Last Tuesday, Student Government (SG) senators weighed in on the “Roots for Justice” resolution that condemned President Donald Trump’s plan for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The sponsors of the resolution, including representatives from Students for Justice in Palestine, argued that the plan excluded Palestinian stakeholders and showed bias in favor of the Israeli government.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before. In early 2018, the Senate voted on a resolution to support a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
The year prior, a coalition of student groups called on the USF Foundation to divest from defense contractors providing weapons and services to the Israeli military.
At first glance, one might find it strange that a student government body is wading into international politics. As far back as 2016, a letter-to-the-editor published in The Oracle argued that these topics are outside of SG’s concern.
On closer examination, however, there’s little good reason to make these topics off limits for the Senate.
By and large, issues of politics and policy are relevant to the student body. At a school like USF, where students attend from 141 different countries, conflicts from all over the globe can hit close to home.
By taking a stance on these issues, the Senate can show solidarity with impacted students — unlikely to shift political winds, but meaningful for the students themselves.
It’s true that these issues are controversial, and not everyone will agree with the positions that the Senate holds. However, disagreement between students is not in and of itself a reason to avoid stepping into the fray.
It’s not the job of a governing body to be universally liked, it’s to represent their constituents and act in their best interest. Sometimes that means making judgment calls on controversial topics.
If students don’t like what the Senate is doing, they always have the power to vote for senators who better represent their views.
Here’s the catch. If senators want to endorse a viewpoint on politics and policy in the Senate chambers, they need to make those views explicit in their campaign materials, including all of the tradeoffs that brings.
Students should know exactly what they’re signing up for when they vote for a Senate candidate. If the Senate speaks out on political issues, then that necessarily includes their political beliefs.
There are real drawbacks to this approach. Some candidates might be uncomfortable sharing their thoughts on these topics, and the views they espouse could impact their ability to get elected. On balance, however, these tradeoffs are necessary to give students informed choices.
As SG enters a new phase of consolidated governance, politics will inevitably enter the fold again. If senators choose to address these issues head on, that’s perfectly reasonable, but they need to be willing to campaign on their beliefs.
Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.