Opinion: the problem with student senate

Photo courtesy student senate
Photo courtesy student senate

Reflecting upon my year on senate, I have come to a resounding conclusion: if the student body wants to see change, senate can make it happen.

The problem with student senate is that when students do not support, suggest or challenge projects, they leave senate with no choice but to use their considerable talents and resources on projects that blur the lines of senate’s purpose: to represent students and enact change on their behalf.

This year, senate consistently demonstrated the ability to accomplish important projects and goals such as implementing a pilot program for hand dryers on campus, getting more student input in core curriculum decisions, developing an online church directory, holding a town hall with President Le Roy; the list goes on.

But despite many internal proposals and a large-scale campaign to solicit proposals from students, we ran out of projects that fit our mission and felt compelled to act anyway.

I’ll explain with an example. Senate recently updated the handicap signs around campus to a more progressive logo. This project required $2,000 (coming from the $10,000 senate receives to accomplish student proposals) and took months to complete.

I understand the importance of awareness and fighting stigma for disabled persons, but the logo is not endorsed by the American Disability Association or the American Association of People with Disabilities and we had no concrete research to indicate that this sign change would have a positive effect beyond what we hoped it would.

But the signs are not the problem. Many senators presented compelling arguments in favor of the project, and the proposal passed by a strong majority vote. The problem is that we spent time and money on something I felt we were pressured into doing, mostly because we had the resources to do it and no viable alternative projects.

Part of the pressure to use the money was to protect next year’s senate’s budget, but this reasoning is flawed: when senate needed money for larger projects, we were able to get over $30,000 in additional funds, and spending money to protect a budget prevents other organizations who need that money for legitimate deficits from accessing it.

Another pressure was the desire to disprove the statement that “student senate just exists to elect the next year’s team.” When candidates, such as the winning executive team, campaign on the platform of just being different from the current senate, they undermine the legitimacy of the organization they are joining and demonstrate immense ignorance to the process of student representation.

You do not have to agree with every decision that senate made this year, but do not make the mistake of claiming the team did nothing or failed to respond to students. We intensely considered every proposal we received this year, and we fought doggedly to accomplish the projects we believed would make Calvin a better place.

This is where you come in. We need your voices to effect change. Take our polls, join focus groups and submit proposals. If you fail to give senate a chance based on this year’s work, you can give up on the idea that they will be able to accomplish truly great things in the future.

Senate’s effectiveness reflects the student body’s desire to see change on campus; you decide how well senate works, and ignorantly bashing senate leads to stagnation, not progress.

If you think I have the student body all wrong, and that students really do care about creating change on campus, please prove me wrong and invest in senate. I cannot wait to see what they can help you achieve in the process.

This is an opinion piece, and does not necessarily represent the views of Chimes or Calvin College.

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