Eliza Lafferty (COL ’21) and Patrick Walsh (SFS ’21) were elected speaker and vice speaker of the Georgetown University Student Association senate in an emergency senate meeting Oct. 2.
Lafferty, the former transition chair of the senate, and Walsh, the former transition vice chair of the senate were nominated for Speaker and vice speaker after former Transition Chair Juan Martinez (SFS ’20) ascended to the GUSA presidency, a result of vacancies in the executive following the resignations of former President Sahil Nair (SFS ’19) and former Vice President Naba Rahman (SFS ’19). The speaker and vice speaker nominations and confirmations are an internal voting process within the GUSA senate body.
Both Lafferty and Walsh said increased transparency is a key part of their vision for the GUSA senate moving forward, in terms of both policy areas and student engagement. The pair brought in Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22) as an executive officer to help with this goal, Walsh said.
“One big hope that all three of us have is really making sure that the GUSA senate is much more accessible to the whole public, to all of the student body,” Walsh said. “GUSA doesn’t work well when it’s not in touch with the student body, and that’s one thing that I want the student body to know.”
Lafferty sees increased transparency as a remedy to GUSA’s failure to reflect the entire student body in terms of gender, race and other identities.
“We know, going in, that we don’t represent everyone, that we aren’t all of the voices of the student body,” Lafferty said. “That kind of goes back to this radical transparency idea, where we need to be as transparent as possible about everything we do because we can’t be advocating for the student body when we don’t look like the student body.”
In addition to transparency, Walsh seeks to use the GUSA Senate to elevate and uplift student voices, both in the GUSA policy teams as well as in external student advocacy organizations.
“One criticism that’s always happened in the past is that student government has tamped down on student activism, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” Walsh said. “That’s why we’re trying to use GUSA as an institution that can help support student activists, and can help uplift their voices in the specific skill sets that GUSA has, while also allowing for those activists to still do advocacy effectively.”
Lafferty hopes to address students’ limited knowledge about the GUSA Senate and its operations.
“Once people understand how institutions work, then it helps them to feel more comfortable coming to that institution, and so my goal is that people will come to us, and will feel comfortable voicing their opinion,” Lafferty said. “GUSA is best when we’re advocating for students directly, and when we’re doing good policy work.”
Hayley Grande (COL ’21), a GUSA At-Large Senator who voted to confirm both Lafferty and Walsh, discussed her view of the future of the GUSA Senate, and her confidence in Lafferty’s leadership.
“I completely trust her leadership and her vision because I think that she will bring her passion to that role as Speaker, and she’s also a great motivator, so she’ll be able to bring out the best in everyone,” Grande said. “There’s a lot to look forward to, and the past was rough, but it’s in the past, and we have to keep moving.”
The roles of Speaker and Vice Speaker of the Senate are supervisory, involving tasks like setting agendas for the Senate, overseeing policy committees and managing media relations, according to Lafferty and Walsh.
“The truth is that, as Speaker and Vice Speaker, we do kind of have to step down from doing direct policy work,” Lafferty said.
Both Lafferty and Walsh stressed the need to rebuild trust in GUSA moving forward. Walsh said he had faith in GUSA Senators and the executive branch, because of their commitment and dedication to student advocacy.
“GUSA can still be effective because of Georgetown students,” Walsh said. “A lot of the people involved in the Senate now, and a lot in the executive, really care about this institution and really care about this school.”
Lafferty discussed the wider effects on both the students and the institution, as well as her goal to ensure the Senate is more self-aware and in tune with Georgetown students.
“This institution that we’re in has had a lot of troubles, and there were very problematic things that happened within it. It’s making us just be very aware of every step that we take forward,” Lafferty said. “All of us are better and stronger people because of what we went through.”