This year, the Georgetown University Student Association did not begin its outreach efforts to encourage women, people of color and other underrepresented groups on campus to get involved in student leadership positions until after the September deadline to run for the GUSA senate. Consequently, this year’s senate is predominated by white and male students. Only nine of 29 senators are women, and only three senators are women of color.
With important responsibilities like the allocation of the student activities fee budget, the senate must be representative of the diverse voices on campus to ensure that our legislation and activities are both inclusive and productive. As two of only three women of color in the senate, we are passionate about achieving proper representation and providing the necessary resources for students to navigate the election process. Luckily, students now have the chance to join us in this mission this week by voting “Yes” in the referendum to reform the GUSA senate.
Because senators do not take office until October, there is currently no organized presence in the senate to lead outreach efforts to underrepresented communities at the beginning of the year. The referendum proposes moving elections for sophomore, junior and senior senators to April. Given that it would not be possible to elect residence hall representatives for the following school year, holding spring elections would require us to switch from geographic to class representation. We believe these changes are for the better.
These changes will allow newly elected senators to work toward meaningful outreach efforts over the summer and in September. Such outreach will include programs and partnerships such as “ElectHer” and “A GUSA That Looks Like Georgetown,” designed to encourage women and people of color to run for the senate. If passed, this referendum would not just encourage, but would require, these outreach efforts before every senate election.
Moreover, it is impossible to overstate how impactful the switch to election by class year would be in achieving proper representation in GUSA. It is clear that students are more likely to feel attached to their class than to their residential area. At the moment, most students do not even know which senate district they live in.
With the class year election system, it will also be much easier to unite underrepresented students, who do not necessarily live together and thus experience difficulties mobilizing for their candidates under the current system. In this way, class representation will bolster the voices of students too rarely heard in GUSA.
Additionally, class representation will make GUSA more accessible by allowing senate candidates from all on-campus communities to campaign throughout the university. Especially as campaigning becomes increasingly digital, elections by class year will facilitate communication between senators and constituents during elections and throughout the school year, even if it is through as simple of a mechanism as a class Facebook group for which there is no equally popular counterpart for residence halls. On the whole, the switch to class representation will make the senate simpler and more intuitive.
The referendum also proposes simplifying the internal organization of the senate. Right now, the senate is often unproductive, as its internal organization is chaotic, redundant and insular. As a result, the senate lacks transparency, accountability and inclusivity. For example, the new system will expand membership on the Finance and Appropriations Committee, which allocates student funds. Though this distribution of funds is one of the primary functions of the senate, only 10 of the 29 senators serve on this committee under the current system, often leaving other senators without a clearly defined role.
This referendum clarifies the two functions of the senate by splitting the body into two simple halves — club funding and policy advocacy — with 10 senators assigned to each. It would also add dedicated outreach positions to ensure that GUSA recognizes its own limited expertise.
The restructuring proposed in the referendum will assign explicit tasks to each senator in order to ensure each begins the school year with a clear agenda to benefit the student body, whether it is by working towards efficient allocation of the student activities fee or promoting important legislation. With these structural improvements, the senate will actually be able to work toward meaningful changes for the student body.
It is time for a senate that makes sense. If you believe in this, as we do, make sure to vote “Yes” on senate reform this week, as it requires 1,646 votes to pass. We acknowledge that there are numerous problems with the senate and that this referendum will not solve them all. But this week, let us make sure to take one big step in the right direction.
Cherie Vu is a sophomore in the College and vice speaker of the senate. Habon Ali is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and a senator.