After years of serving the student body in both the Georgetown University Student Association senate and executive respectively, Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Chris Fisk (COL ’17) have made restructuring GUSA a key plank of their campaign platform.
Under the proposed restructuring, the executive and senate would have combined responsibilities under new “executive-senate policy teams,” which would assume the roles of current senate committees and subcommittees that work on specific issue areas. Secretaries and undersecretaries would be phased out and replaced by “policy team chairs” appointed by the president and vice president, who would lead the policy teams in conjunction with co-chairs chosen from the senate.
The finance and appropriations committee would be the only committee kept from the original model, but it would be required to have liaisons that keep policy teams updated on committee decisions.
A minimum of four policy teams would be commissioned, with team members reviewed by the GUSA president, vice president, speaker of the senate and vice speaker. Members of these policy teams would be chosen through a rolling application process and would be required to include at least one freshman each year.
The Khan-Fisk campaign is currently proposing 22 policy teams, but anticipates the number will drop as GUSA is restructured.
The president and vice president would lead the executive and keep the chief of staff and deputy chiefs of staff to oversee the work of policy team chairs. The executive would also continue to manage groups like the Student Advocacy Office, “What’s a Hoya?,” Office of the Student Worker Advocate and the GU Farmers Market.
The GUSA Fund, Constitutional Council and Election Commission would not be affected.
Khan, who is the current speaker of the senate and has served in the senate for three years, said the proposed structure for GUSA is meant to minimize redundancies in GUSA advocacy, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and break down the air of exclusivity that surrounds GUSA members.
“When we decided we wanted to run for GUSA, a big thing that we agreed on was that we needed to change what GUSA is,” Khan said. “We realized as an organization we were ineffective, because GUSA within itself is exclusive. Not only do we exclude those who are outside in the student body, but also inside GUSA. It’s a total mess.”
Khan said the current structure of GUSA has caused redundancies in advocacy due to the division between executive secretaries and senate subcommittees.
“My three years in the senate have shown me how ineffective as an advocacy body we are with division of the two bodies,” Khan said. “You have the executive with a secretary-cabinet structure working on policy issues, and then a senate, with people running on policy issues, but because they are elected later, they don’t really have much of a stake in driving policy initiatives.”
Fisk, a deputy chief of staff in the executive, also believes the division between executive and senate has contributed to a degree of tension between both branches, and an air of exclusivity which has contributed to the student body viewing GUSA as a club instead of an advocacy group.
“When we first met, we talked about how we didn’t want to do this in the constraints of a framework that is inefficient, not collaborative and exclusive,” Fisk said. “We want to reverse the three of those words.”
The size of subcommittees is also a concern for Khan and Fisk, as they believe the bloated size of the senate contributes to inefficiency and lack of involvement by underclassmen.
“The subcommittees are really big, larger than in my previous years in the senate, but I saw that largely freshmen wanted to get involved in subcommittees,” Khan said. “So we want freshmen working on policy areas that they care about, who are people who aren’t necessarily elected.”
To preserve freshman participation, Khan hopes that combining the executive and the senate will alleviate the tensions between what subcommittees want to accomplish and what secretaries are already working on.
“We realized that the subcommittees work, but rather [than] having a secretary here and a subcommittee there, why don’t we just bring them together in policy teams, working together, and have exec and senate representatives? That way policy is shared and you still have the primary administrative contact in the traditional executive form,” Khan said.
According to Khan, the idea to restructure GUSA preceded her campaign with Fisk, developing from her involvement in the senate redistricting process led by the Vice Speaker of the Senate Theo Montgomery (SFS ’18) and Off-Campus Senator Eric Henshall (COL ’16).
The senate is required by the GUSA constitution to geographically redistrict senate seats every three years. This year, the construction of the Northeast Triangle Residence Hall, the remodeling of the Former Jesuit Residence and the decision to house students in the Georgetown University Hotel raised questions as to whether geographic redistricting was still a feasible requirement.
“Last semester, under the charge to redistrict, I decided to have a parallel process to see how GUSA functions,” Montgomery said. “Student government at Georgetown is primarily an advocacy body, and in light of that, we have separate branches of an advocacy body. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, to be splitting your advocacy body in half and have it be working on the same issues.”
Following discussion in the senate, Montgomery and Henshall determined that any major changes to how senators are elected geographically would require ratification by the entire student body.
“What we are trying to do is rewrite the rules that we govern ourselves by to become more efficient, to work better for the student body, to be more effective in negotiating with administrators and putting the needs of the students first,” Montgomery said.
Those restructuring changes would not require a school-wide vote, and would only require changes to the bylaws of the constitution, which are voted on by the senate.
“We have been discussing this with Enushe. We were discussing this long before she suggested to us she was going to run,” Henshall said. “We intend to pursue this no matter who is elected, although she is campaigning on the same plan.”
Still, Montgomery and Henshall endorse Khan and Fisk’s plan.
Fisk said he believes opening up GUSA to the entire student body through policy teams will bring the students who care most about certain issues together.
“There are a huge number of students on this campus who care about issues, and having [GUSA] opened up for a team framework, for students to collaborate and for people who are experts to be in the same room, driving policy, is what we are looking for,” Fisk said.
Khan and Fisk plan on pursuing these changes as a top priority during the ongoing executive elections.
“If anything, we both are super excited. We’ve dealt with this bureaucracy for too long. Sometimes, it’s disillusioning,” Khan said. “It’s frustrating to see there aren’t a lot of ways to engage. And just thinking that this can be done structurally gives a lot of hope in terms of a brand new GUSA and having the ability to change what GUSA means on this campus is what we care about most.”