2019 SA election saga comes to a close; Student concerns remain to be addressed
Following two presidential elections, one Joint Election Committee hearing, and a host of accordion-led rallies in Kogan, junior SJ Matthews took the cake in the Student Association Presidential run-off last night.
Matthews garnered 66.6 percent of the vote; a total of 4,727 students voted in the election, the results of which came as a surprise to some, even to those who thought Justin Diamond’s campaign strategy would bode well for him in the polls. A sophomore, who wished to remained anonymous out of fear of backlash, thought Diamond winning the race was likely, despite not agreeing with his platform.
“I think Justin Diamond has a huge chance of winning, considering I’ve seen more people on live-streams watching him play accordion than marching for fossil fuel divestment,” the sophomore majoring in International Affairs said. The student was weary of Diamond’s desire abolish the SA prior to the final results announcement.
“The SA shouldn’t go because the administration will have no accountability to the students,” the student added. “Admin and the Board of Trustees makes over a million each year; they have no incentive to solve food insecurity. We need to demand the SA do better, not abolish it.”
While it is apparent that most voting students agree, Diamond’s campaign galvanized a notable sum of students fed up with SA politics.
“A lot of seniors consider them sort of self-important, wannabe real politicians who treat the SA like it is some model of the real government, and that would be fine if they did not treat it as seriously as the real government,” said Riccardo Azze, a senior and a moderator for the GW Memes page, whose endorsement of Diamond propelled his write-in campaign to the forefront.
“I’m not saying that they’re ill-intentioned or anything, but they don’t necessarily always hear you,” said Giorgios Anagnostopoulos, a senior and member of a student organization on campus. “I don’t think abolishing it will make any impact, and I think that’s a view that’s shared by many of my friends and many people I know at GW.”
Kyle Parker, a sophomore and leader of a smaller student organizations on campus, was vocal to both Diamond and The Rival of his frustrations to the SA, which nearly gutted his organization over a seven-dollar budget deficit.
“That is less than my go-to order at the Deli, and they cancelled our entire ability to function for the next academic year over that,” said Parker.
Luckily for Parker, the Center for Student Engagement appealed to the SA after he resolved the deficit with a ten-dollar bill.
“Already the administration has expressed a capacity to respond to the students, and already the SA has provided a reason for them not to,” he said.
Diamond’s campaign announcement on the GW Memes page, a two-year old Facebook group with 14,478 members, most of whom are students, initially evoked cynicism among the student body, regardless of whether or not people harbored previous frustrations with the SA.
“It took a while to fully conceptualize that he’s running for a position that he claims to end, that he’s running with the express purpose of being the last SA president, so my initial reaction was sort of amused,” said Parker.
“In that moment it was still a joke,” said Georgia Parolski, a senior and moderator of the page, said in reference to his announcement in late March. “That was his official announcement, but we were like ‘He’s not going to win’, you know what I mean?”
Parolski and a few other contributors to the page were familiar with Diamond’s memes in the group early last year following his acceptance into GW.
“He was just posting so much and we were just kind of like ‘patience grasshopper,’” she said. “He had the potential to be a prodigy.”
Diamond was banned from posting last summer until he stepped foot on campus in the Fall. While his serious declaration on the memes page in March garnered laughs among moderators, his platform gradually grew on some of them.
“I know that that’s like a meme in itself that the SA doesn’t do anything, but Justin’s platform really resonates with people who feel that the SA really doesn’t serve them and feel like the SA doesn’t contribute to their success at GW,” said Parolski. “I know a lot of students feel that way.”
Activity on the Facebook group increased tangibly following its official endorsement of his campaign, with 40 additional members requesting to join the group prior to his livestream on Monday.
“We were really happy to see that so many people were getting involved and talking about this whether they liked it or not; there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” said Azze. “Nobody’s ever used a page like this to promote themselves as a candidate so I thought that that was really interesting.”
Not everyone was amused with Diamond’s campaign’s two-week long dominance of the group, however; a complaint to the JEC accusing Diamond of making a false statement about a “Gelbucks” endorsement on the satirical page resulted in a hearing last Friday. Diamond was absolved of the three penalty points he received, thanks in part to the support of those who saw the accusations as silly to begin with.
“He’s definitely very independent and does things on his own, but we felt like we had to defend him because the complaint just seemed so frivolous that we just couldn’t let it stand,” said Azze, who joined Diamond at the hearing along with a few other moderators.
Despite the fact that the “Diamond Standard”, which pledged to increase direct access between student organizations and the administration, didn’t amass him a winning number of votes, Diamond was successful in starting a campus-wide conversation about what the SA is and should be doing.
“I’m a bio major; this is the first time I’ve ever been politically-active at all, and I got involved in this because it’s a really exciting movement to be a part of,” said Parolski.
“As Justin’s campaign ramped up, that inspired me, and I know it inspired others, to look more into the bylaws and how the SA actually functions,” said Parker. “Their authority is not necessarily as extensive as they like to make out.”
The prevailing view of the student body says otherwise, however.
“While some might see the SA as unnecessarily political and bureaucratic, I ultimately feel more comfortable knowing real students are in charge of funds, and I know that I would feel more comfortable reaching out to SA members if I ever needed to as opposed to a GW administrator,” said Clara Dizon, a sophomore majoring in International Affairs.
Matthews acknowledges the concerns of those who disagree and expressed a desire to carry these discussions forward last night.
“I am excited to have conversations with the GW students about what they want to see from the SA and how we can work to make it better,” Matthews said.
For now, Diamond isn’t discouraged by his election loss in the slightest and still stands by his platform.
“I plan on working towards radical reform from within, and if it seems feasible or the SA steps out of line/fails to effectively represent the students, I'll petition for an abolition referendum,” he said. “I also intend on using my popularity for good, selling merch and putting proceeds towards underfunded organizations. In a few words, giving back to the community, holding the SA to account, and fixing what's broken.”
Editor’s note: The opinions voiced by those quoted in the article do not represent those of the organizations and groups that they are affiliated with, and we have chosen not to identify the names of those groups due to student concern that the opinions expressed here could affect future fund allocation.