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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Perception of SGA changes with executive election

The SGA offices are located in JRC 222 and are open throughout the day. Photo by Mahira Faran.


Voter turnout dropped substantially in 2018’s Student Government Association (SGA) executive elections. In the executive race this year, roughly 700 students voted for presidential candidates Myles Becker and Dylan Welch, both ’19. This number is substantially lower than that of the 2017 executive elections, in which 811 students cast ballots for the presidential candidates, or 2016, in which 976 students did. This election turnout has prompted discussion about the relationship between SGA and the Grinnell student body.

SGA President-elect Becker argued that the lower participation rate is intertwined with the perception of SGA on campus.

“Post-election, looking back at the voter turnout, for as vigorously as everyone campaigned, the fact that we had a significantly smaller turnout than we did the previous two years, was also kind of indicative of the general consensus on SGA,” Becker said.

Welch, All Campus Events Committee (ACE) co-chair and Becker’s opponent in the past election, believes that the decline in turnout is largely a matter of timing and representation.

“I think part of it was probably the timing of the election. The executive panel was the same night as Ocean Vuong (a popular Writers@Grinnell event). … ISO elections are going on at the same time. The fact that it happened on a Friday, … people are kind of checking out. Half of the candidates were white men, they weren’t necessarily seeing themselves in who was being offered to the student body as candidates for executives,” Welch said.

OCCO Senator Quinn Ercolani believes the inherent business of life at the College has a direct relationship with student participation in elections and in SGA as a whole.

“The student body is comprised of a bunch of very, very busy people. People don’t have the time to show up to Campus Council. … SGA does a decent job in my opinion of trying to present itself to the student body and what it does, but it has a very hard time getting input from the student body,” Ercolani said.

Current SGA President Summer White provided a number of possibilities to help explain lower participation in student government.

“One could be just general distrust in government or organizations, another could be lack of awareness to be involved and make your voice heard, despite many efforts to do so,” White said.

But White did not discount the possibility that politics-as-usual is an explanation for lower participation this election season.

“Another reason is that people are content with the way things are, so they don’t feel the need to run for office if they like and believe that the candidates are very well qualified and can do the job well,” White said.

Ercolani argues that the perception of SGA on campus is rooted in its restraints as an organization.

“It’s a control of expectations. SGA has the ability to do a lot of things, but SGA also doesn’t have the ability to do a lot of things. Whether it be constraints constitutionally on what SGA cabinet members can and can’t do, or administrative struggle, or … the fact that SGA’s budget doesn’t allow for some things. … A lot of the perception that SGA … being indifferent comes from the base limitations on SGA’s authority.”

The question of SGA’s effectiveness at handling student concerns directly relates to its perception in the student body. Many candidates this election cycle acknowledged SGA is not the typical campus organization that students go to when they have a problem.

“As I’ve become more involved in SGA, it has seemed more to me like I’m … hearing about concerns students have through avenues that aren’t directed towards SGA. It’s hard to try to gauge if that’s just because of new positions I’ve taken on, or if this current SGA is doing more poorly than previous SGAs,” Welch said.

On the subject of outreach, White believes “SGA has a lot to offer to students, and that not all students take advantage of that opportunity to advance whatever they want their experience to be like at Grinnell.”

Welch argues that the onus of outreach lies on SGA rather than the students.

“Outreach probably plays a large role, because if students don’t know what we can do for them, or that we will do X, Y or Z for them, then that’s our fault for not making that clear to the student body,” Welch said.

Discussions about the relationship between SGA, the student body and participation are not new. On the campaign trail, many candidates argued that SGA is not the organization students go to in the event they face trouble on campus and as a result, students prefer to take other avenues to manifest change on campus.

Welch made increasing approachability a focal point of his campaign.

“I think it’s because people don’t think SGA will listen to what they have to say or don’t think SGA will do anything about it. I think the … general approachability of SGA leadership is always something we could be improving on, we always need to be open to discussions with students and not sitting back and hoping students will come to us. We need to be proactive,” he said.

Becker also argued that the lack of a uniting major issue on campus drove down participation rates.

“There’s been less campus conversation about things. With the change in alcohol policy in previous years, and concern that might lead towards punitive measures towards students, … mental health has been a big conversation. … It’s kind of difficult when students are less passionate about current events on campus.”

White noted the limited amount of time SGA administrations have to implement policy change.

Looking to the future, White said, “I would advise [Becker] and others to … consistently reflect on what’s the most important thing to be addressing at that time, and to plan ahead so they’re able to accomplish what they want to … there are so many ways to go about improving the community and little time, so you have to do what you can in the time that you have.”

But whatever the proposed solutions, low participation remains a consistent problem for SGA that the incoming administration would like to tackle head-on. Looking to the future, Becker sees increased community engagement as a curative for low participation in SGA.

“Finding ways to improve campus, making Campus Council more central, more accessible, more easy to get to … and if people don’t want that solution to be solved, then it’s not my job to force that on them, but making it as easy as possible to get them involved and showing them some of the enjoyable and fun aspects of SGA is going to be our goal,” Becker said.

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