Improving the relationship between student groups and the Student Activities Commission has been a constant struggle. Though recent years have seen great strides in the ability of student groups to communicate with SAC, there is still much more work to be done. SAC must endeavor to not only facilitate but also incorporate student group feedback to ensure that vibrant student programming can flourish on this hilltop.
As a former SAC commissioner, I understand how tirelessly SAC works to improve student life. Commissioners often work from 10 to 15 unpaid hours a week in service to the Georgetown community — and very rarely receive the thanks they deserve.
But on issues as important as funding guidelines for student groups, SAC must make a commitment beyond time and effort. It is imperative that SAC create clearer avenues for student group input and, more importantly, attempt to incorporate that feedback into a sensible policy.
As a SAC commissioner I helped craft the Spring 2011 Funding Guidelines, and I now work under the same guidelines on a daily basis as a board member of the College Democrats. I can now say with confidence that they have not been effective.
Without taking student group input into account, the system simply cannot serve the needs of students effectively. For example, bulk allocation was originally envisioned as a liberating process for student groups. Instead, it has had the opposite effect.
The primary issue is that it is nearly impossible to amend a programming arc once it has been approved. This difficulty brings to light SAC’s deep misunderstanding of the nature of student programming. Circumstances change over the course of a semester, and student groups should have the flexibility to deal with these changes.
Moreover, student groups are often responsible for implementing programming arcs designed by past leadership, who may have had a different vision. A disconnect then exists between the group’s programming vision and the programming they are required to produce.
The current system also incentivizes overestimation. Groups often say they will do more programming to receive more funds. While failure to host events included on the arc results in negative consequences for the group, many low-programming student groups nevertheless submit arcs detailing 20 to 30 events.
These are merely some of the problems I have observed as both a SAC commissioner and a board member of Georgetown’s largest SAC group. I am confident that other groups have different but similarly important concerns that are going unaddressed. For this reason, it is essential that the funding guidelines process be opened up to solicit and address the concerns of student groups. Each group has different perspectives and different needs, and it is only through encouraging and honoring this diversity of opinion that the SAC funding guidelines will be improved.
But instead of stimulating this essential dialogue, SAC has responded to recent concerns voiced by student groups with the excuse that there is no longer time to consider student input. They say that the Office of Campus Activities and Facilities space needs to be reserved immediately and that students have spoken too late. This is simply not true.
OCAF space deadlines are indeed looming, but SAC needs to own up to the fact that weaknesses in the funding guidelines system are a failure on their part, not on student groups who have repeatedly voiced their concerns about the system. SAC must use its resources within the Center for Student Programs to make an adjustment for these special circumstances and give students and student groups the dialogue that they deserve.
After all, students have a fundamental right to have their voices heard on the policies by which they are governed, not ignored or denied. The collective voices of some 90 student groups who are subject to these guidelines understand their implications at least as well as the 12 commissioners. Students simply ask for a dialogue.
Speaking as a former SAC Commissioner and an active member of many student groups, it is imperative that SAC move immediately to solicit greater input from student groups on the funding guidelines. It must then take care to act in good faith to incorporate that input and not ignore it.
Scott Stirrett is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He is also a former SAC Commissioner and current board member of the College Democrats.
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