Opinion: Our Student Association Is a Pseudo-System

Matthew Forner

I’m a graduating senior and four-year student, which seems to be a rarity on our campus. I’ve sat through multiple Student Association elections and voted in each one of them and all of them have been the same: charismatic candidates stand up at assembly, give speeches promising the same changes that never end up happening, and we continue to vote them into office based upon popularity.  That changed this election cycle.

Many of the candidates were afraid to make even basic campaign promises for fear of not being able to see them implemented. This fear stems from the reality that many major proposed policy changes have been either shut down, dismissed, or weakened. Candidates this cycle seemed to be erring on the side of caution instead of being bold as potential and effective leaders should. So, we need to ask ourselves, why did this happen?

Firstly, it is important that we acknowledge that SA in its current form at Southwestern is a pseudo-system in which the administration has demonstrated its inherent distrust in the student body. This is proven in how decisions made by SA are only allowed to a point, a point that is even significantly less than at some of our academies. This is not just a problem at SWAU; it is a problem at many Adventist university campuses. Campuses like ours where college students feel that we are only treated as adults when its convenient. Throughout my four years I’ve grown continually tired of students being afraid to stand up and speak their mind about problems we all know exist.

I attended public high school for my freshmen, sophomore, and senior years. My junior year I attended Georgia Cumberland Academy, also known as GCA, which is an hour drive south of Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. During my year at GCA, I saw how our Student Association flourished and how events took place almost every other weekend. Some of those events were class vs. class flag football and soccer games, fun & food game nights, outdoor vespers, Sabbath and afterglow, late night dodgeball at the gym, and glow in the dark capture the flag. Many of these events saw almost the entire student body involved and for some like glow-in-the-dark capture-the-flag, almost the entire main campus space was utilized. Not only were these extremely fun, but they were tremendously low-cost events. Sure, the two banquets that took place (similar to Mimosa) were fun, but the real fun occurred at the events where students could just hangout, bond, and be themselves on a Saturday night.

Most importantly, the success that the SA at GCA saw was due to their active and authoritative voice in representing the student body to the administration. This voice was listened to, respected, and honored by the administration. Topics that students cared about such as cafeteria policies were vigorously pursued, discussed, and ultimately changed due to the successful relationship between the academy administration and SA officers. Each class also had representatives on the SA as well as individual class leadership that worked directly with the administration to facilitate event planning and healthy interactions between the two. These small endeavors led to heightened school spirit thanks to students recognizing the administration’s support in their lives and experience attending the academy. 

Now we are at the collegiate level. Southwestern is a four-year university. If an SA at an academy for high school students can get more done, what does that say about us? Currently, open dialogue between students and administration is almost nonexistent. Yet, it is essential for a well-working student government, especially if those SA positions are paid positions.

Recently, we had an assembly that looked at some of the issues surrounding the disconnect between the student body and the student association. Both students and SA officers agreed that there is in fact a real disconnect on issues such as abuse of power, apathy, and accountability. Despite this reality, the assembly was met with defensiveness, deflection, and ultimately indifference. Instead of an open discussion, students were lectured. Instead of valid issues being resolved, excuses were made and the blame was put on students by SA sponsors from the administration. My question for the panel representing SA and the administration is what other job than a weather anchor can you get paid to constantly get stuff wrong?

Going forward, it is imperative the administration realizes that trust is a two-way street. Students on campus want to know and feel that both the SA has their back and most importantly, that the administration respects the voice and authority of the SA. This is because the SA should represent us and our interests as a student body.

If we are actually adults heading into the real world, the administration should recognize this and move forward treating us the way we should be treated. It is important we all remember that the experience and responsibility gained here at Southwestern will translate to our future careers, some of us in just a few short months.

This election cycle exposed more than anything the apathy we all know exists. Almost all of the positions being campaigned for had one student running unopposed, President being the exception.

Do you think we have a thriving Student Association? Are you excited to vote for only one position since every other candidate wins by default for just showing up? Do you feel the money you are paying each year to SA is successfully benefiting you? An attitude of apathy continues to hover over this campus. The only difference is that a handful of students are getting paid for it.

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