HUNTER SAVERY ’20
Trinity College’s Student Government Association is a great idea in principle, a means for the student body to be represented and influence life at the college. Once a semester, there are elections to fill the various positions from Class Senator to SGA President. The Student Government Association approves club funding, sponsors events, and helps facilitate services on campus. With an annual budget of around $75,000 and a body composed entirely of current students elected by their peers, it seems like the SGA would have a lot of room to engage in exciting projects on campus. Unfortunately, like many governments, the SGA falls short of its ideals.
Remember the $75,000 in annual funding? Well, by September of 2017 the SGA has already become embroiled in a budget crisis and is not giving any new funding to clubs. This has been blamed on mismanagement of funds by the previous administration, however anyone who has even a slight awareness of politics knows that blaming the previous administration is the oldest trick in the book. $75,000 is no small sum to spend; to put things in a “Camp Trin” perspective, that is the equivalent of 13,661 boxes of LaCroix, 1,172 Head Nano squash racquets, or just over one year’s tuition at Trinity.
According to Bantam Link, Trinity has 169 clubs or organizations active on campus. The SGA must give each club that follows proper procedures a minimum of $150 in funding. Thus, at minimum the SGA could spend $25,350, which, though extremely conservative, would leave them with a surplus of around $49,650. Any member of the SGA budget committee would call that a ridiculous oversimplification, and while there are probably many factors and nuances that these calculations miss, it illustrate the point that it should not be so easy to burn through $75,000 at a school of around 2,300 students.
Budget allocation is not the only area where the Student Government Association misses the mark. Many bantams, while well aware of the SGA’s existence, have no understanding of its functions or even who their senators are. The argument could be made that this is from a lack of interest or apathy among the student body. However, considering that political science is one of the most popular majors at Trinity, and that the school was ranked by U.S. News and World Report as having one of the best political science departments in the country, does that really make all that much sense? The problem is one that stems from a lack of transparency. The SGA needs to be far more active in making the student body aware of its decisions and processes. Outside of elections, most students do not have any participation in their government. The SGA needs to make its members more accessible to their constituents in order to create a more effective and transparent government. If this sounds a little tough on the SGA, it is important to understand that these are problems that many actual governments struggle with, but that still is no excuse.
In the most recent round of elections, candidates who submitted their paperwork received no confirmation that they were going to be on the ballot until it was time to vote. And speaking of time to vote, the elections went up several hours late and without the submitted bios of about half of the candidates. Not that the bios make much of a difference in voting, as most votes are cast on the basis of who the voter knows. Still, it is just another seemingly simple thing that caused problems for the SGA. There needs to be a better system for informing the student body about the candidates, maybe the election period needs to last longer and more avenues for the candidates to reach people with their ideas provided. Elections are just another item on the list of reforms the SGA needs to make.
Student Governments are a lot like real governments; they are great on paper and even necessary in reality, but they have a way of being removed from the people and spending well beyond their means. Luckily, like genuine democracies there is the opportunity for reform. To make a reform possible though, students need to know who their representatives are, so go find out, and ask them what their plans are for student government. If Trinity wants a government that is not just filled with people padding their resumes the student body needs to hold their representatives accountable. If Camp Trin thinks that the SGA should be doing a better job, then let them know.