On Sept. 10, Ethics Committee chairman Brad Dunnagan reported that 12 of the vacancies represent graduate and professional students, which is not unusual.
Dunnagan said in previous years, there have been 12 to 15 empty spots, typically missing from graduate and professional students (GPS) districts.
“I think that a lot of graduate students don’t even know that (Student Congress) exists,” said GPS representative Elise Rosa. “And if they are aware that it exists, they do not see how it is relevant to them or how it impacts their life.”
But this is the first year that South Campus residency has been limited to freshmen — something that Dunnagan said contributed to the extra vacancies this year. Three South Campus East positions are currently vacant.
“The biggest problem is that we’re losing student voices.” Dunnagan said. “There are districts that are going underrepresented right now.”
To fill the vacancies, Dunnagan is working with Board of Elections chairman Alex Piasecki to set up special elections, which is something Student Congress has to do to fill vacancies every year.
The elections are tentatively scheduled to take place no later than Nov. 7, Piasecki said.
Oversight and Advocacy Vice Chairman Dale Bass said Congress might consider redistricting if vacancy problems within GPS districts persist beyond this year.
“If these seats are not going to be consistently filled, then we need to make sure we aren’t wasting seats in Congress and reallocate those to districts that may have only one seat at the moment right now,” Bass said.
He said redistricting could be contentious.
“Redistricting is an issue that has been volatile in the past, just because it’s a large change to the Student Code and Student Congress in general,” Bass said.
Rosa said redistricting is not the appropriate way to go.
“That would lead to graduate students being underrepresented given their number and the numbers of seats available,” Rosa said. “I think that if there are open seats, the solution is to do outreach, not to eliminate them.”
Bass said Student Congress is considering holding elections for districts dominated by freshmen in the fall, rather than during the spring general election.
Student Congress Oversight and Advocacy Chairman David Joyner said he would consider restructuring the entire Student Congress system to represent the undergraduate student body by academic affiliation, rather than by housing location.
“If people were interested in making that happen, this would be an interesting time to bring it up, because we have a very young congress,” Joyner said. “With so many new voices and ideas, this might be the time.”
For now, filling the gaps won’t be easy. Piasecki said he thinks the special election will have below average numbers of candidates and votes.
“We are really, really trying to drive the number of voters and voter awareness up,” Piasecki said. “I think it’s an important issue.