Student Senate is misunderstood by a lot of students on campus. Much of the student body is unsure or simply apathetic about what goes on during senate meetings; some students do not even realize that their own friends are on the senate, and even less so what their friends do on senate.
Students’ apathy and unawareness of the senate’s presence on campus creates a low voter turnout for senate elections. This makes senate elections tricky because a candidate needs at least 20 votes to even qualify for election, even if the candidate is running unopposed. While this year has had a very high rate of voters for the first round of elections, subsequent elections tend to have fewer and fewer people voting. Senate Chair Kathryn Glover (‘15) said that because there are usually at least two or sometimes three elections every year, students stop caring after a certain point.
According to Glover, “Students don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m electing students to serve or do something for me.’ If it seems like seats aren’t getting filled, students then are less enthusiastic to elect people to sit in those seats.”
Senate Parliamentarian Rachel Molland (‘15) also pointed out that many students do not even open the emails sent out that describe what happens within senate, meaning many people are unaware that there even are elections, or that the senate is doing anything that could be important for the student body. This is problematic, especially when you consider how the senate impacts several aspects of campus life.
One of the important functions of the senate is that they review and approve proposed budgets of all the student spaces, clubs, and events on campus. If students want to receive funds for an event that they are hosting or for an established club on campus, they have to get it approved by the senate first. A lot of time and effort goes into determining these budgets, and it is important for students to be aware of the fact that students can receive funding for such events, publications and certain spaces on campus from the senate as long as it is open to all students.
Budgets are not the only topic of discussion at Senate meetings; these meetings also serve discussion and debate about issues affecting the student body. Recently, for example, senators have been voicing their concerns with the new smoking policy. Many of the people on the senate feel that the smoking ban that will go into effect next year on campus is not a viable solution, especially since many students may not adhere to the new policy. Another issue senate discussed at length during an October meeting was the complaints about AVI’s service on campus. Contamination of vegetarian and vegan food when workers had previously been handling meat products, as well as rising prices of food in the Pub were a few examples of what attendees discussed. If the senators feel that there is enough of a concern about these types of issues, then they can write a formal letter to the administration outlining questions and concerns.
Senators’ opinions are not the only ones that can be heard during these meetings. Anyone can sit in on the meetings and voice their views on an issue being discussed during a meeting, and they can contact the senate ahead of time via email (email@example.com) and ask to have something added to the agenda to future meetings.
Senate meetings are also a good place for students to learn about college finances, services on campus, and other inner workings on campus. Sarah Lawrence President Karen Lawrence attended a meeting to address concerns about the school’s debt and how the school plans on reducing the deficit, the gender ratio on campus and the school’s enrollment with the NCAA Division, among other topics.
Senators are fully aware of the complicated relationship with the student body and the senate, and it is a concern that the leaders are addressing. Glover pointed out that the location of the senate meetings, Bates Meeting Room, is a bit inconvenient and closed off from the rest of campus. She suggested that the meetings move to a more open and visible space on campus such as an area in the library so that students have the chance to see what is going on as well as feel more encouraged to attend and get involved with the meetings and discussions.
“I think it would be a lot better for people to happen upon us in the library, rather than seek us out in a dark hallway in Bates,” said Glover.
Senate may seem like a detached presence from the SLC community, but senators do have an interest in what people have to say, and the leaders of the senate hope that more people will not just be aware of what the senate is doing, but also will actively participate in meetings if they feel that their voices need to be heard on relevant issues that affect campus life.
by Hugh Thornhill '14
Staff Writer and Contributing Layout Editor