Have SGA votes been swayed too easily?

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SGA President Jake Forstein '24 addresses members at the General Assembly meeting on Feb. 28. Photo by Photo Editor Kira Bretsky '27.

I attended my first Student Government Association (SGA) General Assembly meeting last fall- just looking to complete a class assignment- not thinking anything particularly interesting would happen. However, I left with my interest piqued and many questions regarding a controversial vote that had apparently occurred at the previous meeting. I later learned that the divisive vote being discussed was the club approval of Chabad, where out of 22 votes, nine were abstentions. At the meeting I attended on October 4, during an open conversation about the abstention policy and when it is appropriate to utilize, many SGA members expressed feelings of pressure from students who had filled the room in support of Chabad’s approval. They were essentially alluding to the idea that the vote may have turned out differently if not for this outside pressure.

In suggesting that the vote may have been swayed based on students in attendance at the meeting, questions have been raised about what SGA members see as their responsibility to the student body. Members of a representative student government should be able to firmly make occasionally tough decisions by thinking through the lens of what is best for the student body as a whole. This is a responsibility they commit to when becoming an SGA representative, but is seemingly, at times, not something that has been carried out to its best ability.

After each member submits their vote on their computer, they also verbally relay it for everyone to hear. Their votes are further recorded in an open database. In this sense, once elected, SGA members commit to broadcasting their decisions. In another SGA vote for the club approval of the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA), members of the club noted that they felt bombarded by questions at the meeting, mostly by attending students who did not seem to understand their mission as a club. The vote for MESA’s approval was postponed with the intention to resolve some overall confusion amongst SGA members. Knowing of the events from the Chabad vote, it’s hard not to wonder if this would have also turned out differently without the bombardment of questions from other students. Was it more so postponed because of pressure felt from these students, similar to the pressure in regards to the  Chabad vote?

This is not to say that members of the SGA should not take into consideration the thoughts of the students attending the meetings. Students being able to attend SGA meetings and share their viewpoints is an extremely important and valuable part of the student government. Even still, SGA members should realize that students attending meetings are often only a very small portion of the student body. Students are more likely to come to a General Assembly meeting if they already have strong opinions on one of the topics at hand. Though it may be understandably challenging at times for SGA members to make firm decisions that may differ from the opinions of these students attending the meetings, in being  unable to do so, the government may not be able to fulfill its intended purpose.

There’s always going to be possible criticism from people who don’t agree on what is ultimately decided by the SGA. There are nuances and complexities to some issues and it is practically impossible to make everyone happy. That is why a student government should consist of a widely diverse group of students with a variety of perspectives that can be representative of and support the whole student body. If members of the SGA are unable to stick to their stances because of pressure to appease a small group of students attending meetings, then the representative government is not serving its purpose. The SGA seems to have been prone at times to this pitfall in their duty to make decisions for the benefit of the student body and should make sure this semester that their commitment to this responsibility is clear.

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