OUR VIEW: Striving for what?

Each year, The Daily News assigns a grade to the outgoing Student Government Association (SGA) executive slate based on how effective it was in accomplishing its goals, along with its impact on the Ball State community.

Unlike previous slates, Strive elected to campaign on a set of four focuses rather than platform points. Those focuses were engage, encourage, educate and strive. 

RELATED: The Daily News’ focus-by-focus analysis of Strive’s year in office

At the first 2021 SGA debate, President Tina Nguyen said the engage focus was meant to bolster transparency with the student body, Chief Administrator Nita Burton said the educate focus was meant to provide the student body with resources about diversity, Vice President Chiara Biddle said the encourage focus was meant to promote environmentally friendly behaviors and Treasurer Jacob Bartolotta said the strive focus was meant to shift SGA’s efforts to projects that benefit the student body.

In its focus-by-focus analysis of the slate, The Daily News found Strive accomplished goals related to a relationship with Dining Services and made progress on other goals like expanding access to menstrual products in student housing and communicating with the student body.

The editorial board of The Daily News applauds Strive for these accomplishments, but is left with one question: what did SGA tangibly achieve?

At the tail-end of the fall 2021 semester, SGA passed a resolution to increase the on-campus minimum wage to $9 an hour for undergraduate student workers. This, in itself, is a victory for those who believe the minimum wage on campus should be higher, but what, effectively, does passing such legislation do? According to the SGA Constitution, resolutions “formalize official Student Government Association opinions, views, or calls to action including all matters not within the Student Government Association jurisdiction.” 

Now, the decision is left entirely in the hands of the university. 

The University Senate, according to its constitution, is “the body with primary responsibility for formation of educational policy at Ball State University.” Essentially, SGA represents the student body in petitioning the University Senate to vote on certain policies — how then, is this process truly illustrative of the desires of the student body? What is the role of SGA in an issue that is ultimately decided by university leadership?

The role of SGA, it seems, is to simply act as a direct representative of the student body, conducting outreach and pursuing programs it can conduct with its own budget. It is not to campaign for institutional policy changes that will more widely benefit the student body, such as raising the minimum wage or installing more gender-inclusive restrooms, measures that Strive has spent much of its time in office championing. 

If this is the case, the introduction of legislation pertaining to these subjects are mostly performative in nature.

One of the major goals for Strive was to engage students through events, such as tabling and discussions with students. During a pandemic that has made some people feel disconnected from their peers, connecting with students to find out what students actually want at Ball State was an admirable idea.

However, can we really say this idea soared when most of us on the editorial board hadn’t heard about it until the last week of spring semester while doing this editorial?

The idea of connecting with students is great in theory but it needs a plan. Many organizations and groups try to connect with students but they fail if they don’t have a clear way of reaching them

One of the greatest ways to get people to come to events is social media because SGA, as well as other organizations, can’t simply rely on flyers to get the student body interested. With the busy schedules college students can often have, one could argue some students don’t think to look at flyers around campus. However, many students own cell phones and have access to social media. In our opinion, Strive could’ve used social media better to attract students to events and, with one of Strive’s major goals being to connect with students, this should’ve been a higher priority.

Usually in these tabling events, student attendance was varied and low, as stated by Sen. Cody York in the April 13 senate meeting. If we want SGA to represent all students, the outreach of these tabling events and other programs needs to reach a further distance. Instead of creating events and just hoping people show up — like many other organizations do — Strive could have created a more comprehensive outreach strategy for better success, especially after a pandemic that has made events like these even harder than they were before.

We have to hold SGA to a higher outreach standard because they aren’t just a normal organization.

We also need to look at how captivating these events were. Bartolotta said some executive members and senators didn’t even come to the events themselves. If your own senators don’t want to come to your events, what makes you think other students will?

Although we appreciated the idea of connecting with students, Strive needed a plan with a better outreach strategy and would have benefitted from more discussion in meetings about what types of captivating events would attract students.

While Strive won the 2021 SGA election with 71.4 percent of the vote, only 644 students voted — the lowest number in recent years for an SGA election. Additionally, the slate ran unopposed and 28.6 percent of voters had no confidence in the slate as leaders.

Like those 184 no-confidence voters, the editorial board also had concerns while covering the election, notably Strive’s lack of measurable goals. 

As each successful slate before Strive campaigned on platform points that we could thoroughly fact-check, we thought Strive’s campaign lacked accountability. Though slate members told The Daily News their personal definitions of each focus, a good campaign shouldn’t require voters to find out for themselves what the vague words of engage, encourage, educate and strive mean.

In our view, the encourage focus in particular could have benefitted from more specific language. Slate members only pursued sustainability initiatives under that focus, so they had the opportunity to be specific and preemptively clear confusion.

During the slate’s second election debate, Biddle said the definitions of each focus are “subject to change based on what students need and our success in pursuing those endeavors and hearing from the university offices and officials.”

While we respect and admire how Strive members wanted to be open to student concerns, they didn’t show a commitment to this until after they had already been elected. Though it’s difficult to hold town halls during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was nothing preventing the slate from asking students what they wanted on campus before the fall 2021 semester.

Because of this lack of student engagement, from the editorial board’s perspective, it seems Strive has pursued its own passion projects — of which they’ve only somewhat completed — and failed to elevate student concerns and add those to their focuses in a meaningful and measurable way. 

The unfortunate thing about all this is that it’s not particularly new. This editorial board has been reviewing the performance of our school’s student government for decades, but for some of our more experienced staffers, it’s hard not to get deja vu each year.

For all its flaws, SGA’s chief problem is that it doesn’t really change that much year in and year out in terms of addressing the failings of previous years. Sure, the senate will make seemingly endless tweaks to their operating structure in the form of amendments — which outnumber the number of resolutions passed over the last two years by a margin of 53-6 — but none of them break the mold enough to say they’re doing much to improve themselves on behalf of the student body.

These aren’t people without the means to affect change each year, either. SGA’s budget was just shy of $90,000 during the 2021-22 term, yet members chose to use it on programs and initiatives that we, the students, didn’t necessarily ask for.

But what incentive do SGA slate members have to change? In our opinion, very little.

SGA’s president, vice president, president pro tempore and treasurer all receive stipends equal to varying levels of the current in-state tuition — the president receives a full stipend; the vice president a five-sixths stipend; and the treasurer, president pro tempore and secretary a two-thirds stipend — and with election numbers staying low, there’s no need for them to change their approach to getting elected or earning our trust. Those stipends totaled are equal to around $40,000 of that aforementioned $90,000 budget.

The budget will still be plentiful and the executive slate’s pay will still stay the same no matter how we feel about their performance. SGA doesn’t have a real motive to change because its leaders don’t need to — but that can change.

Current president Tina Nguyen will be returning for another term as president in the coming school year, which is uncommon in SGA, as it typically sees its top job change each year. With her second term on the horizon, it would be easy to take a cynical approach and chalk it up to further stagnation within the organization. However, we feel this could be an opportunity for SGA’s goldfish memory to have a shot at learning from its past mistakes.

President Nguyen, the student body needs better from you and your organization in plenty of ways, most of all transparency and real action that the student body is actually asking for.

We hope your second term gives you the hindsight to do better.

The editorial board hopes the RISE ticket can further the progress Strive has made and cement itself as SGA leadership that listens to the student body, however, with Strive’s term ended, we must assign the previous slate an incomplete grade.

GRADE: Incomplete


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