It’s time for the Georgetown University Student Association to change.
In selecting its endorsement for this year’s executive election, the Voice had three main priorities: defending students’ voices on campus, advocating for student workers, and gaining substantive student input in the creation of the 2018-38 Campus Plan. However, after interviewing each ticket, we believe that GUSA itself needs a paradigm shift. For this reason, the Voice Editorial Board endorses Joe Luther (COL ’16) for GUSA president and Connor Rohan (COL ’16) for GUSA vice president.
In recent years, GUSA has drifted from its role as a vehicle for student advocacy, becoming a way for students to seek personal success. Apart from those in the GUSA bureaucracy, most students on campus are uninvolved and uninterested in GUSA. Less than half of the undergraduate student body took the time to vote in last year’s executive election.
The current state of the Multicultural Council is another salient example of the disconnect between the student body and its representatives. In their interviews, all of the candidates expressed dissatisfaction with the council’s engagement of cultural clubs, suggesting that the previous executive pushed the implementation of the council onto the student body without first gaining students’ support.
At first glance, Luther/Rohan appears to be a joke ticket. Both candidates come from the popular humor publication, the Georgetown Heckler, seemingly destined to be the informed voter’s last choice. Yet, to our own surprise, they possess an earnest desire to bring about change in GUSA. The Voice believes the Luther/Rohan ticket has the capacity to turn student government on its head.
Luther and Rohan said that transparency and student advocacy would form the crux of their administration—two qualities that the Voice expects of every GUSA executive. They believe that the current methods that GUSA uses to get students involved are ineffective. During their interviews, they attacked the platforms of past GUSA presidents, which were long-winded and took seemingly endless notes from individual students to secure single-issue voters. According to Luther and Rohan, this cycle of unfulfilled promises has left many students disillusioned with GUSA. By using humor and satire to capture students’ attention, their campaign draws the attention of a large portion of the student body that would otherwise would ignore the run-of-the-mill GUSA power struggles that plague every executive election.
The saga that has unfolded over the past two days between this year’s GUSA candidates and the Georgetown Israel Alliance exemplifies in real terms the new direction a Luther/Rohan administration would take GUSA. Weeks ago, GIA reached out to the GUSA executive hopefuls in an attempt to get them to sign a pledge taking a stance against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, a global campaign against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In typical GUSA fashion, most of the tickets quickly got on board, signing off on particular interests in order to secure more votes. Luther/Rohan were the only ticket to consistently refuse an affirmation of GIA’s leadership statement.
As more students learned about the leadership statement, Luther and Rohan were transparent about their initial discussion on the statement, replying to an inquiry by the Voice with original copies of all their correspondence with GIA. In addition to their commitment to transparency, Luther and Rohan demonstrated to us that they will not adapt their campaign to please student groups to garner a few dozen more votes.
A closer examination of the Luther/Rohan platform, beyond their humor, further demonstrates the new problem-solving paradigm they will bring to GUSA. In between gushing about the campus’ underground tunnels and poking fun at the arts, Luther and Rohan display a genuine passion for tackling mental health issues on campus, calling for a radical expansion of CAPS hours and services to suit student schedules. They also call for a reform of how sexual assault cases are handled and processed by all faculty and staff. As the Editorial Board has previously emphasized, a focus on students’ mental well-being and reforming sexual assault policy is especially pertinent during this election. Residential Assistants receive scant support from the university during times of crisis, as tragically demonstrated when Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) reported Daniel Milzman to the police for the possession of ricin in Mar. 2014. Last November, RAs alleged that they had suffered Title IX violations during their employment.
During their interviews, Luther and Rohan impressed the Editorial Board with their knowledge and eagerness to mobilize students on Aramark’s future presence in on-campus dining operations and the 2018-38 Campus Plan. They expressed praise for past movements such as the “One Georgetown, One Campus” campaign, which, during the 2013 fall semester, successfully pushed administrators away from discussions of building a satellite campus in Virginia. Luther and Rohan were keen to ensure that administrators consider the student voice when making major decisions.
At its heart, the Luther/Rohan ticket looks to create a sorely needed disruption in GUSA’s worn out culture and institutional character. They reject the rhetoric and tired politicking that students have come to expect of GUSA members, and they plan to fulfill their goals and ambitions on important issues while remaining committed to keeping in touch with their electorate.
Considering the instant runoff system that next Thursday’s elections will use, the Voice encourages students to select Sara Margolis (COL ’16) and Ryan Shymansky (COL ’16) as their second choice. The pair displays the same genuine passion as Luther/Rohan, and they include proposals that align with the the ideals of advocacy for student workers and the 2018-2038 Campus Plan.
Margolis is GUSA’s Secretary for Transfer Affairs and Shymansky serves as the Co-Director of the Student Advocacy Office. The Voice believes that Margolis and Shymansky’s combined experience in advocating for marginalized students will serve them well in the role of GUSA executives. Furthermore, the Margolis/Shymansky ticket shows great commitment, expertise, and enthusiasm towards the campus plan. We support their dedication to institutionalize broader student input on the master planning process by continuing the Student Master Planning Working Group and ensuring that construction funds go to fulfilling student needs, not neighborhood complaints. “If tickets aren’t talking about it, it’s a problem,” they told the Voice during their interview, and we agree. Our only concern with the Margolis/Shymansky ticket is that their platform spans 48 pages, which makes it difficult to discern how realistically they can fulfill all of their campaign’s promises.
Tim Rosenberger (COL ’16) and Reno Varghese’s (SFS ’16) presented simple and achievable goals such as expanding the “What’s a Hoya?” program, and they have a bottom-up approach to student government. They emphasized the importance of changing GUSA from a creator of change to a catalyst for change to more accurately represent student interests. However, we believe that the candidates, while well-intentioned, did not share the same level of energy and enthusiasm as Luther/Rohan and Margolis/Shymansky to bring the needed shift to student government.
Abbey McNaughton (COL ’16) and Will Simons (COL ’16) prioritized supporting club life on campus, hoping to raise the Student Activities Fee by $44, up to $200 from $156. We disagreed with this approach. While they assured us that the increase would not affect financial aid recipients, the change would hurt those students who do not qualify for aid but still need to take out private loans because they cannot shoulder the cost of tuition. We prefer Margolis/Shymansky’s proposal to solicit donations from alumni in a capital campaign to shoulder the ever-rising costs of student activities.
Finally, Chris Wadibia (COL ’16) and Meredith Cheney (COL ’16), who focus on philanthropy, displayed a worryingly shallow understanding of the issues most relevant to the student body. Although they charm the campus with a campaign for “dignity,” they failed to convince us of any ambition to contend with administrators on behalf of students. Particularly distressing was the fact that their platform makes no mention of the words “Campus Plan,” nor did they discuss substantive policies about it during their interview.
Ultimately, all of the tickets share the Voice’s concern that GUSA’s current direction is unsustainable. They recognize the imperative to represent all students and to block initiatives that could harm the campus community. But no ticket understands the need for a change as well as Luther/Rohan does. With wit and satire, they have proved themselves to have an informed passion to galvanize apathetic students, as they have done online with the Heckler. We see a Luther/Rohan administration connecting with diverse student interests and taking an innovative approach to mobilizing students towards not just mental health, but also free speech, pluralism, dining, master planning, and the campus plan. We believe that, as they told the Editorial Board, they will take their jobs seriously, without falling into the trap of taking themselves too seriously. Next Thursday, we encourage our readers to select Luther/Rohan as their top choice and Margolis/Shymansky as their second.
Members of the Editorial Board associated with a GUSA campaign recused themselves from the endorsement process, were not present during the candidate interviews, and did not have a vote in the internal selection process. Connor Rohan, Ryan Shymansky, and Chris Wadibia are past contributors to the Voice. With the exception of op-ed articles for their respective campaigns, none are contributing to the Voice this election season.