Op-Ed: Student body deserves more honest SG elections

Following the Student Government presidential race has thus far been a frustrating exercise to say the least. The student body deserves to see the issues that affect them discussed honestly and tangible solutions proposed by the people vying to be their chief advocate to the AU administration. We deserve concrete plans of action rather than soundbites hastily stuffed into flashy campaign videos. But we have not received this across the board, and, frankly, this is because not all of the candidates seem to know what the job of an “advocate” entails.

The job of an advocate is not glamorous or sexy. Advocacy is an arduous process that is about dismantling systematic roadblocks because you seek progress, not popularity. It means unpacking what you think you know about an issue, taking the nuance, urgency and gravity that comprise it and figuring out how to move forward. It means spending hours poring over tiny details and attending lengthy meetings to formulate a plan that navigates seemingly insurmountable bureaucracy. It means reframing the issue in hundreds of different ways to present to hundreds of different people, many of whom are looking for every possible excuse to tell you no. It means building coalitions based on friendship and trust, not political allyship, and being willing to get into arguments with those friends if need be. Being an advocate is about budget breakdowns, scheduling conflicts, difficult compromises and space requests. It is not about headlines or awards.

I do not say these things for the sake of being dramatic or furthering political agenda. Rather, I feel compelled to hold these candidates to a high standard because they are discussing issues that are very close to my heart. I have spent the past two and a half years as a campus organizer and peer educator for sexual violence prevention and have spent as long as I can remember grappling with my own mental health concerns. And Sasha Gilthorpe is the only candidate for SG president that I trust to be a strong, effective advocate for these issues.

I want a president who understands what it means to walk around campus every day on the frontlines of rape culture, and a president who will use that understanding to demand that survivors’ stories are respected and their needs met. The AU It’s On Us Report released in November was an incredible first step in furthering SG’s advocacy on sexual assault prevention. But it is not enough for a candidate to run primarily on continuing to push for the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Only Sasha has presented concrete ideas for preventing sexual violence and supporting survivors that go beyond the It’s On Us Report. A SG president needs to bring fresh ideas to the strong pre-existing foundation. Generalized statements about a culture change are not helpful or substantive; pushing specifically for “yes means yes” education is. Goalless pledges to shift University response to sexual violence are woefully hollow; definite plans to expand counseling services actually do support survivors. Sasha presents action where others present buzzwords.

I want a president who understands that my life and my friends’ lives will not be saved through peer counseling. As someone who has gone to the Counseling Center reeling from overwhelming, nauseating anxiety and been met with a three-week waiting period, I can only put my faith in the candidate whom I believe understands the Campus Life budget and the AU administration enough to fix this. Dialogue groups about mental health will not help me tailor my academic life to my obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a poster about self-care in the library staircase will not ward off the panic attacks I have at 4 a.m. in the Mudbox. We need real, institutional change on this issue: the kind being presented by Sasha.

I want a president who understands that she must reach out to those most directly impacted by issues, those already laying the critical groundwork for advocacy but meeting institutional barriers, and seek out their ideas. I want a president who will create the space and resources necessary for those people to keep working and see results, not one who decides before listening what the best course of action will be. I want a president who does not just listen but hears what her fellow students have to say. I want a president who truly understands what advocacy means.

I am a student who cares about making real progress for our campus community, and I want Sasha Gilthorpe as my next SG president.

Abby Dunn is a senior in the School of Public Affairs and the current SG comptroller.

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