September 1, 2014

Guest Commentary: Jacob Walker

By Jacob Walker

Since my election into Student Government Association (SGA) as the senator for the College of Arts and Sciences, I have made it a priority to keep up to date on The Journal and the stories and commentaries it publishes. Commentaries and stories in this publication have repeatedly criticized the institutions that attempt to represent students, such as Delegates’ Agenda and SGA, calling them ineffective and insincere in their attempt to represent students and make positive changes on campus.

Taking these criticisms to heart — and seeing some basis for them, at least in the way SGA operated at the time — I started working on making a formal process for SGA members to voice their concerns and give their opinions on specific issues on campus. We did this through a constitutional amendment, which added nearly two pages onto our constitution, and went through months of committee meetings and brainstorming sessions, trying to discover the best way to go about representing students.

When the amendment finally passed unanimously, I thought The Journal would finally give SGA some credit for a success, as well as a step in the direction The Journal had advocated for in the past. I was wrong. Not anywhere in the paper did any reporter mention the amendment, its passage and its likely effects. This indifference cut even deeper after so many factual errors in previous articles about SGA, that were only half-heartedly corrected, after being brought to the attention of The Journal staff.

The amendment itself spells out a process for writing non-binding resolutions (because SGA has very narrow jurisdiction) on any topic. It also includes a provision for students to lobby their representatives to craft and sponsor resolutions. Once resolutions are passed, the director of communications attaches the SGA letterhead and sends press releases out to The Journal, the administration and any other affected party.

Of course, in order for students to be better represented by this new provision, they have to actually know it exists. I understand most things SGA does aren’t newsworthy, but adding two pages onto the SGA constitution in response to The Journal’s criticism seems to me like something worth reporting.

If this were a constitutional change to fix something internal in SGA, I would understand this publication’s lack of interest. This, however, is giving students that have been angry and underrepresented for years an avenue to express their concerns, and to collaborate with SGA members who are constantly wringing their hands about how to get students more involved in SGA and its processes. Instead, The Journal opts to put stories about students fixing cars and new bands on the front page, instead of doing the essential job it needs to do as one of the few media outlets on campus.

While I appreciate The Journal’s attempt to scrutinize SGA and hold it accountable, there needs to be some responsibility for reporting the whole story, not just the failures. The Journal is probably the most influential media outlet on campus. And with that comes responsibility for informing students of the good and bad things SGA does.

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