Student Government

Justin W. Ober, undergraduate at the University of Masschusetts at Dartmouth

The student body at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth is not noted for its activism.  This campus is politically catatonic, particularly with regards to student government.  To hear the undergrads say it, the Student Senate is a joke, a haven for those who want to bolster their resumes.  At the same time, the student population writes editorials in The Torch decrying just about every initiative, policy change, and announcement the school puts out.  If the students put half of the energy of their complaints into their student government, perhaps they could have a hand in directing the policies of the campus instead of lamenting them.

I've been on this campus for more than three years, and I've met quite a few students, faculty, and staff members.  I know a bit about the school itself, too.  As a University Tour Guide, I can prattle on for hours about the programs, the departments, the clubs and societies, and whatever else you may want to know about this place.  I don't know it all, but I've seen enough to realize that more than a few of us aren't fully content with the way the school is run.

When was the last time you spoke to your Class President about an issue that's concerning you?  (No, casually mocking the quality of the food in the Commuter Café doesn't count.)  In fact, do you know who your Class President is?  How do you feel about the overcrowding on campus?  Or the recent wave of on-campus violence?  Or the kinds of school-sponsored programs and entertainment we pay for with tuition and fees?  If you have a strong opinion on any of these topics, consider this:  alone--one student, no matter what his or her opinions are--doesn't really have a prayer of making any effective changes.  Working together, thousands of students can change everything.

Whether you know of them or not, this school already has the tools to empower the students to decide what the University does for its students.  The Board of Governors, composed of 15 students and 2 administrators, decides how the Campus Center is run--that means everything from the weekend DJs and entertainers to the Commuter Café menu.  The Residence Halls Congress performs basically the same task for the Housing Office, both in the dorms and Cedar Dell: RA events, quad barbecues, activity nights, and more are under their control.  The Student Senate, however, has arguably the most important role--the Senate President (a Student, of course) appoints various Senators to sit on University Committees with the faculty and administrative representatives.  That's where students really have their say in University affairs.

It seems that whenever there's a DJ or a party in the Campus Center, we all hear people in the halls or the cafeteria talking about how much they hate the music, and that the schools parties are lame, and that if given half a chance they could pull off a better show without even trying.  Instead of griping to our classmates, we could go to the Board meetings and tell it to the Governors--or work to get on the Board ourselves.  At least then we're bringing the issue to people who can make the changes we want.  With all the money and time we invest in this school, there's no reason why it shouldn't be catering to us.

The same thing goes for the dorms.  We pay good money to live on campus.  If we were renting off-campus apartments, we wouldn't settle for overcrowded rooms, inefficient day-to-day operations, a near-total lack of parking, and all the other nonsense we take for granted here.  The RHC is here, so we can deal with those sorts of issues and have them changed.  If we really want to make some improvements - like bigger parking lots, a better administration, and a solution to overcrowding that actually works - why not join the RHC, talk straight to the administrators, and make sure the right people hear what we're saying?

Outside the Campus Center, beyond the dorms and the Dell, the University Committees decide the actions the school takes, the positions it holds, and the issues it deals with as a whole.  Committees spell out the school's policies.  If you don't agree with those policies, then don't settle for them!  Instead, do something to make this University more like the place you saw in the brochures when you filled out an application.  Joining the Student Senate and applying for a Committee position is the perfect way to get some real progress made on the issues you feel strongly about.

Through our own actions, we can decide whether to sit down and accept what happens during our time here or to stand up and make some decisions ourselves.