New campus leaders must broaden progress

Ian Sams

In the interest of full disclosure, I am the current SGA Communications Director. My time in that capacity will come to an end at 5 p.m. tomorrow, when a new SGA administration is inaugurated at the Gorgas House. I am biased; I do believe the SGA is an important organization with immense potential to improve the student experience at the University of Alabama.

That being said, I think it’s time to reflect a bit on the past year, as we look forward to a new SGA taking office and laying its foundation for the coming year.

In April 2010, James Fowler asked me to join his staff in SGA as communications director. I had already accepted a position as the Opinions Editor of this newspaper; and, initially, I didn’t feel that turning my back on my responsibilities at the CW was an appropriate decision. But after several conversations – conversations in which James showed me the open, inclusive vision he had for SGA – I changed my mind. I felt that I needed to be a part of the team that sought to transform SGA into a new organization.

After spending much of the spring of 2010 criticizing SGA officers, including James, for their travel to the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena on the University’s dime, the mere decision of James to ask me to come onboard was telling.

Over the course of the next twelve months, James and his administration would make valuable steps in improving the quality of student life and of student government. We transitioned to a more inclusive and transparent selection process for block seating, wrote a new SGA constitution, and created and executed programs like a 2010 gubernatorial debate and a new student seating section at UA football games.

Looking back, I wholeheartedly believe that James’ willingness — and downright resolve — to build a sort of “coalition government” of independents, greeks, blacks, whites and more changed the SGA.

I’ve been around SGA for going on four years now, and the atmosphere inside that office is fundamentally different than it was when I first got involved. On a daily basis, you see unlikely friendships forming and formerly unimaginable compromises being forged.

The products are a more representative SGA and a truer sense of mission for the betterment of our campus community as a whole.

From my first action in office this year – organizing outreach for SGA director applications – I saw James’ demands that we craft a more diverse government, in every facet. Those demands have made a difference, and our campus is better off for his leadership.

But the SGA alone cannot institute lasting change. This year, we’ve seen incredible coordination between the SGA, the CW, student affairs offices, and other student organizations. The relationships between these entities have morphed from being about competing for power to being about pursuing common purpose and unity. They’re now built on mutual respect, not envy and skepticism.

As we move into a new year, it’s important that the students taking the reins of all these organizations mind our progress and seek to expand it, not simply continue it.

In the SGA, Grant Cochran will take over an SGA with much still to do. A new SGA Code of Laws must be written in the Senate and new amendments to our constitution passed. Real issues, like parking, dining and overcrowding, must be addressed, not just paid lip service to during a campaign.

In the Honors College, Sarah Hughes will begin her tenure as president of HCA, and she must work to address the growing misperception of the Honors College as elitist and catering more towards one class of students than those below it.

In greek houses, new officers are continuing their work to strengthen our system and rid itself of the culture that turns a blind eye towards the racial intolerance demonstrated at one greek house only weeks ago.

The SOURCE has chosen new leadership, and they must find ways to continue empowering the 300-plus student organizations on campus through partnerships with other institutions like the SGA.

It is my unyielding belief that our campus is in the midst of progress. Students work daily to lift our campus out of a poorer past and into a unique, more appropriate present. And they do it with courage and optimism.

This week, as we honor the students who give our University the rich reputation it maintains, we must also honor the actions of progressive campus leaders this past year. And, we should use that honor to push the coming year’s leaders to carry on this new tradition and expand it into new corners of this university.

 

Ian Sams is a senior majoring in political science. His column runs on Mondays.