A grand total of three students showed up for last night’s open forum with Student Government President Greg Nance and Vice President for Campus Life Kim Goff-Crews, yet another sign of the problematic relationship many students have with SG. Simply put, the popular view is that SG is ineffective and lacks meaningful power. Every year, new candidates run on the promise of making SG more effectual and responsive to student opinion, and still the problems persist. The lack of trust in SG could also be seen in the most recent elections, in which all three candidates for Class of 2011 Representative who were officially on the ballot won by default, and a fourth write-in candidate was elected with 33 votes. This relationship with SG ultimately has negative consequences for the entire student body, and it is something that all U of C students should work to fix. Rather than expecting SG to improve on its own, or assuming it can’t ever improve, we should all take interest in SG, and thus empower it to bring about the changes we hope to see on campus.
No organization on campus is better suited than SG to express student concerns and enact the reforms that we desire. Contrary to popular belief, SG can change things. They have the manpower, some control of funding, and most importantly, an official working relationship with the administration. But SG can only be effective in persuading the administration to do anything if it is seen as the authentic voice of the entire student body. If participation in student government is limited to a small group of representatives and the minority of students who vote in elections, why would the administration take SG’s decisions seriously?
No matter how lightly administrators regard SG, their disregard can’t possibly be as severe as most students’. There is a widespread perception that SG is just another student group, and frequently students working for changes in the University choose not to seek SG’s assistance. This is categorically the wrong approach: SG is the chief mechanism the student body has to bring about change on campus. With enough student participation—be it running for a position or simply piping up at an open forum—SG will genuinely represent student opinion, and it will finally function as a bridge between our wishes and the realities of student life.
The Maroon thus encourages students to become involved with SG. Virtually everyone has concerns and needs that SG can voice and potentially fulfill—whether it’s about the U-Pass, more options for fulfilling the art/music/drama requirement, or changing the relationship between the U of C police and the student body. But the onus is not on SG to seek us out, find out what we want, and work for those changes—it is on us to create a SG that represents us all, to put our full faith in our representatives, and to empower them to create the campus community that we want.
Too many students see SG as mere résumé fodder for future politicians. But SG is created by our votes, by our involvement, and by our aspirations for it; if we only see SG as another line on a résumé, that’s all it will be. Addressing SG’s weaknesses is the duty not only of its elected members, but of all us as U of C students, and only when we take collective responsibility for SG’s successes and failures will it ever be the force we want it to be.
The Maroon Editorial Board includes the Editor-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.