We Are Here!

A rendition of the Whos living on a dandelion, only when people actually hear an audible noise coming from the speck of dust did people actually believe Horton that these people existed.

And college and society in general is no exception to this notion. In such divided times, we only hear the voices of those from either end of the spectrum of ideas, a black-and-white picture. And yet there is still a vast majority of people never get recognized for their ideas simply because they might fall into grey territory, not loud enough to hear, not flashy enough to see.

Where is this ramble coming from? Recently at my home campus, the student population has become very divided over an issue regarding activity fees. In a decision by the Student Government Association, a select panel of representatives, they moved forward with raising every students’ yearly fees, a majority of the money going toward athletics, another argument in of itself.

And people certainly voiced their opinions. Students attended forums, they have been posting over social media, writing letters to the editor to publish in the student newspaper, the whole gambit. Essentially, the decision here was really not one the students had much say in to begin with: the administration was planning to raise fees, and the SGA followed suit. Now students are dividing themselves between pro- and anti-athletics, a division they really had no hand in creating.

We see a dilemma like this, where people are left in the aftermath bitter and outraged, unable to do much now, but this isn’t a precedent. When it comes to making decisions on campus, only people involved in SGA or are leaders of student organizations truly have a place to speak their opinions. The vast majority, since not everyone can be involved in either way, is stuck with no true opportunity to voice their concerns.

If a decision to raise activity fees was left to a student body vote, the result would have ended up very differently. The responsibility would fall back on all students, every one of which is paying their tuition and fees to attend university. When higher education lacks an open dialogue among all channels, from students, to student leaders, to the administration, the heaviest chain link–in this case, the student body–is cut off.

At my host campus, their Students’ Representative Council does just that: represent everybody. The SRC has their hands in virtually every place at the university. They have multiple large committees for students to join and visit. They publicize their actions biweekly to inform everyone about what is going on and regularly use student body-wide voting to make decisions on referendums. Students can even submit ideas and information in themselves for consideration.

And they are still trying to make their constitutional system even more dynamic and efficient. According to the website, “Undergoing a reevaluation of the association’s guiding documents and processes is integral to the success of the SRC. Over the past 3 years, the SRC has faced numerous challenges and setbacks, particularly in relation to policy and procedures. In order to advance the SRC in a positive direction – a direction that focuses on representation, dedication, advancement and outputs – it is important to review our governance, which sets the foundation that our student government needs. Needless to say, every proposal, consultation, etc. should have the best interest of the students in mind.”

Admittedly, yes, this council has a smaller student body to juggle, but nonetheless, everyone deserves input on how they want their education to look. Universities should respect all students, not just the vocal, outspoken minority. Those with power and authority need to reach out to the people affected by their decisions, not the other way around. Students are paying to take classes, most of which can be completed entirely online. And those interested in college are already divided: those there to learn, and those there to party. Somehow, we need more unity all around, a common ground.

An academic article from EDUCAUSE Quarterly added more to the importance of student input, saying, “Engaging students in making decisions, especially those that directly impact student life, benefits the institution and the students themselves. Students are often asked to evaluate faculty, courses, campus services, and their overall college experience, but their opinions are more rarely solicited for input about new institutional initiatives. While valuable information is derived through collaborative committee processes and extensive research, expanding students’ role adds an additional dimension to the decision-making process.”

An article on Edutopia focuses on the term “Student Voice.” While its message leans toward classroom work, the mentality can easily apply to a college campus. Why is a true student voice important? Simply put, student achievement and engagement will increase when students have more ownership of their school environment and community. Students have untapped expertise and knowledge that can bring renewed relevance and authenticity to classrooms and school reform efforts. This goes for every single student, not just the leaders.

Even professors at Harvard agree: When schools find ways to welcome student opinions — to partner with students “as stakeholders in their own learning”— they wind up creating programs and policies that are more effective at meeting the schools’ own goals for supporting young people.

How do we achieve this goal, especially after hearing opponents toting that students will not engage in online polls and elections for student officials or decisions? For students to care, they need to be cared for first and treated as individuals. We don’t all fit into a cookie-cutter mold; there should be different models for how to interact with different students. The situation would end up being quite complicated, but just putting in some effort toward finding common ground is necessary and much appreciated.

Personally, I’d rather not end up in a cage or almost pushed off of a cliff like Horton to get this message across. We might not feel comfortable in the spotlight, but students are here, and we are begging you to listen.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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