In the last five years, social media has emerged as a powerful tool to connect, inform and mobilize people everywhere from a college campus to an entire nation. On a local scale, it is nearly impossible for the average Tech student to not see an organization’s event on Facebook or a campus leader without a Twitter. However, with social media, there should be changes from the norm in how campus leaders represent themselves and their constituency through their messages.
Twitter and Facebook have allowed students greater exposure to how decisions that impact them are made. This has been especially true with the state Senate’s recent decisions on the HOPE Scholarship. Over the last two weeks, as state representatives argued back and forth about the new HOPE Scholarship proposal, many of the messages between SGA representatives on Facebook could be described as a premature self-indulgent love-fest on issues that are far from being solved. While I applaud SGA leaders for creating informative white papers, pushing students to contact their representatives and lobbying for their students’ interests, like keeping a grandfather clause for all current students, much of their work may come as too little too late, not strong enough or misinformed.
For example, on March 8, Undergraduate Student Body President Corey Boone mistakenly posted on his Twitter, “THANKS to the GA Senate for passing the new HOPE Bill with a Grandfather Clause for ALL current students (including highschool seniors).” In reality, the grandfather clause was only approved to reach current juniors and seniors in college who met the previous HOPE requirements. In other posts, Boone’s messages have focused on small strides in the HOPE proposal, which elicited early praise in comments and “likes” from a number of SGA representatives. At this point in time, however, it seems that the conflict is far from over. There is more work to be done, and the only way to do so is to point out the negatives as well as the positives. Criticism would be the more effective route to take than to dole out blind praise.
Considering the current political climate of Tech’s state funding and academic affairs, it feels as if there is more emphasis being placed on I <3 GT Week events than the fight for our student rights. How much can be accomplished when the environment for discussion is one filled with fancy matching profile pictures and Facebook status updates starting with “I <3 GT because…” followed by a meaningless blurb on the weather or a Charlie Sheen quote? I, for one, propose a series of engaging events to discuss opinions as to what is wrong with Tech, the HOPE Scholarship and other issues plaguing the common student under the name of “I Criticize GT Week” or (for lack of a better term) “I H8 GT Week.” The organizing parties can set up a comment jar in the Student Center and award each student a donut for submitting a thought-provoking criticism of their college experience or a free T-shirt for three! As tongue-in-cheek as it may sound, the underlying sentiment rings true. Rather than focusing on the few positives of our current financial situation as an institute, SGA and other on campus leaders need to express clearly what is wrong to their constituents, discuss how to fix it and impart these sentiments to state elected representatives in order to create real change. Patting each other on the back and compliments can’t accomplish that. With every good act done, a way to make the next act better should be said and considered. SGA and other campus groups had the opportunity (and may still have the opportunity) to utilize social media in a powerful fashion to mobilize its students in the fight for HOPE. Rather than asking for students to merely write to their state representatives, SGA leaders should push for their student constituency to protest and provide the resources to do so. After all, it probably takes less than 10 minutes to start an online petition and less than five to create a Facebook event to start an open dialogue. An open dialogue does not need to mean harsh action or statements, but it does mean discussing different aspects of an issue, no matter how unpleasant it may be. Compliments and high-fives on Facebook will not make any student more inclined to take a stance. After all, President James Madison once stated, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.” We, the students at Tech, deserve more than to end up as a farce, especially when it comes to our ability to afford an education.