The sum of the Ivy League is greater than its parts.
Or so believe the members of the Ivy Council, an organization that unites student government leaders across the eight universities.
Student leaders create a forum twice each year to gain knowledge which helps them better their schools’ respective student assemblies.
“The Ivy Council provides information for student leaders on each of the eight Ivy League campuses,” said Stephanie Long, a freshman at Dartmouth College and the organization’s vice president for external relations. “It is a forum to discuss leadership and common issues.”
Student leaders convene as a council — with each campus rotating as its host — to discuss campus challenges and learn how other student governments have addressed similar problems.
“The Ivy Council is a clearinghouse for knowledge and information,” said Michael Brown ’02, the council’s newly-elected president and chair of Cornell’s University Assembly. “It allows us to cull information from other students and illuminate the challenges faced at Cornell.”
Student government leaders across the Ivy League started the organization in 1993 to, “facilitate the exchange of ideas and the communication of solutions to common problems,” according to the Ivy Council’s website.
Brown feels that the Ivy Council’s most profound benefit is that it puts one’s Ivy League education and leadership role in context.
“We are isolated in Ithaca, which is not a cosmopolitan environment. At times it can feel as though it’s the center of the world,” he said.
Despite going to different schools, Brown feels that many student leaders in the Ivy League are alike.
“When I go to one of these conferences and meet other students, I learn that we have a remarkable amount in common. We all have drive, ambition, a duty to serve and a dedication to a vision for a better campus,” he said.
“Ivy council is important first and foremost to build relations with peer institutions. It is helpful to know how they handle similar issues,” said Derrick Zandpour ’02. “Of course, each school is vastly different and faces different problems. Nevertheless, good always comes from discussion amongst peers about important issues facing each of our campuses in different ways.”
At the council’s spring conference, held at Columbia University, student government leaders discussed such issues as academic advising, student activity fees, financial aid and students’ sexual health.
In addition, attendees addressed the issue of violence against women and cases of harassment at their respective schools.
“At times I thought Cornell was the worst but I learned that everyone [deals with] rape, abuse and harassment. It’s not anomalous. It goes on,” he said. “I think of these campuses as special [places] but they are plagued by the same ills as anywhere else … and we’re supposedly enlightened.”
Representatives also shared how their student governments involve their student bodies to change policy.
Brown believes that, although Cornell’s Student Assembly (S.A.) has one of the largest budgets and the most authority among other Ivy League student governments, the student body is largely uniformed about its responsibilities.
“[Dartmouth’s student assembly] appeals to activists and student interests. It advocates what the students say rather than mediating between the student body and the administration,” he said, “Our S.A. should move toward being more responsive to the student body even if that means being less responsive to the administration.”
Long said that the benefits of the Ivy Council have the potential to increase.
“Everyone who goes [to the council’s conferences] comes back with resources, connections and friendships. They should be transmitted to our schools, not just to individuals.”
Brown, as president of the Ivy Council, plans to make the organization more proactive.
“In the future, it’s a tabula rasa as to where the Ivy Council can go,” he said, noting that the council evolves as the years go by.
Brown added that Ivy League student leaders have the ability and the responsibility to incite progress.
“Although [the Ivy League is] just a football conference, in American culture it means much more,” Brown said, “Therefore [the League] has a responsibility to create change.”
Archived article by Stephanie Hankin