For the people?
Student Government sucks, you say, so you don't get involved. You're stupid.
By Heather Flynn
“Corruption. Favoritism. Uselessness. SG sucks! Besides, I don't need to waste my time listening to their platforms when I'm already late to class. It's all run by the Greeks anyway, right?”
Apparently not. In the March 2004 election, a new party that was not backed by the typical Interfraternity or Panhellenic Council Greeks won.
It took a run-off election, mandated by the closeness of the original, but eventually Access party candidates Jamal Sowell and Jennifer Puckett, president and vice president, respectively, earned 50 percent of the student body vote. With the election of treasurer Dennis Ngin, Access won the entire executive ticket.
On the first election night, Sowell and the Access party learned they achieved a run-off election. Sowell jumped on top of a table in the Orange and Brew to thank his supporters and God.
“I didn't have any frat houses behind me – nobody has done that in years,” Sowell says. “It was me against the world.”
Before the elections, the O&B had a chance to ask former KEG presidential candidate Travis Marsh about his views on the UF political system while enjoying his campaign symbol, beer, at the Orange and Brew.
Marsh, who was president of an honors fraternity and a mechanical engineering senior, said he felt student government had been a closed system that was difficult for the average student to be a part of. He said that was why his party chose a student-friendly name and campaigned for allowing students camp out to get football tickets and getting two-ply toilet paper in all UF bathrooms.
“We're getting all sorts of attention and any sort of publicity is good publicity. We're going after all the students that said, 'Screw SG! There's no reason for me to vote,'” he said in the middle of the campaign process.
Marsh doesn't think the current voting system allows every student a fair chance to be involved with SG.
“Student government isn't representing the majority of the people. They represent the people who vote,” he says. “What we want to do is make all the information available to the average guy, sitting on the couch with a beer. If they get inspired in some drunken reverie, then why shouldn't it be available to them?”
Before the election, Sowell said he would like to see a larger percentage of average students turnout for voting, but pointed out students involved in large organizations are more likely to vote. Sowell himself has been involved with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., a fraternity under the National Panhellenic Council, Florida Blue Key and Black Student Union.
“They bring out the numbers; that's why they are more involved,” he says. “When regular students vote, they can change that.”
He says that many campus leaders and SG participants are members of fraternities and sororities because it gives them a chance to practice leadership skills. They also have a large group of friends who they know will support them.
“The image that Greeks dominate student government is not good,” he says. “It's not that Greeks are bad, but no group should dominate student government.”
Which they didn't, in '04. Though the KEG party failed to win any seats on the executive ticket or in Senate, the O&B credits them for getting those joyous, drunken students Marsh mentioned out to vote. Students cast 11,586 ballots in the run-off elections.
The Greek Connection
Political science senior Meredith Fabiaschi has voted in most SG elections at UF. She also campaigned for parties that had the support of her sorority and agreed with the practicality of the Greek organizations platforms.
“I never voted my freshman year when I wasn't in the Greek system because I didn't know it was going on,” she says. “Greeks are better informed. They stress getting involved.”
Innovate's former presidential candidate Scott Kennelly was also involved in the Interfraternity Council. The Innovate party, which was unanimously supported by both the Interfratnerity and Panhellenic houses, focused on talking to student groups and catching students as they walked by the polls on voting days.
And while there's always a good reason for uninvolved students to keep up with student government issues, he says, students in those organizations are directly affected by SG decisions, especially when dealing with funding issues.
“I think that students in the Greek system are like any other student on campus, but they make a lot of contacts through that [the Greek system],” he says.
Fabiaschi also says that other large organizations have a choice to inform and encourage their members to vote.
“Any large organization lends itself, but the Greek system just happens to be a collective of large organizations,” she says. “I don't think that puts them at an unfair advantage.”
Kennelly says it took him two years to break into student government even though he was part of a Greek organization. He took a role as a staff member, then advanced into student government Senate, eventually becoming the allocations chair and Senate president. If students want to be involved in SG, he says, they need to make connections and keep trying.
“You can get involved,” he says. “Students are taking leadership roles, but it's just like students in any other organization on campus that has a chance to demonstrate leadership skills often.”
“It would be more difficult without a large organization, so join one,” she says to students who want to be involved with SG. “Become involved, then you'll have a platform of people, and then there are lots of opportunities to be heard.”
Marsh, however, says the SG system is not fair to the average student, and he doesn't think it is as easy to be involved with SG as Kennelly and Fabiaschi say.
“It's a self-perpetuating system. You have to get involved before you have a chance to get involved,” he says. “You have to put a lot of money down on the line. So, in my opinion, it's an investment in a future political career. There are saved seats from guaranteed voting pools, and it's such tokenism. It's always the same bunch of people.”
Get involved, Jackass
So the two parties that joined together to capture student government both were led by fraternity members, though not your typical Abercrombie sandal-wearing Greek folks. Are we to assume that there is no hope for the normal student in SG? Or maybe these kids are the normal students? Maybe they want to help normal, drunken college students keep money in their pockets instead of paying it in tuition, providing buses to ride home after they're kicked out at 2 a.m. and getting educated through awareness months, education forums and health initiatives.
If average, non-Greek students want to be involved in student government, they should start asking questions and start voting in the SG elections, we say. They should join organizations with ties to SG and start getting like-minded people involved.
Otherwise, you don't get to complain.