I attended every Student Senate meeting for TKS for all of my sophomore year and Fall Term of my junior year. In that time I would guess less than five members of the public attended Senate, not including people that had to be there to request additional funds.
This is a problem. I don’t think that the campus body at large has a solid idea of what Senate does. The organization holds a lot of power on campus. Its members decide how money will be allocated for clubs, make sustainability initiatives happen, give input at faculty committees, communicate feedback to the Vice President of Finance about raises in tuition and much more.
I would think that the student body would take an interest in an organization making such important decisions and would want to give feedback. But how would they ever know how to do this? The Student Senate Twitter and Facebook have not been updated since May; there is no current Student Senate website and there is no digital, publicized or easily accessible way to view minutes from recent meetings.
Members of Student Senate should be dedicated to hearing from the student body and taking students’ opinions into account. That is their job. But if they are not ever encouraging students to attend meetings, how can Senate members hear from them? They can’t.
This year, Senate should prioritize communicating with the campus at large. Social media accounts, a website and campus-wide emails should all be used. Prior to meetings, the president or secretary should make the agenda available through these mediums and invite members of the community to come to observe and contribute to the discourse at meetings. The meeting time and location should be common knowledge.
Minutes from each meeting should be made available in a similar way. Doing so would allow Senate to show a dedication to transparency and open communication with the community. The fact that Senate meetings are open to the public should be emphasized as well.
While the campus body at large may not have a vote, students have valuable opinions and hearing these should be the number one priority of this year’s Student Senate class.
Can I be honest? I don’t know much about Student Senate. The most I’ve interacted with Senate is when I submitted a budget for 2016-2017 Best Buddies. I stressed about it, talked it over with the rest of the Best Buddies executive board, turned it in and then pretty much forgot it ever happened. However, I think that speaks to what Senate may have to work on. If I were to hear about what Student Senate is working on, then I would feel like I was more “in the loop” when it comes to things happening on campus. I don’t have the time to go to Senate meetings, whether I would like to, so what I would love to see from Student Senate is more outreach to students. I spoke to my friend who is a senator for the sophomore class, and she lamented that she wished Senate had more visibility on campus. Students don’t always know that they have the opportunity to go to Senate to pitch ideas, list grievances or just sit in on meetings to know what’s up and what’s down on campus. I know this is hypocritical because I’m not someone who goes and sits in on meetings, but maybe if Senate was more apparent on campus I would! We won’t know until it happens, I guess.
I worked as the Student Senate Reporter throughout my freshman year and since then have reported intermittently on Senate. Throughout my time observing Student Senate, I have seen the organization work positively toward improving student life and also squabble over budget requests. Here are my recommendations for this year’s Student Senate.
Be accessible. Student Senate started coffee drop-in hours during my sophomore year and forums, especially about contentious issues like Bon Apptit, have helped facilitate conversations on campus. However, I suggest that senators also take time to table in the gallery and ask students about the concerns they have. It will allow students to learn who their representatives are and give Senators access to more students.
Use that hour a week wisely. Don’t spend the time debating every dollar of a budget request. Senate’s budget is not small, so unless there is valid concern that the money will not benefit the campus body, move it along. Senators also have the privilege of sitting on faculty committees and serve as the voice of students, but reports from different committees are poorly reported on to Senate. Spend less time on budget requests and more on what new rules are being implemented or the concerns Senators have heard around campus.
Make Senate relevant. Senate implemented mandatory diversity training for clubs, which I thought was one of the best things they did in recent years. If you want more students to attend Senate meetings, do something about it. Start conversations instead of reacting to them. Student Senate serves as our authoritative voice on campus. Don’t squander that power.
During the Senate meetings I’ve attended for TKS in the past, I’ve been both impressed with their efficiency, yet confused about their prioritization. My only concern was the time that members would take to approve monetary requests. At one meeting in particular, a $40 request for science equipment was debated over for about half an hour. At the same meeting, Senate approved all of the club’s budgets in a matter of minutes, allocating over $100,000 unanimously.
By no means should Senate not be approving club’s budgets, or be scrutinizing them for every detail, because I trust the heads of those committees to know what they’re doing with clubs’ money. But it’s a little jarring that a $40 request can take longer than a $100,000 one. Instead of debating small monetary issues, I think there are many other issues at Knox that Senate could be debating instead, and other initiatives that they could be spearheading. Placing more emphasis on the Diversity and Sustainability committees during meetings would be interesting and refreshing to see.
Senate has the power to change so much on our campus, and I think that the only way that will happen is if they put these issues to the forefront during their meetings, and vocalize these issues to the campus as a whole.
This year I’d like to hear more from Senate. Beyond the election emails and the occasional rumor about the quest to get avocados in the Caf, I know who is on Senate — not what they do.
If the student body were more aware of what senate discusses and the extent of their influence over campus, I think they would get more involved. But it’s Senate’s responsibility to reach out. Outreach and engagement efforts aren’t new to this campus. Efforts from Senate could include hosting panels, town hall meetings or open forums. Knox students are pretty familiar with all of these.
Improved communication (beyond election emails) would also help. Asking students to complete a survey on their experiences at Knox is empowering and makes students feel heard. In that vein, senate should consider releasing meeting minutes to the student body, so students can be aware of what topics are being focused on and have the opportunity to bring other issues to the table.
Student government at Knox holds weight with the administration, but somehow that message isn’t being heard by students. Essentially, Senate has a branding problem, but it doesn’t need to. Student Senate has the potential to mobilize the student body to improve their experience here. If Senate develops their image and improves communication with the rest of campus, that potential could be realized.