The Georgetown University Student Association struggles with a fundamental image problem: No matter its efforts to communicate, GUSA’s constituents rarely appreciate the limitations of its power, making it difficult for students to fairly evaluate GUSA leaders.
Eight months after winning an election marked by the highest voter turnout in GUSA history, President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) and Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) have excelled within the GUSA framework. They have worked to accomplish the spirit and substance of much of their campaign platform and have an optimistic outlook for further progress in the remainder of their term. For that, they deserve students’ gratitude.
Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount ran on a platform that featured both specific policy goals and general priorities, specifically those involving Jesuit values and social justice. One of these promises was to improve diversity, both throughout the university and within GUSA. The pair appealed directly to student groups to generate a wide selection of senate candidates, and their efforts helped produce a senate with greater diversity, both in terms of gender, race and more general student experiences. This is an important accomplishment, and it should improve GUSA’s legitimacy and governing effectiveness.
More generally, the executive has also made valiant strides in areas such as student research, sustainability and recognition of the LGBTQ campus community. Although improvements to these aspects of campus life have often gone on behind the scenes, GUSA’s less-visible activity should not go underappreciated.
But many of the central components of Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount’s platform have yet to be implemented, including changes to the Code of Student Conduct, increased student space for arts and athletics and improved dining options. Though we understand that funding issues, university bureaucracy and myriad other difficulties may have contributed to these delays, those problems were foreseeable in the spring. Candidates for the GUSA executive — Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount included — have long been guilty of making promises that can rarely be kept.
A centerpiece of the Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount platform was continued work toward reforming the Code of Student Conduct. The GUSA senate and executive have been right to prioritize this issue, and their efforts have epitomized the potential of advocacy in the absence of actual legislative authority. While we questioned the effectiveness of GUSA’s nonbinding “clear and convincing” referendum, the overarching interest that the student organization has displayed in defending student justice fulfills one of its highest callings. But the called-for change — raising the burden of proof in the Code of Student Conduct from “more likely than not” to “clear and convincing” — has been stalled as it works its way through the quagmire that is the university’s bureaucratic process. We applaud the GUSA executive’s advocacy for this policy, but it is not a change that the student association can be expected to bring about on its own.
Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount’s campaign platform also featured statements like, “We will work to improve lighting at Yates and establish new exercise facilities on east campus,” and “Our executive will help to … create an east campus Grab ‘n’ Go.” There’s nothing to show for these ambitions, though again, this is less a failure of the executive’s governing than it is the campaigning trends of GUSA candidates in general.
GUSA is in a position to lay the seeds for progress and apply pressure to those who can deliver it, but students who read these campaign promises are led to assume that their votes could bring about a much speedier change than is possible. It’s not just the fault of the Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount ticket — all candidates for GUSA must be clear and honest with the voters about the limitations of GUSA’s abilities.
As the executive moves forward in its term, Georgetown students should take a greater interest and a more active role in the promotion and implementation of the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund and other Student Activities Fee Endowment Reform initiatives. These initiatives could make significant strides in student life, and students should throw their full support behind them.
The executive under Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount has, by and large, been a success thus far. GUSA is less about individual administrations’ agendas than it is about continued progress over time, and students should be satisfied that their student government is currently in the hands of proven leaders.