The Parthenon

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EDITORIAL: Does the Student Government Association even matter?

Franklin Norton | The Parthenon

Franklin Norton | The Parthenon

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The month of March is filled with clipboards and tabling, posters and social media posts, all consequences of ambitious students running for the role of president of Marshall University’s Student Government Association. Throughout most of the year, students don’t hear much about the SGA, but once March comes around, campus dialogue is heavily saturated by the SGA candidates.

Common themes among the platforms include advocating for diversity, financial transparency and bridging the divide between the student body and its elected representatives. This divide is something prevalent each year, as SGA is often scoffed at as a country club for the university’s popular, white middle-class students. This divide may be attributed to overall student apathy, with 14 percent of students voting in last year’s election, and only 8 percent in the year before that.

If only 8 percent of the student body is participating in elections, then realistically, even less than that will actually be represented in student government.

For many, this apathy stems from a belief that SGA doesn’t matter, that it’s only about social status and an opportunity to build a resume, but ideally SGA representatives do have a voice that few students ever get to have.

According to their website, SGA senators serve on faculty-senate committees and give about $25,000 per year to student groups.

The student body president has an even larger role, specifically in being the only student with a seat on the board of governors, as well as acting as a sort of liaison to various figures in the university’s administration. Given Marshall’s recent 4 percent tuition increase, it is important that our representatives are ready to fight for students and look into innovative ways to generate revenue.

Several candidates cited student enrollment and retention as a top issue, specifically regarding sources of revenue.

These are certainly big issues facing Marshall, with enrollment dropping by an average of 3 percent since fall 2015, and Marshall averaging a first-year retention rate of 73 percent.

With the student body president serving on committees like the strategic enrollment planning committee, the elected president really does have power to move the university forward, with current and future students’ in mind.

Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and SGA advisor Matt James said the senate resembles Washington, D.C.

“Government is broken at all levels,” James said. “There are some students who are there solely for resume purposes. And then we have students who truly want to make a difference, but they don’t know how to feel included.”

This theme of inclusion and diversity may be the most important to SGA officials, and in order for student voices to be heard, for the university to progress the way the general student body wants. James expressed a hope in fixing the SGA culture. In order for the university to move forward, student government must run away from its bend of exclusivity and run toward inclusion and true representation. This matters to Marshall’s future.

“Student’s truly underestimate their voice,” James said. “When students gather, and they actually come to the administration with a cohesive message, students, typically, if it’s a reasonable, rational argument, they’re going to win because the students are the heart blood of the school.”

With the election in full swing, it is pivotal for the student body to engage in this process if they want positive change.

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