Now in only its third year, the GUSA Senate has played a role in major changes on campus, including last year’s negotiations of alcohol policy reforms with the administration and creation of the Student Commission for Unity. However, during this time, the senate still remained an organization in limbo, as it struggled to forge an identity and cement its place in campus life.

Despite their efforts, though, the senate continues to face an ongoing challenge: rising above criticism and changing the perception that the senate is a reactive and slow-moving institution.

Last year, the senate’s efforts in both the alcohol negotiations and the unity commission were launched only after immense upheavals from the student body demanding change. The stricter alcohol policy at the beginning of last fall brought several students together in large-scale rallies, and students brought the issues of diversity and acceptance to the surface of campus life last September.

Even after taking initial action, though, critics have said that the senate has been slow to follow through in their action: It still has not completed its review of the Code of Student Conduct from last year, an effort to clarify the section on punishments for alcohol-related infractions, which was deemed confusing.

“I’ll be the first to admit that the senate hasn’t always lived up to its potential, but we have made a lot of progress over the last two years,” said Reggie Greer (COL ’09), a returning senator this year.

Thirty-six senators were elected to the student association’s senate last week after a student-wide vote. The student legislature in its current forum is not exactly an old Georgetown institution: It was created only three years ago after GUSA’s bylaws were amended and the former student assembly was scrapped in favor of the new body.

“People that say that GUSA has a `reactive’ agenda have a valid point. This is why GUSA executives and the senate this year are developing agendas right from the get-go in order to change that perception,” Greer said. The review of the Code of Student Conduct, he noted, is a top priority on this year’s agenda.

Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson also said that the senate can by nature be somewhat of a more reactive organization responding to student concerns. He added, though, that the senate has been working to establish itself as an organization focused on leading the charge to tackle broader and longer-term issues, which necessarily take longer to address.

“GUSA is one of the most prominent groups my office deals with and is certainly a key voice. . [My office] often consults with GUSA leaders on a wide range of issues, and that spectrum of issues tends to be a lot wider than most groups.”

GUSA President Pat Dowd (SFS ’09) said that the senate and the executive branch would both be focusing more on long-term projects this year than in the past.

“We’re not only trying to do good for this year, but for the long term. We created GUSA Grassroots to bring together future leaders across campus from any organization and to get a better sense of the community as a whole,” Dowd said.

With the creation of the new GUSA Senate three years ago, the student association was divided once again between the executive branch and its new legislative arm. In the past three years, the senate has attempted to define a separate mission from that of the president and vice president, but several senators were still unable to provide an authoritative answer on what this mission exactly is.

“[It is structured so that] the senate is the oversight committee of the executive committee, and the two have the freedom to pursue two completely different agendas,” Matt Wagner (COL ’11), a re-elected senator said.

Dowd recognized the dual functions of the two branches as two separate entities, stressing that part of the executive side’s aim is to get the new senate to contribute to a new vision for Georgetown.

“The executives have been working all summer long . to try to make this a transformative year for GUSA, and we’re looking to get the senate on board with this ambitious agenda while aspiring to get them to be creative in their own way,” he said.

Greer said newly-formed issue-focused commissions, coupled with mandatory town hall meetings in each district, will ensure students have a voice in major issues on campus while also helping to fix GUSA’s “biggest external problem – perception.”

Wagner said he believed the senate’s most significant shortcomings stem from the limits placed on it by the university.

“It’s not inefficiency within that is the problem with GUSA, it is that the university gives [the senate] so little authority to do anything with meaning, as the elected representatives of the student body, or create any significant programming, so we do what we can,” he said.

In addition to the continued review of the Code of Student Conduct, Greer said the senate is planning to establish a club union facilitating discussion between clubs as well as conduct a review of every university office from the Office of Student Affairs to Auxiliary Services.

Despite the plans, some on campus still feel that this can be easier said than done.

For instance, Marco Gomez (MSB ’10) said there is still work for GUSA to do in order to reduce inefficiency and move more toward becoming a proactive organization.

“When issues arise on campus, it seems they either take a whole year to be settled, which for most of us equates to a quarter of our college careers, or they are kicked under the table never to be heard about again,” Gomez said.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.