For a group so obsessed by diversity of thought, opinion and ideas, this year’s slate of executive branch candidates seems to have almost everything in common.
They’re all white (don’t worry, they’re going to “recruit a diverse cabinet”). They’re all Greek (but they plan on reaching out to other groups on campus). And they all pull from the same bank of buzzwords.
Empowering women. Diverse cabinet. Diversity of thought.
There are a number of things wrong with that last concept, which has become a popular fixture in small group discussions, corporate meetings and other spaces on campus. Diversity of thought should be an outcome, not a starting point. But in this case, it’s become a safe way to avoid real discussions about representation on campus.
The cold, hard truth is that diverse thought could be reflected in our student leaders—as a product of recruiting and retaining students who are diverse in race, sexuality and socioeconomic background. But as with the University administration, the true change that’s needed for marginalized students is often entrusted to the same people who have historically stopped change. It’s hard to believe that an all-white executive branch will ensure that all students are not only heard but equally represented. Although the presence of four women within the executive slate marks progress, it’s far from diverse, equal or inclusive.
But at least, you’re surely thinking, a bunch of candidates who hold diversity of thought so near and dear to their hearts would showcase that diversity within their platforms. Spoiler alert: they do not.
The candidates’ complete lack of originality ranged from a number of initiatives that real people get paid real money for – like making the commute from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham’s airport easier for students (Isn’t that what shuttles are for?), giving students a four-year plan Excel sheet (It’s called DegreeWorks) or creating a mentorship program for local Tuscaloosa schools (Al’s Pals, honor societies and the Department of Modern Languages and Classics have been assisting local Tuscaloosa schools for years).
But these vaguely plagiarized programs at least were a nice reprieve from empty promises. You can’t program your way out of an underfunded counseling center, but we hoped that these students had some unique solutions to combating mental health problems on campus. Again, they don’t.
For a long time, SGA has felt basically irrelevant to the average member of the student body. Will Bradley, SGA director of communications, says he hopes students have at least one interaction with SGA in their four years at the University. But students on campus are surely hoping they never have cause to step foot in those faux-wood-paneled offices. SGA just isn’t inviting, and the disconnect isn’t only because of COVID-19, as some of the candidates might have you believe.
Student government has been prone to scandals that have left the student body without qualified leaders. Historically, the organization has harbored Machine intimidation and violence. And just last year, the SGA made national news for its failure to even acknowledge the abrupt resignation of former Dean of Students Jamie Riley – an act that made a mockery of the organization’s motto: Students serving students.
So, after two years of back-to-back uncontested races, why should anyone care about an organization that’s so clearly out of touch with the students it claims to represent?
Candidates fumbled on questions about their weaknesses and their plans to serve all marginalized students. Some even forgot the amount of people within their own cabinets. For others, this uncontested SGA election season has been a “relief” and a “lucky roll of the dice.” And in what seemed like a rare glimmer of insight, Jill Fields, who’s running for president, acknowledged that red tape so often gets in the way of any real accomplishments.
We’re not going to endorse any of these candidates, because they haven’t earned it. But we are going to tell you to vote on Tuesday. Vote for Malea Benjamin. Vote for John Dodd. Vote for Drew St. Charles and the other known independent senators who are committed to dismantling the Machine.