Ideally, student government gives us a voice, representation, and power. But there’s a massive flaw in the current system: a lack of accountability. Right now, our senators don’t actually have to represent us.
We, their constituents, have the power to vote senators in or out, but while they’re in office, few of us have any idea how, or whether, they’re addressing our needs. That’s a serious problem, but the ball is in both courts — it’s on the student government to represent us properly, but it’s also on us to tell them what we want and need. Here are some measures we think the governing and the governed can take to fix this dissonance.
What students can do
Reach out to our representatives: Senators are not that difficult to reach. If all else fails, we have an open forum to meet with them every Monday at 8 p.m. (Senate meetings) — and yet the Gowen Room chairs remain stubbornly empty. The few sessions where students flood the hall — during the China-Tibet controversy, for example — are always the most exciting and valuable.
Stay updated: SA provides livestreams on Facebook of all their Senate meetings.
Plus, at the risk of sounding masturbatory, the Campus Times makes a valiant attempt to cover the endeavors (and mishaps) of student government. For a quicker catchup, you can read our weekly recaps to stay informed.
Engage with their initiatives: Last semester, sophomore senator Lea Thome introduced an opportunity for accountability by introducing senator office hours from 3 to 5 p.m. on Fridays. The problem was, according to Thome, only one student showed up. Now, the office hours are no more.
So why don’t we do these things? On some level, it seems that most students struggle to see the activities of student government as connected to their own lives and affairs. But in reality, whether we like it or not, SA is our best shot at improving faulty systems at this school.
What student government can do
Communicate about initiatives: As much as we have to do our part, this is a two-way street. Members of student government worked hard to get into office. Yet for all of their efforts, our student government’s communication is inadequate, rendering its work often invisible, and its members inaccessible.
Office hours, for instance, would only work if students knew they existed. That begs the question: How did SA attempt to publicize this new initiative? When it appeared that the social media posts were not effective, why didn’t they try other avenues, like emailing the student body — as they’ve done with other important announcements?
Additionally, only some senators seem committed to connecting with constituents. Only three senators came to the first office hours, and fewer communicated that they had conflicts. We recognize that our student government has tried to reach its public, but staying attentive to its constituents is a necessity that must have lasting dedication behind it.
Make student outreach a core part of SA’s overarching strategy: An organization with representative powers and responsibilities is nothing if it doesn’t know how to connect with those it is supposed to represent. And yet SA seems to press ahead with weak communication attempts which indicate that reaching us is not a high priority.
It’s time for SA to have a reckoning with their isolation from constituents. If a desire to serve is what put them in office, this must become obvious through their actions. A standing goal of connecting with the student body should be established, along with appropriate efforts towards realizing it. Ways to connect with the student body need to be revamped, re-invigorated, and institutionalized so that they are consistent and preemptive, not reactive.
The Editorial Board is a weekly Opinions article representing the view of the Campus Times, co-written by Editor-in-Chief Wil Aiken, Publisher An Nguyen, Managing Editor Efua Agyare-Kumi, Features Editor Abhishek Makhun and Opinions Editor Hailie Higgins.
Correction (2/24/20): An earlier version of the piece said that no students went to senator office hours. In fact, it was reported that one student did attend.