SGA now in session: Sadly, students don’t seem to care
Student government is important.
As we begin a new academic year, we urge all Pittsburg State students, whether they’ve just begun their collegiate career or already imagine themselves in commencement robes, to keep this fact in mind.
This university is fortunate to posses a broad array of student clubs, which allow our students to pursue just about any interest they like.
Yet, thinking of Student Government Association (SGA) as only one more of these groups would be a mistake.
Not many participate
If the system worked as it ideally should, SGA would be a “club” of the entire campus, with an active and involved electorate turning out every year to appoint some of our own to leadership.
The election of two years ago showed some progress on that goal, as about 13 percent of enrolled students voted.
The following year’s election, for which a little under 10 percent of the student body turned out, carried a pall of familiar disappointment. That still reflects an improvement when as few as 7 or 8 percent have voted in the past.
It’s not SGA’s fault, or at least not the fault of any given class of student senators. They hold their seats for only one year and then, unless they take up a leadership position in SGA, move on more often than not.
A significant amount of money and resources were spent in last spring’s SGA election. It was a campaign that was professionally run and admirably engaging to those who wished to be a part of it.
It’s not like there’s not enough of an opportunity for students to participate.
SGA is elected online over the course of an entire week, which by modern political standards is a hugely open and inclusive way of doing it.
It would be hard to entirely blame the students themselves, or suggest that they’re too disinterested for no good reason in an organization that can make a real difference on this campus.
Go to any football tailgate in the Carnie Smith parking lot, and one will find plenty of student activity and engagement to go around.
Yet, the low turnout seems like a permanent issue.
Effort goes only so far
Hard questions are justified, so long as this remains the situation. Why do only a fraction of students pay real attention to a body that has the authority to make decisions that could significantly affect all of them?
When Taylor Gravett, SGA president, journeys to Topeka to address important issues with the state government, isn’t his ability to do that harmed by the student body’s lack of participation?
SGA should spend the next year thinking of solutions, but to do that, they’ll need help. If they’re to be expected to care about what their voters want, the voters need to show that they actually want something.
The best and easiest way to do this is to attend SGA meetings. Career politicians rely on voter feedback to do their jobs. They hold town hall meetings, they invite voters to their offices, and they respond to questions or concerns.
SGA does everything that can be reasonably expected to create this kind of culture. Yet, week after week, SGA’s vice president has asked, “Is there anyone here for student opinion time?” and there has been no response.
Only when high-profile issues have come up, such as the question of a tobacco ban or whether to allow concealed-carry rights on campus, have SGA elections and meetings attracted more students.
These hot-button political issues provoke intense debate, but then it stops.
Big decisions, few public eyes
The problem with that is, SGA goes on. SGA has played a role in higher student privilege fees in recent years, though they’ve made an effort to tamp down increases when they can.
Still, a lot of those fees are paid with loan money, which students might otherwise spend on books, or food, or rent, or the university’s higher tuition, thanks to the dysfunction of a state legislature we hope SGA never emulates.
Some senators have said that they don’t know if any given vote will be right by their constituents, or that they feel troubled by a lack of connection to students in making decisions.
They’re justified, and the end responsibility for that lies with all of us.