Will Rose’s recent piece attacking Student Government (“Is Student Government Just for Fun?” March 26, 2012) makes me wonder if he knows what we do, what we have the power to do and if he, as a columnist for Broadside, even reads the Broadside. While I was initially annoyed by his piece, I’m now thankful for the opportunity to address his concerns and set the record straight. This is a bit of a challenge because his insults were chock-full of contradictions, and his article was more of an assault against SG rather than respectful, constructive criticism.

In short, Will, we’re not here just to give away cookies. Many students don’t know what SG really is for and what we are working on. As a recent appointee to the Student Senate, I have been part of a massive amount of work by this organization to support our mission in the last two months. In that same issue last week, Broadside published three separate articles on the work SG is doing to extend the add/drop deadline, the SG Academic Advising Expo and the creation of the Shared Governance Task Force to explore opportunities for giving students real decision-making power rather than expecting students to be satisfied with just non-binding resolutions and non-voting student members in governing entities. We’ve also passed a resolution in support of the DREAM Act (front page coverage in Broadside February 20, 2012), hosted a Police and Housing Forum and organized countless other successful events.

In his piece, Rose unfairly projected the statements of one or two senators onto our entire organization. SG is a diverse organization of students with different political ideologies, multiple identities and many reasons for joining. Additionally, the statements on which Rose focused were taken out of context. One senator did say that SG is about having fun. However, taking the quote in context, this senator was recently served by the lawsuit, encouraged to seek legal assistance, and told to go to the Fairfax County Circuit Court to face the frivolous charges that the judge later quickly dismissed as ridiculous. Under these circumstances, many people would have questioned the lawsuit as being too serious and would want to bring things back to the ground.

Because Rose stated that SG is breaking laws while citing the lawsuit, it is important to make it clear that the judge dismissed all charges. Rose intentionally avoids the result of the lawsuit but quickly stated that student government “broke a state law.”

I completely understand and sympathize with Rose’s frustrations with the gap between what students ask for and what changes are ultimately made by administrators. Rose cites the “What Do You Want Wednesday” events organized by former Senator Donald Garrett, whom the article largely defends, before Garrett’s resignation. I have spent all of my three years at Mason working on making positive institutional changes and have learned how little power students actually have. Even Student Government, the most powerful student organization, can ultimately only make recommendations, and we don’t hold any significant decision-making power. This is a problem we are highlighting with the creation of the Shared Governance Task Force, as I believe decision-making power should be shared by students, faculty and staff based on how much the decisions being made impact us. I can say with complete confidence that the input SG receives from students is communicated to decision makers. Unfortunately, those decision makers often don’t make the changes we recommend.

Rose also questioned how we spend our money and went further, saying that maybe SG’s funds should be taken away. How we spend this small budget is made public at sg.gmu.edu under legislative log showing recent legislation, and if you attend any of our public and open meetings, you can see for yourself that our money is spent carefully and wisely. Giving context to our small budget, University of Maryland SG spends approximately $1.5 million and University of Colorado SG oversees $37 million.

By Rose’s logic if SG is bound to all Freedom of Information Act regulations, all student organizations are as well. In my experience being active in more than a dozen organizations, student organizations don’t follow all these strict regulations and would be bogged down if it were mandated. Rose cited his leadership in Global Zero, but the group has 50 members on their Facebook page and three members on Collegiate Link. In fact, if I didn’t know where to look, his leadership would be a complete secret to me. If this group has met since February 11, those meetings were not made public according to these websites, which is a direct violation of FOIA from my understanding. However, I do not intend to file a lawsuit because I don’t believe FOIA applies.

I personally did not join SG for fun and am insulted by Rose’s accusations. I, like many other senators, take my obligations to represent students seriously and work hard to make positive change on campus for the benefit of the student body.

Reaching over 32,000 students is a challenge for a student government with a maximum membership of approximately 75, and I understand Rose’s misunderstandings. I believe I speak for all of SG when I say we are always open to hearing from students. I personally appreciate any feedback to be constructive and respectful. I welcome Rose to work with SG in the future and hope that I have cleared up some of the issues he raised.

— Jason Von Kundra, Student Senator