Georgetown students don’t care about GUSA. They don’t think GUSA does anything, they don’t see GUSA as a tool for solving their problems, and they stereotype the people in GUSA as ladder climbers in it for the resumé boost. GUSA is broken, and it needs to be fixed.
When this editorial board endorsed a ticket for the recent GUSA Executive election, we endorsed the people we thought could enact real change. We wanted a more activist GUSA that engages a broader range of stakeholders on campus issues. We wanted a more open and diverse GUSA, one that better represents women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks, one free of the never-ending cycle of resignations citing a toxic culture.
We have three proposals to transform GUSA into an organization that students are more invested in: abolish the GUSA Senate, expand the policy teams of the GUSA Executive, and give the Executive a voting seat on the university’s Board of Directors. These reforms are only a first step toward what we would like to see GUSA become in the future, one we hope current and forthcoming administrations will actively work for.
Abolish the GUSA Senate
Of all the inefficiencies within GUSA, the GUSA Senate is the worst offender. At the core of this critique is the idea that the Senate doesn’t do anything, which is not entirely a myth. Week after week, Senators meet to discuss resolutions when they have no real power to institute change. And when they actually accomplish something, they do such a poor job of promoting it that few students actually hear about it. When the GUSA Weekly email gets sent out, most students don’t receive it, and those who do rarely read it.
The Senate also fosters a toxic work environment. On Jan. 26, a senator resigned due to the insensitivity and lack of support she experienced in a Senate that fails to reflect the diversity of the student body it represents. The Senate might more closely resemble the Yard, the all-male student government that predated GUSA and the acceptance of women into the College in 1969, than it would like to admit.
There is one function of the Senate that will need to be relocated: the Finance and Appropriations Committee (FinApp), which is responsible for doling out the student activities fee to student clubs. Without a Senate, there must be some system for selecting FinApp members who will still be accountable for their decisions, potentially by making the chairs of the policy teams act as the new body to fund clubs. As we define policy chairs below, they would be invested in student government and still held accountable for creating a good budget.
A deliberative body which struggles to represent the students at large is hardly one worth trusting. When all of the things the Senate and its various committees work on are already being done with greater results or could be replicated by the policy teams of the Executive branch, the Senate is redundant. Getting rid of the Senate would remove the most dysfunctional and derided branch of GUSA and allow students to focus their efforts in one place, hopefully reorienting the Executive as the clearing house for getting things done on campus.
Reform the Executive
Streamlining GUSA into only one branch would mean policy teams would take over the majority of GUSA’s efforts. Despite doing the majority of the tangible work, policy teams in their current form leave a lot to be desired.
Normally, policy teams require applications for people to join, which is absurd. We know they don’t need to turn people away, as the GUSA Weekly newsletters often have calls for applications months into the semester. The idea that someone should have to apply to work on improving campus is symptomatic of what students do not like about GUSA: the gross pre-professionalism associated with it.
Policy teams should be open to anyone who wants to participate, fostering a perception of the teams as a feasible place to get things done. Hopefully, that would allow for a more diverse set of voices in the room, including activist voices who currently find GUSA off-putting and insular. On a campus that struggles to create coalitions across different groups, having GUSA as a central meeting place would be a change for the better.
We recognize that there should be some sort of qualification for chairing a policy team, such as spending a semester on the team, but the team should select their chair internally. They should be able to elevate the people on the teams who do the best work or know the issue the best, making GUSA more meritocratic.
To keep campus up to date and to keep all the teams on the same page, they should continue meeting regularly, as the Senate currently does. And they should do a better job than the Senate of advertising what gets done at those meetings.
By getting rid of the Senate and making these changes to the Executive, GUSA as a whole would become a more open place where people can accomplish advocacy work on campus.
Give the GUSA Executive Voting Seats on the Board of Directors
While making GUSA more open is pertinent, students still need an incentive to buy into GUSA and the elections for the Executive. Turnout in recent Executive elections has been in the 30 percent range, meaning the majority of students are not voicing their opinion on who represents them. To fix that, and to address students’ lack of input into how the university is run, we propose giving both GUSA Executives voting seats on the university’s Board of Directors.
As it currently stands, the GUSA president has a seat on the Board of Directors which allows them to attend some meetings and present to the board, but has no voting power. Once the executives leave the room, the remaining board members can move in an entirely different direction.
The fact that students, despite being the heart of any university, have no power in making the decisions that impact their day-to-day lives leaves them disenfranchised and disengaged from the choices the university makes. For instance, would the university see tuition increases every year if students had more input? There are currently 38 board members, and two more student votes would not suddenly tip the scales in our favor. It would simply mean student voices would actually be taken into account.
If the GUSA Executive had a substantive voice on the Board of Directors, students might take their election more seriously and be more invested in who is representing them. This would be an important move toward making more university stakeholders actively involved in the governance of the school.
These reforms will not fix all of GUSA’s problems, because the cultural problems present at Georgetown will be persistent in its student government. Since GUSA started, only six women have ever served as GUSA president and only one woman of color. The issues we see with GUSA will require greater reflection and conversation on campus to actually make progress toward creating a more inclusive campus. These changes are critical in making the student body invested in producing a student government that is more open and works for everyone on campus.
Image Credits: Logo courtesy of GUSA; Design by Alex Giorno