02182021_tmg_voice sga portrait 002.jpg

The Voice ticket candidates, Will Harris, Casey Smith and Charlotte Weng (left to right) pose for a portrait in UGA's Tate Plaza on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Voting for UGA student government association begins on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; taylormckenziephotography.com)

Voice, one of three Student Government Association executive tickets campaigning this season, wants to amplify student voices and bring SGA to the students rather than trying to bring students to SGA.

Casey Smith, Voice’s presidential candidate, said the name “Voice” came to her before she had even decided to run.

“Something we talk a lot about is students' voices. The SGA slogan is ‘the voice of every Bulldog.’ But when you actually break it down, and think about what a voice means, and how you use your voice … to me, that is the core of what SGA should be doing,” Smith said.

All three candidates recognized a consistent disconnect between students and SGA throughout the year. That’s why, according to Voice’s vice presidential candidate, junior Will Harris, their platform is built on opening up those lines of communication.

“We're trying to link all areas of campus and make sure we maintain a consistent connection to students throughout the year so that their voices are going to be things that shape our platform and ultimately lead the change that we want to see on campus,” Harris said.

Building a ticket

Smith and Harris bring the SGA know-how, while junior Charlotte Weng, candidate for treasurer brings the “normal student perspective,” to the ticket.

Smith and Harris both got their start with SGA their freshman years. Smith started off on Freshman Senate, worked her way up to deputy chief of staff for the Empower administration and is currently serving as chief of staff to the outgoing Unite administration. Harris got his start in First Year Connect and has spent the past two years serving in the Senate, and is currently the chair for the SGA Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Although Weng’s campus experience has not yet included SGA, she’s found other ways to stay involved in the campus community, from serving as the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for her sorority Alpha Phi, to working as a teaching assistant for the University of Georgia’s Honors Program. She feels confident that her experiences outside of SGA have fully prepared her to take on the role.

“I'm more than capable and ready to serve,” Weng said.

The three candidates share an intense passion for the university and the students. It’s this common ground, discussed first over coffee in October, that inspired Weng to join the Voice ticket.

“We all agree that we care so deeply about our fellow students, and [Smith] really helped me refocus and remember that my number one passion in life is serving students,” Weng said. “I'm an education major; my dream is to work in administration for education, and she reminded me that these are the things I care about and the things I should be prioritizing.”

Tough love

However, the love the candidates share for UGA is not a starry-eyed one, Smith said.

“I have a really big love for my university. But that love is really tough,” Smith said. “Throughout this past year, during COVID, I definitely noticed that there are a lot more holes in our ... UGA administration that needed fixing and it was not a year to take a backseat. I still believe that to this day, now is not the time to be quiet. Now's the time to use our voice.”

The candidates and their team have adapted their campaign to maintain COVID-safe precautions by holding meetings virtually and maintaining social distancing when canvassing, as well as creating a platform that takes the pandemic into account.

“We have to be really mindful of every single situation that students are facing right now, whether that be the pandemic or how the pandemic has affected their mental health, their physical health, the health of their families. I think something that makes our campaign unique is not only that we have the heart, but we also have the spirit and the mindset that now is a really important year for a multitude of factors,” Smith said.

Smith also emphasized that the experience she and Harris bring to the ticket ensures that students will not have to endure a “learning curve” for the ticket to gain their footing within SGA.

“You're casting a vote for experienced people who are ready to work right when we get into office. In April, usually campaigns are building their cabinet, they're figuring out how SGA works, or figuring out all of the different modes of passing bills and getting initiatives passed. But none of that is going to happen under our administration,” Smith said.

Looking forward

Harris is also concerned with serving the incoming freshman class. Harris has been selected as a UGA orientation leader for summer 2021 and said he’s spent a lot of time thinking about what he wants the campus to look like when UGA ‘25 arrives in August.

“One of the big initiatives for me is rebuilding the community on campus, because I think that's where students thrive the most,” Harris said. “A lot of students look at SGA … as a much more expansive community than it actually is, but you find out that SGA is a lot more exclusive in reality when it shouldn't be. So one of my big things is expanding SGA and building partnerships with different offices so more students have connections to SGA.”

Voice hopes that this expansion will not only help students feel more involved, but will also heal the disillusionment many students feel about SGA as a whole.

“I think the biggest thing is a lack of consistent communication. Throughout the years, people only see SGA when it's most visible during elections and that's kind of it,” Harris said. “There's a lack of trust, people think SGA is only for one type of student, when SGA is at its best when there's all types of students within it. … So that's what we're trying to do — following up, delivering on promises, and making sure that people are engaged with the SGA but also that the SGA is actually engaging with students.”

As the only female presidential candidate in this election cycle, Smith thinks the Voice ticket has a unique perspective on what the women on campus need from their student government. Part of the ticket’s platform emphasizes women’s safety which Smith thinks has not been made a priority by SGA in the past.

“We're a ticket that really is seeking to empower women. I think it deserves more attention because women deserve more attention on our campus,” Smith said.

Voice will continue campaigning until the general election polls close at noon on Feb. 24.