As anyone who’s spoken with me in recent weeks knows, I’ve adopted an almost singular focus on our Student Government Association lately. While many have taken an interest in my discussions, I’ve heard a certain response a select few times: “Who cares about the SGA?”
I’ll start with this: A lot of people care about the SGA. In the two years I’ve worked on SGA election reform, I’ve spoken to more students than I can count who care a lot. But the unfortunate truth that this question underscores is that no matter how many people care, it’s not enough.
I expounded on our campus’ low voter turnout and poor electoral competition, two of the prime indicators of this apathy, in my last column. For this column, I’d like to explain why people should care about the SGA.
I’ll start with the money. The 2014 budget for our SGA determined the destiny of more than $860,000. Regardless of what you’ve been led to believe by SGA press releases, that money comes out of your wallet – from your tuition, your student fees, your room and board and for Alabama residents, your taxes. The cost of you not caring is 50 senators and seven executive officers deciding what’s done with that money without your input.
A second reason to care is the sheer number of students involved. In my four years here, the number of SGA staff positions has varied between roughly 80 and roughly 150. That makes the SGA one of the largest extracurricular groups on campus. Those personnel carry out a multitude of functions that affect all aspects of the student body directly. Many of them frequently advise UA officials on important decisions and assist in a number of day-to-day functions. Whether you know it or not, these students make decisions that affect you.
On that note, a third reason you should care is the simple fact that the SGA, like it or not, is your voice. On every college campus around the country, student government is intended to be the institution that represents the student body to the administration, the faculty and staff, the local community and even the state and federal governments. Our SGA is no different. You remaining silent means that someone else’s voice has a larger portion of that chorus.
The fourth and frankly most important reason is that the SGA is the face of the students of the University – the face of you. When the SGA makes a good move, our campus looks good; when it makes a bad move, our campus looks bad, as do the students by proxy. I could go into numerous examples of this, the most recent of which brought a mountain of bad publicity down on the University in the national media last April. But exactly how the SGA can, when run poorly, put egg on your face is not so important for the purpose of this column as exactly how that affects you. So how does it affect you? By affecting the value of the diploma you will leave here with.
For example, a few weeks ago, I spoke with a young lady who told me that representatives of a company she had applied to work for up north expressed concerns in an interview with her about hiring a UA graduate. Why? “Endorsing racism.” You may think that such a view of Alabama is outdated, and to be fair, that opinion isn’t entirely unfounded. But the simple truth is that in these cases, perception is often more important than reality. Whatever the reality may be, our SGA has done much to advance that perception, and little to change it.
As we go through the process of SGA elections in the coming weeks, you will be presented with an opportunity to determine the future of our campus. I urge you to pay close attention, carefully weigh your options and cast your vote thoughtfully. Take this opportunity to take the SGA back.
Andrew Parks is a senior majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly.