Students aspiring to connect with local or federal issues of governance need to look no further.
At the beginning of the spring 2020 semester, the Student Assembly created the Office of Student Government Relations, a branch of the S.A. focused on communicating student concerns to policy makers in Washington, D.C. and Albany.
Aadi Kulkarni ’22, director of the Office of Student Government Relations, said that much of much of the work this semester has been about building a team, as well forming liaisons with government officials and other universities in New York State.
“A lot of the work we are doing is very relationship-based,” Kulkarni said. “Now, we are in the phase where we’ve built a coalition around us, we have a lot of allies and we are developing policy solutions that we want to advocate for.”
Along with Kulkarni, the team consists of five other Cornellians: Collin Kane ’22, Lucas Smith ’22, John Clancy ’22, Suchritha Patlolla ’23 and Ethan Rubin ’23.
In April, Kane wrote an article about the impact of the pandemic on college students, outlining the need for the Office of Student Government relations.
“Undergraduate students were quick to work together to address the multitude of information coming from a myriad of sources,” Kane wrote in the article. “Students struggled to solve storing their lives in boxes while navigating local, state, and federal measures.”
During their trip to Washington, Kulkarni and Kane also met with Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) to support her efforts in funding entrepreneurship programs for teenagers and young adults. The trip was just one of the many ways in which the Office of Student Government Relations is working to build relationships and networks across the nation.
Recently, the office has been building a coalition of student governments in New York State’s private colleges to “facilitate collaboration at a level that is not really seen in the private school system in New York,” for student issues, according to Kulkarni. So far, participating members include New York University, University of Rochester, Syracuse University and Ithaca College.
Specifically, the coalition is advocating for policies that legislators in Albany and D.C. can implement to protect students currently during the pandemic. This includes aid for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival students, a call to freeze tuition across the country and support for those who must continue to pay rent.
“This is something that will continuously be crystallized and developed over time,” Kulkarni said. “Our end goal is to bring in all of the private colleges and universities that are in New York State.”
The vast majority of schools teaming up in the coalition do not have a branch of student government relations, which is why the Cornell office hopes to “create and allow the infrastructure to make the voices of students in [Ithaca College] as audible in Albany or D.C. as it is for a Cornell student,” Kulkarni said.
The office has its first coalition meeting Friday to discuss next steps for the vision of the office. While the coalition is currently only made up of five colleges, about 20 schools are expected to attend Friday’s meeting and consider permanently joining the coalition, according to Kulkarni.
“We hope that by collaborating, we are able to share the good ideas of what makes positive student governance,” Kulkarni said. “But also advocate at a higher level.”