April 19, 2010

Patching Up the Student Assembly

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The absence of a representative for each individual class is a remarkably overlooked hole in the Student Assembly. We have voting members from every corner of the University who represent all seven undergraduate colleges, the LGBT, transfers and minority groups. The only forms of class representation on the S.A. are the three votes granted to the freshman class.

Yet sophomores, juniors and seniors have little, if any, voice in the S.A., and therefore, have little control of the issues that will affect them the most. Though this make-up of the S.A. has long been the norm, perhaps it is time we consider a change to this impracticality. Consider the following three reasons:

First, the opinions of students are split over many campus issues not by their respective colleges, sexual orientation or race but by year. Most notably, the S.A. has successfully passed a housing reform that guarantees rising sophomores an earlier timeslot in the housing lottery. Certainly, there would have been opposition to this resolution if representatives for current sophomores and juniors were present as S.A. voting members. Although the proposal was ostensibly logical, the S.A. may have been too quick to pass it, failing to consider the inputs of those will be impacted the most — rising juniors and seniors. Granted, the S.A. committee who forged the resolution may have consulted many campus life resources. However, there remained a resounding absence of class representation.

Perhaps a compromise between earlier timeslots would have been a more justified response to the housing conundrum rather than the complete forfeiture of the earlier timeslots to the freshman. However, such a compromise is nearly impossible with three freshman representatives and no other class votes to balance them.

Similarly, the allocation of finances — particularly those pertaining to class-specific events such as convocation and senior week — is a debate amongst the four classes. Without formal representatives from each class, funding for these events would lack expertise and knowledge.

Second, a large portion of a student’s identity lies with his or her class. We begin and end our college experience with our peers in the same class. During the weekdays, we attend the majority of our classes with them and during the weekends, we relax with them.

We cannot ignore the fact that our association with our class has forged much of our identities, and thereby, has simultaneously shaped much of our opinions on campus. Each class carries its own unique outlook and philosophy, translating into its own distinct views. It is time that the S.A. allows us to express them.

Third, the creation of these three representatives will generate student interest. The S.A. has previously expressed problems garnering student input and has attempted to reach out through aggressive public relation efforts, particularly the implementation of the Community Clause and office hours in Libe cafe. Perhaps a more engaging and effective solution lies in the creation of class representatives.

Why? Because students are more likely to approach student leaders who are their peers. Confronting a student representative can be intimidating. However, knowing that your representative has had the same amount of college experience as you is comforting. With this subtle fact, a student leader, then, becomes less of an official bureaucrat and more of a willing ally.

Furthermore, a problem confronting the S.A. has been communication with the student body, or rather lack thereof, which has been hindered by bureaucratic inertia. This problem would be immediately solved if the presidents of the class councils were the class representatives. Certainly, a communication line between the entire undergraduate body and the Student Assembly would be automatically established through the class council listservs, providing the S.A. with the ability to access the opinions of the entire University with little resistance from the administration.

This proposal is radical and will face much opposition. Naysayers may note that we already have voting members who belong to the sophomore, junior and senior classes and will instead suggest the creation of class liaisons. However, the primary obligation of current voting members is to their constituency and therefore, class-specific goals will always be secondary. To truly have a thoroughly shaped resolution requires the input of each class.

Inevitably, the process to grant these three new seats will be long and beleaguered. However, it is possible — only requiring a simple shift of two votes from the freshman class to the sophomores and juniors followed by the creation of a single seat for the seniors, giving the S.A. an even 24 votes.

The obligation of the S.A. is to address the opinions of all student groups. Though there will be an unavoidable overlap of constituencies in the creation of three new voting chairs, a bit of redundancy is surely preferable to the unheard voice of an entire class.

Steven Zhang is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at szhang@cornellsun.com. The Bigger Picture appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Steven Zhang