Voting for the spring 2014 SGA presidential elections will begin on March 25, and the candidates are promising to raise the SGA’s profile among the student body despite a trend of poor student participation.
Students will have the opportunity to vote for a new SGA president, vice president and 30 senators in this semester’s elections. Students also will have the opportunity to vote on an SGA amendment that states that for the next presidential elections, candidates who run for president and vice president will have to run together on a ticket. Voting ends on March 27 and the results of the elections will be announced on March 28.
Students can vote online through the SGA website or at one of the seven voting polls in Shafer, the Compass, the Student Commons and the engineering and business school lobbies, said Idalmy Escobar, the SGA elections chairperson.
During the presidential debate on March 19, presidential candidates Brandon Day and Mihir Baxi and vice presidential candidates Carley Langley and Carmine Di Maro all agreed that the biggest issue affecting the organization is the lack of awareness the student body has about the SGA.
Voter turnout during the fall 2013 SGA elections fell by 30 percent compared to the spring 2013 elections. During the spring 2013 elections, 1,465 students cast their vote. However, voter turnout during the fall 2013 elections fell to 1,011 students.
The minority of students who are aware of the SGA usually only know the organization because they have friends in the SGA, require funding from the SGA for their own events or through events such as midnight breakfast, Baxi said.
“There isn’t really a strong bond between the SGA and the student body,” said Baxi, an SGA senator and former elections chairperson.
Baxi, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, said he thinks increasing the physical presence of the SGA on campus is the solution to the problem. If elected, Baxi said he will make sure that senators and other SGA members will actively approach students in public locations to talk about what proposals and amendments are being discussed in the meetings and to ask the students what they would like to see changed in the university.
Day, a junior mass communications major and the current public relations chairperson for the SGA, said improving the current processes that the student body knows the SGA for is the solution to the awareness problem, specifically event funding.
The event-funding procedures currently being used by the SGA appropriations committee are outdated and ineffective, Day said. Day also said the communication between the SGA and VCU Finance and Administration also needs to be improved in order to better serve students and student organizations requesting funding.
“Student organizations are not getting their funding on time and are not getting communicated with,” Day said. “Our communication with the finance office is also outdated and not up to par to what it needs to be.”
Langley, a history and pre-med major and the current chief justice of the SGA’s judicial branch, agrees with Baxi that communication with the student body is the solution to the awareness problem. However, Langley thinks the SGA should reach out to the student body by increasing their online presence and actively approaching students in public areas.
“One of my favorite ideas is to collaborate with (VCU Technology services) to create an SGA database and issue tracker, similar to the one that the U.S. Congress has where students can go online and see the issues and legislations that the SGA is dealing with right now and they would see the status of those things such as is it on the table, is it on the floor, is it on a committee, has something been passed,” Langley said.
Langley also promised if she is elected as vice president, she will create an SGA master plan for every semester or year to better coordinate the SGA branches and committees.
“One of the problems we have right now is that each branch of the SGA has their own agenda and their own goals and so collaborating together at the beginning of each semester or each year and making a universal plan would streamline everything that we’re doing,” Langley said.
Di Maro, an entrepreneurship major, is a candidate who has never held a position in any of the SGA branches but is a leadership member for numerous student organizations associated with the School of Business. Di Maro said the solution to the problem is making the SGA more accessible and friendly.
“The people outside the SGA see it as kind of this big scary secret monster where (the student body) don’t know what’s going on, they don’t know what’s happening and they don’t feel like they’re a part of (the SGA),” Di Maro said. “That’s a shame because (the SGA) is the body that is representing (the students).”
If elected, Di Maro said he plans to better use social media to not only advertise the events of the SGA but to advertise the events of other student organizations, departments and schools.