending decision that will affect each of us dramatically – the selection of the University’s next president. In the next few weeks, the Board of Trustees will launch a national search for the person who will have the final say over the academic, physical and cultural changes to our University in the coming years. This is a choice that will affect not only our college experience, but also the value of our University of Alabama degree long after we graduate.
Such a critical choice requires a diversity of opinion. Currently, the SGA president is ordained to serve as the student representative to the UA system board of trustees. SGA executives have much easier access to administrators than the average student. But their voice is not our voice, as they represent a narrow section of campus guided by an even narrower political hand, the Machine. UA leaders exist across the cultural spectrum, and the Board of Trustees should make a concerted effort to bring these leaders to the table to allow them input. Students understand better than any administrator how decisions made in a boardroom affect campus life.
Yearly, we choose to make a pageant of the SGA election, on the CW’s front page, on our social media accounts and across our campus. But a selection is forthcoming that will have a deep and lasting impact on all of our lives. The Crimson White will provide detailed coverage of the University’s plans to select our next leader. We hope that students will follow the process closely and engage whenever possible.
We have the potential to have 31,000 voices heard in the selection of our SGA president. Currently, we formally have one voice in Board of Trustees decisions that affect everything from tuition rates to who will guide this campus. If they won’t make a space for us at the table, let’s make room for ourselves.
Our View is the consensus of the editorial board.