In case you’ve missed the countless Facebook event invites, the chatter about sidewalk chalk, and the campaign controversies, Student Government (SG) elections are finally upon us. One of the positions on the ballot is the rather new and somewhat unknown Community and Government Liaison. Established in 2010 as the result of an SG ballot referendum, the position aims to improve SG’s connection with Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and other neighborhoods on the South Side. According to the SG by-laws, the Liaison has three duties: regularly attending community meetings and keeping the student body aware of discussions, issues, and concerns that arise at these meetings; encouraging student involvement with the Hyde Park and Woodlawn communities; and actively seeking out opportunities to include a student voice in community decision making.
I decided to run as a write-in candidate after viewing the platform of Christina Dong, the only candidate named on the ballot. Her platform consists of six major proposals that, while tangible and well intentioned, have little to do with the Liaison’s intended role. Dong’s proposals include holding undergraduate and graduate student socials at the Logan Center, addressing student concerns such as Wi-Fi issues encountered around campus, and working to establish a downtown shuttle. She also wishes to expand the restaurant discount program to include downtown restaurants. While all of these are legitimate and concrete proposals that should be pursued, they do not really fall under the purview of the Liaison, whose job is to communicate with local elected officials and their staff and work to get students involved in the community—not get them downtown, and not help them sit down and eat. If Dong is serious about her proposals, the appropriate route to accomplishing them would be through the College Council—a position she is also running for.
In her Maroon candidate profile, Dong proposed establishing a quarterly, university-wide day of service, even though such a day already exists and is run by the University Community Service Center (UCSC). Since the inception of my campaign, which has drawn attention to this fact, she has modified her platform to call for “more frequent UChicago Days of Service,” even though the UCSC’s existing, biweekly group service days are already underutilized. While she also lists bringing in speakers such as Alderman Will Burns to speak to the student body, it is unclear where these plans would fit in with her other stated priorities, and what the purpose of these meetings would be in relation to them. It’s the job of the Community and Government Liaison to get students more involved in the community, but simply expanding already underutilized opportunities will not do that; it will take work aimed at creating a culture of civic and community engagement.
The position of Community and Government Liaison was established with “someone with work or volunteer experience on the South Side of Chicago” in mind, according to Frank Alarcon, who was the architect of the position as first-year College Council representative in 2010. Although I have not been at the University long, I’ve spent a great deal of my time here working with and learning from community groups, particularly on the South Side. I’ve worked closely with the UCSC, having participated in its Chicago Bound pre-orientation and Seeds of Justice social justice programs. This summer, I’ll be working at the Chicago House and Social Service Agency through the UCSC’s Summer Links program. I serve on the Office of LGBTQ Student Life Advisory Board, and I am active within several of the queer student groups on campus. I worked as part of a group that was awarded funding by the Uncommon Fund to complete an oral history of the South Side. I also have extensive relationships with a number of campus offices relevant to the role of the Liaison.
As Liaison, I would work to create a culture of civic engagement on campus by bringing community service RSOs together for quarterly meetings, so that they can collaborate and learn from each other on how to better accomplish their goals and involve more students in the work that they are doing. I would take concrete steps to establish bodies, such as advisory committees, for frequent and substantive dialogue between the administration, students, and community stakeholders regarding controversial campus and community issues aimed at producing some tangible result or set of recommendations. I would push for the establishment of a Hyde Park Herald readership program, modeled after the New York Times readership program that we currently enjoy. I would also hold regular meetings with local elected officials and their staff in order to get student voices and concerns heard by the people who represent them.
I don’t mean for this piece to be an affront to Dong or to in any way diminish the work that she has done this year as a class of 2016 representative. Our College Council members rarely get the thanks they deserve for the work that they do on our behalf. But, given Dong’s stated goals, it seems to me to make more sense for her to continue her work in College Council on these issues, which are of great concern to her constituents. The Community and Government Liaison has a very specific (and mostly behind-the-scenes) role to fill, which for better or for worse doesn’t focus much on student services. I’m committed to serving this university and the community to the best of my ability, and I hope you’ll consider writing in Tyler Kissinger for Community and Government Liaison.
—Tyler Kissinger, class of 2016