To SU: Let this be a wake-up call

We are deeply concerned about the high number of resignations from Student Union this semester. We are even more concerned that Student Union does not seem to share our sense of unease.

Ten students have resigned from Student Union so far this year. Given the relatively small number of students who hold positions of leadership within Student Union, this number is staggering. When Vice President of Administration Trevor Mattea announced his resignation last week, he explicitly cited frustrations with the operation and structure of Student Union as part of the impetus behind his decision.

We believe that the large number of resignations and Mattea’s recent public criticism provide a massive opportunity for Student Union to make changes where necessary. SU needs to assess what it sees as its purposes, and hold itself accountable in pursuit.

SU’s motto for the 2009-2010 school year was to “Renew Student Activism.” But student activism is, in fact, being renewed on this campus, as evidenced by student support for the Right Side of History, and the student-organized protest and subsequent activism regarding the Mothers Bar discrimination incident.

However, these instances of student activism did not stem from SU initiatives, and the renewal of student activism on platforms separate from those launched by student government suggests that the problem at hand is not that students on this campus are apathetic, but rather, that the student government is not effectively engaged with the student body. This disconnect is further demonstrated by the resignations, which show that many of the leaders elected to the governing body are also not engaged with the SU.

SU executives, senators and Treasury representatives expend countless hours working to better the experience of the undergraduate community at Wash. U. It’s important that these hours are not wasted. SU spends much of its time and resources enforcing tradition instead of connecting with the students it represents, which oftentimes results in self-serving formalities and buzzwords instead of organic connections to the student body. Recent programming such as the tailgating initiative has good intentions, but SU needs to recognize that the success of its programmatic initiatives relies on genuine connections with students, not administrative rhetoric and coordination.

After re-evaluating SU’s purposes and submitting its processes to an evaluation of efficiency, members of SU need to take strides to promote effective communication with students. In the appropriate context, the benefits of such communication would be twofold, ensuring both that the student body engages with SU initiatives and that SU continues to stay well informed about student preferences and campus happenings.

The Senate elections next Wednesday and Thursday present an opportunity for much-needed fresh voices to be heard in our student government. We encourage new Senate candidates to enter SU aware of the necessity of enhancing SU’s relevance and ensuring that the $2.1 million SU budget goes toward genuinely improving this campus.

It is easy to blame student apathy for the apparent disconnect between SU and the student body. But the recent instances of student activism demonstrate that our student body is active, engaged and willing to unite behind shared beliefs. SU must re-examine its priorities and the way its members use their time if it is to make student government relevant to its constituents.

  • anonanonanon

    Let’s be honest. SU, while they fund the groups, cannot claim credit for what the groups do.

    Senior Class Council and the 6 guys organize a protest and response to mothers. That was not driven by SU senate or SU exec. That was driven outside of SU itself, regardless of the fact that senior class council is part of SU.

    Green action is working on clean coal issues. Green action is an SU group. Green action is not SU.

    While all of these things may be part of SU, it would be wrong of SU (meaning senate, exec, treasury) to take credit for these actions. These actions are the result of the activities of groups funded by SU. Jeff nelson didn’t go out and protest. In fact, I don’t think I even saw him at Monday’s town hall.

    That said, SU does have things that the body itself can take credit for. Syllabi Central, email reform, WU/FUSED, webfood. Those are all initiatives that are primarily driven by senate or exec.

    I’m tired of the “better than you” and “everything we do is wonderful” attitudes that seem to affect every student government. Get over yourselves. Reform yourself so you can do something real.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mamathachalla Mamatha Challa

    Hey Steve,

    Actually there ARE SU Senators working with some activism groups on campus (Green Action, etc.) to work on the clean coal issue. If you are interested, I can definitely direct you to the senators who are working on that- from what I know, they are actually hoping to pass some legislation next week! :)

  • Steve Howerton

    I do agree that the real activism happening on this campus is from the Right Side of History and the students protesting Mother’s Bar (for which Fernando Cutz, the senior class council president who can be considered part of SU deserves a lot of praise for his hard work).

    What Nelson and his fellow execs call activism is a sham. The word “activism” recalls people like Martin Luther King and Gandhi, fighting to end injustice and effect social change. Making it so students can order food online and switching student email from squirrel mail to Microsoft Live Edu shouldn’t fall under this same heading. These things are simply making campus more pleasant for a bunch of college kids. The closest thing to activism in the Montana administration’s Plan to Renew Activism is promoting green campus events. Don’t get me wrong, making these changes isn’t a bad thing at all, but putting them under the heading of “activism” takes away the meaning of the word.

    There are many places on this campus where activism is needed, and SU could play a powerful role. SU has always been very timid in pushing the Chancellor to hire a sexual assault prevention coordinator. It didn’t step up when Phyllis Schafly was awarded an honorary doctorate, making our university look like a haven for anti-feminists. It hasn’t done much of anything to call out this new clean coal initiative sponsored by the university. If SU feels like it doesn’t want to enter the political thicket, I can understand that, but in that case, they need to stop using the word activism!

  • Pay Attention

    Sophomore,

    Pay attention please. Elections have been publicized in many places. Read your email.

  • yeah, this is pretty stupid.

    Sophomore, you are being kind of ridiculous- they have mentioned elections a bunch of times in their last few emails. don’t complain if you don’t read their communication, lol.

    Actually, this question of “communication” has always confused me. If SU actively sends emails, updates Facebook/Twitter/Social networking website at LEAST once per day, places posting on campus/in the DUC, and uses word of mouth, how much more CAN they advertise? o_O

    The problem isn’t that SU doesn’t try to communicate to the students- it’s that we don’t communicate back. we don’t open Morgan Debaun, Jeff Nelson, and the Election Commissioners’ emails- we don’t attend meetings or suggest ideas- instead, we wait for SU to spoon feed us with information. At least I can admit that my lack of knowledge/engagement is MY fault, not Student Union’s. The StudLife Staff, on the other hand, seems to be implying that students should lack some sort of personal responsibility in regards to getting engaged with their student government.

    also, I totally think this resigning story has been completely blown out of proportion- mostly by StudLife, of course. out of all the people who resigned, Mattea was the only who had complaints about SU itself. the rest mostly said that their resignations were due to their schedules and their inability to effectively serve on SU. if anything, the fact that people resign from SU when they can’t put in the time/work shows that SU is very serious, and that they are putting a lot of work into the stuff they do.

    I definitely don’t want to get involved in SU, but I’m happy that the kids who are put so much time into it, even after getting so much crap from people (again, mostly from StudLife).

    P.S. yeah, also, as Morgan said up above…I’m pretty sure Senior Class Council IS a part of SU. lol. sheesh, gets your facts right, StudLife, instead of trying to make important and dramatic-sounding staff editorials.

  • http://su.wustl.edu Sophomore

    There’s an election this week? Hmmm, didn’t know about that. That’s some nice communication there….

  • Morgan

    Some of the traditions within SU are self serving, and some of our processes need to be reformed with the student body in mind. I will admit that Student Union DOES need a wake up call, however, some of the arguments in this article are ***NOT true** ( whoops). When doing research for your articles please attempt to talk to a variety of sources and a variety of opinions within the organization.

    David Dresner is Jeff Nelson’s neighbor. They talk on a regular basis, and it’s unfair to say that SU has had any hand in helping their movement navigate campus.

    The Senior Class Council is part of the executive branch of student union. SU officers have been supporting them along the way providing resources and answering emails.

    Senate is having a town hall meeting tonight to address racial discrimination on campus. They just sent out a survey to their constituents about racial profiling on campus and passed a resolution last week to show that is a priority for them.

    WU/FUSED is initiative that emerged from Student Union that, in my opinion, has been active in shedding light to the lack of socio economic diversity on campus. They have worked with Controversy and Coffee, EOTO, OSA, admissions office, Res Life, and met with many administrators to come up with an action plan to address this issue. They have also administered a survey that over 500 people have taken. This initiative is led by Chase and Fernando. BOTH of which are executive members of SU.

    Some SU officers have also been actively involved in supporting green action and their activism. Just ask Adam Hasz.

    Any suggestions on how I can communicate with the student body better would be greatly appreciated. You can email me at [email protected] or call me at 314 651 9155

  • this is rather aggravating

    It’s all nice and well to criticize Student Union (I enjoy doing so on a regular basis, Jeff Nelson tweets and all)…but this criticism is absurdly lacking in productive substance. Yes, people resigned, we have all seen the wailings about this. But you proceed to suggest, what, exactly? These are students, not administrators from on high operating from a distance, this vast gulf of which you speak is beyond misleading. This notion that “members of SU need to take strides to promote effective communication with students…” what the hell does that even mean? Do you literally mean increasing communication? It seems the exact opposite problem might be cited by anyone else (judging by the massive amounts of information coming forth via e-mail, youtube, twitter, the SU website, press releases, and StudLife itself)…hell, even you guys made fun of Jeff’s propensity to communicate perhaps to excess via youtube and Twitter.

    It’s also a gross generalization to characterize all the resignations as being linked…a few came immediately after elections, which hardly reflects disillusionment, a few came due to unanticipated health/workload concerns (and I think we can agree that school and health PROBABLY ought to come first), a few came due to students becoming more involved in other groups that they became dedicated to (this is college, student government is another time commitment by a student like all others, not necessarily the be all end all); plus, criticisms by one officer are hardly relevant to other offices and branches of SU (it’s not as though SU is actually a monolithic, uniform entity, all jokes aside). Trying to link execs to Senate to Treasury, three vastly different bodies in composition, goals, structure, and philosophy is again wholly lacking in substantive logic, not to mention highly irresponsible since StudLife in theory knows a bit more about SU than to spout such ignorance.

    All in all, this article is beyond lacking in substance. If you genuinely wish to impact policy, then SUGGEST POLICY. If you wish to criticize, THEN ACTUALLY CRITICIZE SOMETHING CONCRETE, lord knows there’s plenty within SU to criticize. If you wish to do more than blindly point, then perhaps include something not totally nonsensical in your writing. Good lord, it’s like listening to a Glenn Beck mixtape…