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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

Let’s build an SGA that cares

Good representatives should not have to wait to have problems pointed out to them. They should be at the forefront of finding and addressing student needs. This is the type of leadership for which I advocate. 

I had no idea last month that, in fewer than three weeks, the petition my friend and I wrote to raise awareness of the inequity of our grading system would become FairGradesMidd, a student movement aimed at promoting change in our community. During that process, I had the chance to  speak with hundreds of students to understand why they cared about changing the model. Beyond discussions on policy, I was able to learn about their stories and about how changes in the college’s grading policy would affect them. When I advocate with FairGradesMidd for the over 1,300 students who support our movement, I do it because I care and because I see us having a unique opportunity to act for our community.

It is in this spirit that I am running for president of the Student Government Association (SGA). I am running because I envision an SGA that engages us, hears us, cares for us and stays at the forefront of advocating for us.

In my activism through FairGradesMidd, I have shown how good representation stems from listening to people and inspiring them to participate. It was important to frame our movement as a conversation because that made students comfortable with engaging and talking across differences. On the third day of our petition, a group of seniors started to protest us because they felt we did not address their concerns. I listened and we worked together to find a solution. Similarly, when other students started their own petitions for different alternatives, I invited them to our team and together we put forth a “dual A” alternative that could represent more students. From these conversations, our movement continued to grow and inspire more students to participate. For me, FairGradesMidd has inspired us because it addresses the issue of grading through a human perspective — it is not just a conversation about specific policies, but also a platform for us to imagine a fairer community. 

Over the past year, President Varsha Vijayakumar and her leadership have said that they want to address student issues through an “analytical and pragmatic lens.” I worry that that kind of government — one that is adamant on maintaining distance — loses sight of the diverse range of student perspectives and ignores how we are not the same. It focuses on sending out surveys and basing their decisions on numbers alone. In striving for “impartiality,” this leadership forgets to take into account why students care and how that might influence the decisions being made. How can the SGA equitably represent us if our voices are reduced to data points? I asked the senate to include a write-in question on the SGA survey because I was humbled reading the over 400 testimonials I got from students sharing how they were being affected by the grading policy. Even though this option was included, the discussions about whether the SGA should endorse a change focused exclusively on the numbers. It is hard to imagine these representatives advocating for us when they are so disconnected from our voices.

I believe it is impossible to represent and advocate for students without understanding and caring about their issues. I urged the administration to allow international students to remain on campus at the time of the evacuation because I feared for myself and for my peers. I advocated to create an International House because I saw how international students were underrepresented and did not have a space where they felt celebrated. As a student leader, I see myself in a position of pushing for change because I care — I believe that representation demands connection.

I am running because I believe in an SGA that cares about students and that does not shy away from taking action. One that is founded on transparency and that includes students actual voices in the decision making. This is our opportunity to reimagine what our student government can do for us—and we can build it together.

Arthur Martins is a member of the class of 2022.5. He is also the co-president of the International Students’ Organization (ISO) and the co-founder of FairGradesMidd.