Op-ed: To Student Government candidates: Stop using survivors
In the wake of AUSG elections, McKenzie Wilson sends a message to all candidates
Every spring when Student Government elections come around, I typically take the time to skim through the candidates’ platforms to get a sense of where elections are heading and what the candidates support. I am by no means a SG wonk – I typically agree with the assessment that SG is more similar to House of Cards than a functioning governing body – but I do like to be an informed voter and have a general sense of what is going on.
Over the past three years at American University, my passion has been sexual violence prevention and fighting for sexual assault survivors. I have taught Empower AU, Step Up, planned the annual Right to Party Consent carnival, served on the Greek Wellness Coalition and interned in the AU Wellness Center. Because of these personal, hands on experiences, I would consider myself knowledgeable and well-read on this issue. And that is why I was incredibly disheartened to see multiple inaccuracies on SG platforms in regards to this issue.
When you speak on behalf of survivors, you should know what you’re talking about. When you run on a platform for fighting sexual violence, you should be informed on specific community needs. When you run for student government president advocating for survivors, you should know that we don’t need to create a Sexual Assault Awareness Week – because we already have an entire Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
I won’t call out any one candidate or even blame them – I am sure anyone willing to invest this much time into running for a position this large is doing so with good intentions and goals. However, when it is clear that you not only didn’t do your homework, but you’re advocating for policies that are already in motion, it demonstrates a lack of care and respect for survivors. These are two qualities that are bare minimum for a SG representative.
Yes, candidates should run on bold ideas, but they also need to engage with student activists, leaders, faculty and staff already entrenched in these communities on these issues. Throwing around words like diversity, inclusion or violence prevention may get you the votes you need to win a position – but taking the time to actually listen to communities gets you the votes you need to succeed.
We are most effective as a community when we are listening to one another and allowing people to speak from their own experiences. A good ally – and a good candidate – is one that can truly listen to others. They should solicit feedback and information from campus experts and those with personal experience, instead of acting like the definitive voice on an issue. I ask every candidate considering a position to take the time and do this hard work of listening to other voices and amplify them. Do what you can to foster an environment that will address the needs communities are asking for instead of providing solutions to problems we don’t have or taking credit for ideas that aren’t your own.
Oh – and also show up to Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
McKenzie Wilson a senior in the School of Communications.