On Wednesday Feb. 10, the student body received word that two proposed changes to the SGA constitution passed in a referendum vote. The two changes were suggested by junior Asha Marie, who noticed that while Furman often promotes diversity, the SGA constitution prevented people without SGA experience from running for Student Body President. Marie is passionate about the subject of race and justice, so much so that she created her own major called “Advocacy and Justice Studies” through the ICP program to delve into “the power dynamics of race, power and privilege [...] and how it affects justice and injustice.” Her drive for progress motivated her to promote change in SGA.
Originally, Marie did not believe she would run for any SGA office, nor that she belonged in the association, due to her belief that she could be more effective in her mission of social justice in other organizations at Furman. Over the summer, she rethought her decision not to run for SGA upon realizing the presidential office had direct access to administration and administration’s resources, and that the presidency had been held by white males within the same fraternity for the past three years. Marie felt that she could break this homogeneous trend, and thus began the process to run for office.
Marie did not notice, however, one obstacle: a clause requiring previous service in SGA. Upon further investigation, she realized how the clause requiring experience might contribute to the lack of diversity in student leadership. This prompted her to create and promote her now well-known petition on both her personal Instagram account and the Furman Justice Forum’s account, a club which she holds the presidential position of. In order for a proposition to get to the voting stage, 10% of Furman’s population must sign the petition. Marie’s petition exceeded the 10% signature rule, prompting current Student Body President Griffin Mills to notify the student body of the upcoming vote and detail the proposed changes.
The most notable change Marie petitioned for was opening candidacy for Student Body President to recognized leaders on campus, such as club presidents or Housing or Orientation Staff. She also added a clause to ensure that the incoming student body president received adequate training before entering office, especially if he or she does not have prior SGA experience. In an interview conducted by Jada Walker, Marie said “I don’t think we can have community unity if we’re not going to acknowledge the systems at play that are affecting our campus community. That affect our social climate.”
Beginning on Feb. 8 and ending on Feb. 10, the campus voted for its preference on the referendum. After the polls closed, Mills announced in an email that the amendment “passed substantially;” of the 735 voters who participated, 94.39% of people voted in favor of the change suggesting proper training protocols, and 73.43% voted in favor of the change to the requirements for candidacy.
When asked how the change might alter the future of SGA’s leadership, Mills said he “hope[s] it’ll be positive and open up the people running to a wider pool. We just hope that anyone who runs is interested and wants to do a good job.”
He also noted that SGA was taking other steps to promote diversity in its members, such as seeking out marginalized groups on campus to encourage them to run for office, answering any questions, and trying to understand why so few people end up seeking candidacy.
Marie commented on her potential future as SGA president saying, “If we’re not going to address how students of various communities are feeling all the time, no matter how hard or how challenging that is, then we will never reach unity, and we will never have any reconciliation [...] I am ready for the hard stuff, I’m not going to shy away. I am ready for that and I will commit to that.”
Students have until 5pm on Friday Feb. 26 to fill out the form for running for office.