The Student Government Association (SGA) passed a new set of Election Guidelines last Monday, January 29. Executive hopefuls must now meet a new set of guidelines decided upon by this year’s Student Senate, which includes a new standard for GPAs.
Through a secret ballot, the Senate voted into place a “ladder” increase, subtly raising the GPA requirement for this year’s candidates from a 2.7 to a 2.8. The requirement for subsequent years will continue to increase until it reaches a 3.0 by 2020. Class and commuter council requirements will remain at a 2.5. If students feel that they wish to run but do not meet the new standards, they may submit requests to Keri Lewis and a faculty member of their choice.
This GPA raise was met with concern from several students who felt they were being pushed out of leadership, most notably students of color. Robert Benjamin, Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs and Student Transitions, says he understands the belief that a higher GPA indicates a better handle on college life. Benjamin’s involvement with Student Transitions, however, has given him a firsthand look at how a rough semester can impact a GPA. Often this is due to students adjusting to Eastern.
When it comes to students of color, he explains that relying on grades creates an “academic caste system where one group will never catch up to the other.” When given the same academic background, the assumption is that students will perform the same. Schools that are resourced by local taxes and affluent neighborhoods will perform better than schools in less affluent towns because their school systems are better resourced. This issue is multi-faceted; the notion that students of color always perform lesser is untrue.
When asked about the importance of diversity on SGA, Benjamin says that students who develop a sense of belonging are more likely to run. He says that serving on SGA gives students of color a voice. It’s important for SGA to embed different people groups into our campus culture instead of giving a single student a platform; that’s what creates a true sense of belonging.
Kirsten North, Vice President of Executive SGA, says there was no specific event that necessitated a GPA increase. For North, the reasoning behind this change was the notion that because Executive SGA is the highest paid job on campus, it should be composed of the most qualified students.
North and three other members of Executive SGA ran unopposed for their positions, and this may now happen again with the GPA increase. She credits the lack of interest in SGA last year to Eastern’s shaky future and not to any election criteria. Going forward, North thinks that having a higher standard for grades will safeguard students against poor GPAs while serving on Executive SGA.
During the Senate meeting, a healthy discussion surrounding the topic ensued. Of 27 people present, over half participated in the conversation. Several students argued that classes are the most important part of college, and academics should come first. Others suggested that the student body should be trusted to choose a worthy candidate. When the issue of race was presented, Brendan Bollinger noted that “white people don’t have much to worry about besides our grades,” referencing the added societal pressure associated with being a person of color.
An amendment was made to the language of the bill to lessen the negative connotations attached to the process a student must go through to run if they do not meet the required GPA. The word “petition” was changed to “request” and the phrase “conduct requirements” was eliminated.
For a school that is as diverse as Eastern, having student leadership rich in diversity is essential to make everyone feel included. The concept of idea versus intent is relevant to this conversation. This means that the intent behind this policy may be good, but the impact it will have might not be worth it.
In this Senate meeting, four out of 27 students were of color. The amount of minority voices present in the meeting reflects the fact that students of color are lacking a seat at the table. While making sure everyone is given the same opportunities, we must consider backgrounds that might impact a student’s grades, some of which are influenced by color. If we do not, we risk creating an academic caste system.
When ensuring that the council is comprised of the most capable members, Executive SGA should not have to increase the pressure regarding grades. Students know if they’re qualified for the positions, and the student body is a great judge of character.
Currently, SGA is filled with people who are bright and people who are capable of doing their jobs. If the system isn’t broken, why fix it?
Disclaimer: Kelee Prince, Deputy Editor, helped edit this piece as well as participated on the Vice Presidential Advisory Committee that reviewed edits made to the Elections Act passed by Student Senate.