Seven weeks after allegations of electioneering forced an inquiry into the Georgetown University Student Association’s referendum on club funding reform, the GUSA Constitutional Council’s decision Jan. 20 to invalidate the election results brought the saga to a heady conclusion. However, the structural flaws in the organization’s electoral system remain unresolved.
Rather than address the charges of illegal polling stations, bribery and undue interference from top GUSA officials during the election, the ruling hinged on a technicality in the bylaws: GUSA failed to publicly release its proposal to abolish and replace the senate with a new assembly a minimum 14 days prior to the vote.
Now, Georgetown students will never know the outcome of the senate restructuring referendum, as the Election Commission prohibits presenting the results to the public or anyone outside the commission. This lack of transparency, coupled with the enormous time and effort diverted into first campaigning for reform and then disputing and investigating the election results, has only compounded existing frustrations with GUSA, long perceived as withholding and impenetrable to outsiders.
GUSA’s reputational woes belong to a vicious cycle in which the organization is both a victim and an unwitting participant. The sense of GUSA’s insularity —however merited or unmerited — has manifested itself in a low voter turnout that pressured the organization to rack up votes with electioneering. These practices further alienate an already disengaged student body, and its distrust of the organization may generate greater apathy come election season.
Despite widespread distrust of the organiztion, the fact remains that GUSA is distinct from any other club on campus because it purports itself as a voice for all students, regardless of official membership or office-holding within the organization. Because of the unique role GUSA occupies in the community, it should strive to bolster participation through different means than those deployed during the Dec. 1 referendum.
One way to accomplish this is by including a GUSA page on Blackboard or Canvas so that students may access information on all the work GUSA is doing on their behalf as easily as checking their grades or inspecting a syllabus.
By more prominently embedding GUSA into our academic lives, perhaps more students will approach the responsibility of student government engagement with the seriousness with which they attend to their studies. This would also provide GUSA members the opportunity to mobilize students without needing to resort to electioneering practices to drive turnout.
As of now, GUSA largely relies on social media as the means to disseminate information about roundtables, town halls and opportunities to join the organization through elections and policy teams. However, this method only exacerbates pre-existing feelings of GUSA’s insularity, as students who don’t inhabit the same social circles as GUSA’s members are often left in the dark about upcoming events.
Of course, this agreement works both ways: GUSA can make itself as available as possible, but there is still a responsibility for students to make an effort to engage if they are feeling left out. In the meantime, no matter how disengaged students feel, they should remain receptive to outreach and be willing to participate because ultimately, GUSA is working for the best interest of the whole student body.
As GUSA decides in the next few weeks how to contend with the fallout of the Constitutional Council’s decision and approach potential election reform, this Editorial Board calls for the organization to consider diversifying its general outreach to the community in order to resolve an underlying issue of student engagement which may have prompted electioneering in the first place. Only by fostering a relationship of mutual trust and cooperation can a student government guide Georgetown’s growth as a campus and a community.
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