Editorial: Is Student Government Effective?

When someone says they are going to do something and they back their words up with action, one can easily argue they’ve been effective. It wouldn’t be off base to say that about current Student Body President Jake Ingram and Vice President Mariel Jackson. After all, they announced their goals in their platform statement prior to being elected and sure enough, the initiatives they set out to achieve have come to fruition under their leadership.

But acting effectively as an elected student government official means more than achieving platform goals, doesn’t it? If the goal of elected officials is to represent their constituents, shouldn’t we also gauge the effectiveness of student government based on their ability to engage the students they govern? It seems like the two should go hand-in-hand.

Under the Ingram-Jackson platform, two main initiatives were announced to satisfy their main goal: improving campus safety. The first was an expansion of Cats Cab, an initiative launched as a partnership with Bluegrass Cab that offers free rides to students on the weekends.

In January, Ingram announced that Cats Cab would be expanding their fleet by two more cars, totaling seven cabs available for students. Ingram also announced that the addition of more cabs would not only ideally decrease the wait times for students, but also the hourly rates funded by SGA for the vehicles – the rates dipped from $35 an hour to $28.

The expansion of Cats Cab was a progression that took a step in the right direction in improving campus safety, but the Ingram-Jackson platform jumped leaps and bounds in in March when they launched the new application, LiveSafe.

LiveSafe is an innovative personal safety tool that serves as a two-way communication with UK police and provides an opportunity for students to seek emergency help or submit tips about crimes and suspicious activity. As Ingram wrote in an opinion piece for the Kentucky Kernel, the app puts the power of a blue light tower in a student’s pocket.

Because LiveSafe is so new, there is not enough information to determine whether the implementation of the application has had an affect on crime rates or the deterrence of crime and to what extent. However, as of an article written March 9th in the Kentucky Kernel, the application has received over 1,000 downloads and while it is still in its infancy, it provides comprehensive safety services that weren’t otherwise available to students, faculty and staff.

Like most elected officials, Ingram and Jackson were great at talking the talk. But unlike many officials, they have been able to back their words with actions. One could easily look at what they have to show for their efforts and deem their leadership in student government effective.

But what about student engagement? To say voter turnout numbers for recent elections have been unimpressive would be a gross understatement.

While the Ingram-Jackson and Dean-Pulliam race notched record voter turnout numbers with 5,205 votes received, in a school with more than 30,000 students enrolled, it still only translates to roughly 17 percent. And even though the record turnout rate represents a six percent increase from a whopping 11 percent in 2013, nowhere in the platforms of electoral candidates is an acknowledgement of unsatisfactory voter turnouts.

So has student government been effective under the Ingram-Jackson platform? In terms of reaching their platform objectives, sure, one could certainly make that argument. But gauging student government and its effectiveness as a whole? One is left wondering, why is voter turnout being ignored in platform statements, who is going to step up and address the issue, and how will they work to improve student engagement?

If one hand shakes the other in terms of measuring effectiveness, the firm grip sure feels one-sided.

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