Thousands of students elected 52 senators to SGA last spring, including the 1,179 off-campus students that put me in office. Of those 52 elected senators, only 10 voted to support the election packet in Tuesday’s special senate session. This illustrates the turnover senate has seen this year.
The attrition in senate can be traced to the toxic election cycle last spring that has spilled over into all branches of SGA. Despite calls for election reform, the packet passed without fundamental changes by a vote of 28 in favor, 18 against and two abstentions.
Nine senators were absent without a proxy and the three senate vacancies at the time allowed this packet to pass with a plurality, not majority, of what is supposed to be a 60-person body.
Not enough was done to address issues of access and transparency in the election process. In good faith, the Election Commissioner added non-monetary donations for candidates with less financial means.
I supported this effort, but believe more needs to be done. Using logic that was inconsistent at best and irrational at worst, certain colleagues argued against a $140 spending limit for all individuals, including candidates. They claimed it would hurt low-income students.
As a result, the senate ignored the significant investment often needed to fund a successful party. Last year for example, the current SGA President and Vice President each wrote a $1,500 check to kickstart their campaign.
Under the current rules, that process makes complete sense. I ran with their campaign; however, I strongly disagree that this model is ethical or accessible to the vast majority of UT students.
Until we change the rules, the outcomes will remain the same. Elections will increasingly be about who has the most food, the best Instagram and the flashy policy that nobody believes is achievable.
There is a huge difference in the values SGA exposes and the actions it takes to engage students, and that begins with the election process. Until we make the process more accessible and transparent, SGA will continue to be an echo chamber.
Campaigns are restricted as much as possible from engaging one-on-one with students in meaningful ways.
Most of your representatives will be completely out-of-touch with the students they pass on the way to class. Most Vols will continue to be overwhelmed the day social media drops, and suddenly their Insta stories are bombarded with confusing information about some SGA thing.
SGA will host an interest meeting on Thursday, Feb. 20 for students, but campaigns have already formed. In fact, campaigns can have partisan interest meetings directly after the non-partisan meeting.
Again, no one running is at fault for following the rules, but the rules need to change. Before the April 6 election, I encourage you to seek out candidates that are honest about the state of SGA, passionate about the needs of all students and committed to changing the status quo.
I will not be running for re-election because I am part of the problem. For the last three years, I have been entangled in the drama and toxicity of SGA, failing to get anything meaningful done. I continue to value student voice and active representation but no longer believe SGA is the medium to accomplish that.
If you are interested in this process, I encourage you to explore it. If you are new to this and believe you could do well, I encourage you to take that leap of faith and run. The organization and UT need people like you. Whether you are involved in SGA or not, I compel you to participate in things that bring you joy, anything less is a waste of your time.
Wesley Smith is a junior in the College Scholars Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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