Student representation, whether through a student government or union, will never be more than the sum of its parts. The organized response of students to the quality and direction of their higher learning institutions will only be as good as the level of participation by their student bodies in the process.
Our own student government (SGA) has struggled for more than a decade with poor organization and inefficiency. Most disappointingly, it has seldom been able to assess the needs of students and bring them to the attention of our institution.
Some of this inefficiency is due to the inherent nature of positions that switch each year, which naturally impacts student leaders’ abilities to plan. I have watched past SGA presidents attempt to capitalize on their limited terms, to mobilize the student body or lead from behind the scenes during their time — I have been one of the latter. In my second and last semester as student body president, I look back on this year and regret the lack of meaningful student participation and our inability to foster such a culture.
But this problem can be cured.
Such a cure requires that multiple steps be taken. We must first realize that our role is not one of government or public authority, but is that of an advocate. Our concern is not with acquiring decision-making authority for students — the evolving climate of higher education alone will demand such student-faculty-institution collaboration for educational institutions to survive.
Instead, learner advocacy processes must be streamlined and student involvement and engagement opportunities must be pursued — we know that students are passionate and that it is our job to provide efficient structures and processes by which those students can make a meaningful difference.
This is why, in the last few weeks, we have hosted multiple talks and have completely restructured student representation. Most of the bureaucracy is gone, and a frame built for flexibility and action has been left in its place. Elections will no longer be about choosing students to fill seats in the process of tallying student opinion, but will be purposed instead toward community selection of student leaders to facilitate student initiatives for the betterment of our learning community.
All we need now is the most vital piece: You.