What’s the biggest problem with USenate today? Simply put, students have no idea what USenate does. More importantly, students don’t understand what their USenate can do. USenate was founded in response to the 1968 riots to serve as a powerful resource not just for faculty and administrators but for the student body. The student body should have a say in the policy changes it wants and needs.
But that’s not the USenate situation today, and that’s exactly why I’m running to reinvent the senate-student body relationship.
While members of the senate might try to make the generalization that Columbia students are apathetic and lazy, I refuse to accept that notion. Columbia’s history of advocacy is one of its most proud and defining traits. While my opponents might argue for ideas like transparency and openness, their ideas are generic and half-hearted. Twitter feeds and a senate Facebook account won’t fix the outreach problem. It’s just not enough.
Further, my opponents are using their positions in senate/student government as a starting point to connect with student life. What students need instead is an elected senator who comes from a background of extensive student life experience. Students need a senator who can relate to their Columbia experience—a senator who has been a freshman rep, a staff writer, a pledge, an education chair, a brother, a captain, a president, etc.—and understands their issues and concerns firsthand. I’m that senator.
Now here’s how I’m going to give the senate back to the student body.
Virtual town halls: Town halls have been largely ineffective. Despite the fliering and Spectator shout-outs, no one shows up. I want to provide students the opportunity to log in to an issue-specific, virtual town hall (e.g., town hall on student wellness, town hall on academic integrity, etc.) directly from their laptops, cutting out the hassle and mundaneness and enabling students to learn about the senate’s stance and progress on an issue and put forth their own ideas. Ideas like a social justice center, which I will advocate for unrelentingly, need mass student momentum to move forward. With virtual town halls I’m bringing the senate floor to you—the students.
Community leaders cabinet: As senators, we’d be significantly better-informed and our outreach would be a lot more effective if our messages weren’t coming from us but from a cabinet of highly connected student leaders representing the spectrum of student activities and student voices. Working in conjunction with the Student Affairs Committee, this rotating cabinet would advise student senators on issues that directly pertain to Columbia’s diverse subcommunities (e.g., LGBT, multicultural, athletics, Greek life, etc.). The discussions will bring forward perspectives and issues that might not be represented on the senate floor, and outreach and student participation in USenate issues will improve dramatically.
More than a platform of rehashed, ongoing internal senate issues, my platform is a commitment and promise to our student body that I will be committed first and foremost to providing them a voice. Let’s take back our senate.
The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics. He is president of Pi Delta Psi.