Georgia State’s student politicians carry power unseen by most Panthers. In fact, as iterated at nearly every Student Government Association (SGA) senate meeting, all students of Georgia State are acting members of SGA… technically.
But wrangling student activists into SGA’s board rooms can be tougher than just yielding them access. Too many students aimlessly praise and complain about the state’s largest public university, but with a hint of effort — and maybe some facetime with an SGA member — they could make actual changes to improve their college career.
That’s because the SGA has the power to make campus-wide laws. What? Yeah, student senators have the liberty to author legislation to create or strike down rules that govern their fellow classmates.
And SGA’s political reach extends much further than the boundaries of Georgia State’s campuses. These young politicians are granted [nearly] unfettered access to the desk of the university’s president and CEO, Mark Becker.
Becker is one of Atlanta’s top dogs, regarded as one of the city’s most powerful CEOs. And SGA officials have long leveraged that access to cry foul on administrative blunders or sing the praises of ambitious and successful student groups.
But SGA has other vehicles for establishing political legitimacy around Atlanta. The association, some members of which have landed internships and jobs at the city council and State Capitol, uses its weight to affect pending, polarizing legislation, such as the recently-deceased “Campus Carry” bill.
Last school year then-SGA President Sebastian Parra drafted a letter with the senate to send to Gov. Nathan Deal’s office urging his veto of HB 859. And although there’s no way of measuring the impact of that single letter, the governor vetoed the bill in early May, shooting down any chance of allowing licensed gun owners to tote pistols on college campuses.
Still, to address some concerns of safety issues on campus, SGA last semester concocted and approved five pieces of legislation to bolster the school’s security forces.
And SGA’s role amidst the student body doesn’t end at legislation. Students participating are required to show up to weekly meetings and engage in myriad community outreach opportunities. Some positions — mostly executive — require the place-holder to host frequent office hours, during which they entertain concerns from other Panthers, organize upcoming initiatives, tweak bills and resolutions and, primarily, intermingle with other SGA members.
And that outreach, before it can spur political literature, is the driving force behind SGA reps’ efforts. Last year, SGA’s former vice president of public relations, Anthony Nguyen, rang this Signal reporter at 2 in the morning to alert us of a protest of undocumented students boiling at Georgia State’s Centennial Hall, Becker’s office.
The protest ended in a slew of arrests of protesters, which sparked the authoring of an SGA recommendation to the University System of Georgia that it strike down a policy that forbids undocumented immigrants from enrolling in the state’s top five public universities.
That cry has thus far fallen on deaf ears and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students, along with the undocumented youth and their supporters, still stage protests against the university system’s rules. All the while, Georgia State’s SGA has been staunch supporters of that cause.
And if political activism isn’t your thing, you can still tune into The Signal’s yearly coverage of SGA’s election season fanfare. It’s a cacophony of campaigning before a string of debates that pin the school’s most ambitious politicians against one another on a stage before their peers.
After all that hooplah, Georgia State students vote during the spring semester to decide who will run the school government in the scholastic year to come.
This year Georgia State hosted arguably the most heated political race in the school’s history. The contest resulted in three runoff elections, one for each executive position – president, executive vice president, and speaker of the senate.
Former SGA Sen. Fortune Onwuzuruike narrowly defeated a Perimeter campus underdog to claim the presidential seat, but not before Sri Rajasekaran showed the school that she could bring voters — mostly Perimeter students — to the polling stations.
Shamari Southwell, another ex-senator, claimed the executive vice presidential seat, presiding over the Atlanta campus. And former SGA Sen. Blessing Akomas raked in the most votes in the senate speaker election race.
But voter turnout has been down over the last few years for SGA. So if you’ve got any ideas to rally your pals at the polls, step on into the student government’s Student Center West office and offer a handshake and ask for an application.
You can also go online to SGA’s webpage to learn how to get on-board with the school’s political movin’ and shakin’.
The website, SGA.GSU.edu, shows prospective students how they can apply for vacant positions or just volunteer for SGA initiatives.
On Georgia State’s Atlanta campus, only a few vacancies need to be filled. Those spots would be held by representatives of the university’s nursing school and its school of public health.
However, the school’s Perimeter campuses are in need of new SGA officials.
- Alpharetta – Speaker of the Senate and 5 senators
- Clarkston – 2 senators
- Decatur – Speaker of the Senate and 4 senators
- Dunwoody – Executive Vice President and 3 senators
- Newton – 3 senators