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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Editorial: Why the Apathy?

We’ve written several editorials this year praising Mike Panzer ’10 and the rest of the current SGA for the significant number of tangible initiatives they have tackled. In years past, the SGA has been characterized by empty campaign promises and general inaction. As president, Panzer delivered multiple times throughout the year — by adding exercise machines in the gym, keeping the library open 24 hours during finals, expanding ACTR shuttle bus service and returning to us our beloved Midnight Breakfast. It has been a welcome breath of fresh air.

Which is why it was equal parts disheartening and baffling to see such a dismal turnout for this year’s presidential election that saw a paltry 23 percent of students going to the polls. This leads to an obvious question: why the apathy?

The answer, we’re convinced, is two-fold. The first and most obvious answer is the lackluster and poorly publicized campaign. Last year’s campaign featured Panzer and friends riding around campus in an SUV shouting his platform from a megaphone. This year’s campaign, well ... didn’t. This year, voting took place between a Thursday and Friday, while last year we were given a full week. With a 52 percent turnout in last year’s election, with 40 percent participating in the run-off vote, it seems certain that a more active campaign and longer voting window made a significant difference in voter turnout.

That said, it also seems that apathy for the SGA stems from more than just its level of publicity. As the theoretical voice of the student body, the SGA has remarkably little power. Panzer’s effectiveness this past year has been welcome and embraced, but the issues they have tackled have been necessarily small-scale. Midnight Breakfast and library hours are undoubtedly important, but in the grand scheme of things, there are likely many more issues that students feel passionately about, over which the SGA has absolutely no control or influence. We feel that the entire system of student government needs of a substantial overhaul if it is ever going to garner interest from the student body.

In our vision of the SGA, the president would offer a proactive voice on campus — a go-to source willing to issue expedient responses to major events as a College spokesperson. To elevate the role of the SGA president among students, we propose vesting the power of the president and those of the Community Council student co-chair in a single person. As it stands, a lack of central power makes it exceedingly difficult to enact real, meaningful change. What we’re left with is a collection of committees, organizations and positions that much of the student body perceives to be résumé-builders and a way for the administration to say, “look, you have a voice!” What it leads to is three out of four students caring too little to register their vote.

If the position of SGA president could make a real difference on this campus, it’s not a stretch to imagine that more people would care who sits in that seat.