SGA Owns Up

SGA Executive Board

To the Editor:

Many of you likely read the commentary articles in the last edition of this publication that expressed sincere concern over the state of student government at Colgate, which was said to be struggling. We write today to affirm much of what was said in those articles and to express our optimistic belief that there is a better way.

At the beginning of this academic year we had great hopes – hope for a political renaissance at Colgate, hope for a re-thinking of our student government’s role on campus and hope for serious action that would improve the power of our student voice. Unfortunately, many of our ideas and trial programs did not succeed as we had hoped, we were unable to engage the senate meaningfully and we continued to observe apathy across campus when it came to significant issues.

When our Constitutional Revision Committee (CRC) reached out to the student body, for instance, asking for criticism, advice, or approval, very few students came forward to use their voice in an effective manner. In senate, things were even worse, debate often devolving into little more than self-interested arguments among individuals. The height of this inaptitude came during the last week of classes last semester, when frustrations and stress levels were at their highest, and senate spent six hours debating the impeachment of its vice-president.

We do not write to express our consternation at this series of events, and the Vice President still firmly accepts responsibility for what he did to draw charges of impeachment; we write instead to express that we are as disappointed with the state of affairs as many of you are. In the last few weeks we have been debating the CRC’s new constitution for our SGA, an incredibly important document that should lay the path for years to come. What we have seen in that debate, however, is the basic fact that senate is no longer capable of deciding its own future; it is indeed little more than a mock Congress.

Our role as agenda-setters has played a large role in creating that problem; senate has been given little else to latch on to as an accomplishment this year, and is thus rushing to complete this constitution and claim it as our own. But this is not about the individuals involved. It is about the fact that senators and executive board members do not currently have the tools they need to succeed, and they will not get them without some rather drastic changes. What is clear is that the student body has taken little or no interest in this process, that senators are not speaking and voting in your best interests as their constituents and that if we conclude this year with the status quo, SGA will have taken another treacherous step towards obscurity.

It has been encouraging, however, to watch the presidential election elevate the SGA and its issues to a brief position of prominence at Colgate. Students attended the debate, have commented on the campaigns and discussed the options for Election Day. Unfortunately, we agree with the contributors to last week’s commentary section who said that the issues the campaigns have chosen for their platforms are mostly irrelevant and have little chance of ever being enacted in any meaningful way. Also, by focusing on issues like cruisers and toilet paper, the candidates have squandered their opportunity to discuss the real challenges confronting our SGA as it endeavors to obtain legitimacy.

The most embarrassing thing, however, is that we campaigned on a similar platform last year (as have most campaigns in recent memory). It is not the candidates’ fault that they have campaigned in this manner; it is simply what they have observed in the past. They know no other way. The fact that aspiring leaders must consistently bribe their peers with material promises seems to indicate that this is not a passing trend, but that it rather is symptomatic of a more fundamental flaw.

Looking deeper into the history of the Colgate SGA we discover some incredible accomplishments that speak to a proud tradition of self-governance in the Chenango Valley. It was the SGA that brought you the ‘Gate Card, the Student Honor Code and the Colgate Cruiser. It would be hard to imagine those same measures gaining life in today’s system. Colgate has changed dramatically since those accomplishments were recorded, and the challenge for student government is to adapt to this new environment and find its place in the overhauled University governance structure. It is possible that a revised constitution be the solution, and we are prepared to go forward with the completion of that document, but our sense is that we owe you more than that.

Approximately one year ago many of you voted to elect us as your representatives. You asked us to fight in your name and advocate for the causes you care about. You may feel that our actions over the past year have broken the contract your vote represented, and we would understand that sentiment completely. What we ask now, though, is not that you trust us once more, but that you trust in yourself.

We will soon hand you the opportunity to seize this moment in Colgate’s history and create something revolutionary, something that will reflect your identity for years to come and something that will become an integral part of this place that we all care deeply for. There is so much to love about Colgate, so much that inspires us, moves us and challenges us. Why can this same passion not extend to the student government? Why is it that when our dedicated admissions officers tour the country trumpeting the amazing accomplishments of this student body, the SGA is often left out? We must bring student government back to the level of excellence that should be expected from anything attached to the Colgate name, and we enthusiastically ask you to join us along the way.