The members of the newly elected GUSA Senate leadership voted in on April 30 are eager to tackle the issues facing the Senate and student body. The latest leadership transition, however, coincides with calls to restructure GUSA due to long-standing concerns over its efficacy.
One of the biggest campaign promises from GUSA President Nile Blass (COL ’22) and Vice President Nicole Sanchez (SFS ’22) was to enact structural changes to GUSA. Such changes include abolishing the Senate and many positions within the Executive in favor of structuring GUSA around a coalition of policy teams open to public membership that would lead advocacy efforts instead.
While taking these steps, GUSA must also contend with a new class of senators, including a Senate leadership team that has its own ideas for making the Senate an effective body. Newly-elected Speaker Leo Rassieur (COL ’22) hopes to improve communication between the Senate and Executive to prevent redundancy between the two bodies’ advocacy efforts.
“Before we officially restructure things, it’s super simple for us to make a much more deliberate effort to be on the same page as the executive and expect the same from them,” Rassieur said in an interview with the Voice. “To communicate constantly, to have the same priorities and the same general goals and just respect each other.”
The other structural change Rassieur hopes to make to the Senate over his leadership term is to restore healthy disagreement and conflict. “In previous senates, we had a lot more debate and discussion and disagreement, but it felt fairly healthy,” he said.
“I think we can do a much better job moving forward of inviting people to engage with people that they disagree with and ideas they disagree with without having that turn into genuine interpersonal conflict,” Rassieur added.
New Vice Speaker Rowlie Flores (COL ’22) said that he will prioritize socioeconomic advocacy in his role. He hopes that the Senate can assist in ensuring Georgetown distributes funding from the American Rescue Plan equitably and reform the financial aid process.
“To me, running for the Vice Speaker position means that low-income students will continue to have a seat at the table when time and time again, it appears the university has no complete understanding of how their actions (or lack of actions) really affect us,” Flores said in an email to the Voice.
One of the new Senate’s biggest priorities will be to ensure accessible participation in the Senate’s activities given continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “How do we make sure everyone can participate in GUSA regardless of what their health condition might look like? But also in terms of broader accessibility, how do we make it so students feel comfortable and safe to bring up the issues they might have to GUSA?” Rassieur said.
Rassieur added that the Senate will be looking for ways to engage student activists in their advocacy efforts. “It would be great if we had a more long-term format for communicating and collaborating with different student organizations about things they want to see changed at Georgetown,” he said.
Meanwhile, the GUSA Executive, headed by Blass and Sanchez, is working to implement its restructure of GUSA. It has finalized its vision of how each piece of the reorganized GUSA will fit together and will begin creating draft revisions to the GUSA bylaws, said Dakyung Ham (COL ’22), co-director of the Executive’s restructuring efforts, in an interview with the Voice.
Eric Perez (COL ’23), the other co-director of the project, added that GUSA is working in concert with the Senate to make the project more effective. “People who are in the senate can tell you that the current structure doesn’t work because it takes a huge toll on them too,” they said.
“Upon first listen it might be hard to imagine why these people might want to vote their own jobs out of existence, it helps that everyone understands that it’s an impossible job.”
Ham and Perez both agreed that restructuring will likely be a long-term process. “Even if it were to pass in Nile and Nicole’s administration, it will still probably continue into the next administration,” Ham said. “Once we start incorporating the new structure, we’ll probably see a lot of aspects that we will need to improve on.”
Perez argued that part of the reason restructuring will take so long is that it involves changing not just GUSA’s formal procedures, but also its values. “It’s based in completely different ideologies and social traditions, and it’s going to take time to teach people the values that are necessary to make it work,” they said.
“I think this is a really big project, and as long as there’s work to be done, there will be people doing it.”