SGA recognizes struggle to engage students
Following this year’s election, the Student Government Association recognizes its failure to raise awareness of its campus presence. This new administration plans to tackles this with transparency.
Founded in 1934, the SGA has served as UH’s student body government. However, as many students find themselves preoccupied with academics, SGA often struggles to distinguish itself from the numerous other student-led organizations and clubs on campus.
In the most recent election, the office of the President was decided by a mere 2,000 votes, representing only 5 percent of UH’s over 39,000 student population.
Despite low voter turnouts, student government does matter, said SGA director of public relations and strategic communications junior Caitlyn Foret.
“When I was campaigning one thing that took me by surprise was how many people didn’t even know what SGA stood for,” Foret said. “But SGA is here to magnify students complains and concerns, we’re here so that students can actually have a voice in the way the university they pay to attend is run.”
The apparent lack of engagement on behalf of the student body isn’t the fault of the students, Foret said. For her, the biggest issue preventing students from actively participating in SGA has to do with the voting and election process itself.
“One thing we have seen is students seem to struggle with the ranking system we use for voting,” Foret said. “You have to actually rank each candidate from who you would most like to see get the position, to the least. It’s a long process.”
Foret also pointed to problems in the legislative process as being a factor contributing to the lack of student participation. One practice Foret found particularly problematic is the usage of secret ballots for senatorial votes.
A secret ballot is a process by which senators vote for a piece of proposed legislation or appointment entirely anonymously. This leaves no way for voters to ensure that their elected representatives are actually voting in line with their values.
“Senators should be transparent in their voting,” Foret said. “Why shouldn’t someone who’s in the college of liberal arts not know how their representative is voting?”
Foret explained the intention behind using a secret ballot is to avoid potential issues of discrimination and harassment that could arise from a controversial vote, but she has seen very little cause for concern in this regard.
In the recent SGA senate meeting, a new bill was introduced that would strip the senate’s ability to call for a secret ballot, with many senators in disagreement.
However, even outside of secret ballots there isn’t a way for interested students to verify how their representatives are voting unless they attend the SGA meeting like Foret suggests. Though she did emphasize the importance of transparency and student participation and said the administration would be open to all suggestions.
“One of the primary goals of this administration is to improve SGA transparency and visibility,” Foret said. “We will continue to do everything in our power to improve accountability and listen to the concerns of students.”
Students remain unconvinced however, with many citing issues of campus security and deteriorating infrastructure as being concerns that remain unresolved.
Some students like English literature junior Ellen Bergener think while SGA is a good idea, they’ve seen little of substance come as a product of the organization’s efforts.
“I don’t really see a whole lot of impact in my day-to-day,” Bergener said. “I have honestly yet to see a student representative actually asking their constituents about their concerns.”
Bergener went on to describe several examples of broken tables and doors that have gone unaddressed throughout her time at UH.
Voter skepticism aside, Foret said that herself and the 59th SGA administration are excited to face the challenges of serving the students of UH and will do everything in their power to ensure every student has a voice in SGA.
“We’re here for you, if you ever have a concern or question please reach out,” Foret said. “My door is always open, as are those of my colleagues.”