At the Voice, we have a saying about Georgetown University Student Association presidential elections: “The most articulate bro always wins.”
GUSA suffers from a number of image problems in the University community, but the most glaring of these is its apparent lack of diversity. With 20 Georgetown alumni in the United States Congress, it’s no surprise that GUSA attracts a number of polished, slightly pretentious, white, male government majors who see GUSA as a kind of audition for the major leagues. Parliamentary procedure lends itself to grandstanding, and the loudest members of the “bro caucus” are the ones who most frequently make headlines.
But the most visible senators don’t necessarily represent the entire body. As former speaker Adam Talbot (COL ‘11) pointed out, six out of the 25 senators in last year’s Senate were women, compared to four out of the 35 senators in the 2008 Senate. Last year’s Senate also had more ethnic diversity than the year before, and there were no votes along racial lines.
It’s also important that GUSA senators advocate for a diversity of student passions. Through the GUSA Fund, GUSA helped pay for an eclectic mix of student interests, from a ballroom dancing competition to a Hate-Free Georgetown initiative against prejudice and intolerance.
But there is still progress to be made, and this year is pivotal. With last year’s highly contentious passage of club funding reform, the seven senators on the Finance and Appropriations Committee now control over $300,000 in student activity fees.
Last year, the Finance and Appropriations Committee consisted of seven white, male GUSA loyalists who voted in near lockstep. Since the advisory boards that used to approve the allocation of student activity fees have been stripped of their votes, it is crucial that representation in the Finance and Appropriations Committee include a wide range of student perspectives and interests this year.
Furthermore, the full Senate is underutilized in its role as a liaison to the administration. After the Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice protests last year, in which students chained themselves to the John Carroll statue demanding access to contraceptives, the HPV vaccine and rape kits, Talbot lamented the fact that Plan A campaigners never came to GUSA with their concerns.
“I thought it was unfortunate that we hadn’t yet demonstrated we could provide that kind of service,” Talbot said in a recent interview.
If GUSA were perceived as representative of a broader range of the student body—starting with, say, more female students—perhaps the protesters would have thought to approach GUSA for help.
For students who want to run for GUSA, getting a seat on the Senate is generally not difficult. Many seats are uncontested, and in some districts no one runs. The problem is that too many talented leaders self-select out.
Kiran Gandhi (COL ’11) ran for GUSA as a freshman in New South. She told me proudly that she beat five other boys for the seat. But while she enjoyed her time on GUSA, she said that she became disillusioned when those GUSA stereotypes seemed to hold true. She was one of only a few girls in the Senate. When the Senate discussed the Student Commission for Unity during her sophomore year, she was frustrated that the debate split along racial lines. The next year, Gandhi left GUSA to study abroad and pursue her interest in the city’s music scene.
“A lot of the [other senators] didn’t understand the need for [the SCU], nor did they make an effort to see a need for it,” Gandhi said. “I didn’t like working at a body that wasn’t interested in something I valued as really important.”
As Gandhi pointed out, it’s natural for people to gravitate towards other people who share their perspective. But talented leaders who opt out of GUSA do us all a disservice. Without a wider range of representation—and senators who speak up without grandstanding—GUSA will never be a healthy, functioning body. Fortunately, democracy allows periodic opportunities for reinvention. So if you go to the GUSA booth at SAC fair and think to yourself, “I don’t belong here”—run for Senate. We need you.
Want some real perspective? Email Kara at firstname.lastname@example.org