Recent accomplishments by Columbia’s student governments have made it clear that there are two styles of student leadership that different elected bodies on campus currently embrace.
The first is typified by comments like “I see SGA really trying to reach out to students. I don’t really see as much students trying to communicate back,” or Dean Kevin Shollenberger’s lament of the lack of student presence at the “Community Forum” held to discuss Columbia’s new property on 113th Street. Such a perspective sees elected student representatives as messengers of the student body who serve only as advocates for needs explicitly expressed to them by students. This is the model that has dominated student leadership at Columbia over its recent history and is long overdue for a change.
The other type of student leadership is one of action and initiative. It is a style of leadership that entails not only listening to what one’s peers are saying, but also acting independently to enact change and push through reforms. This is the kind of approach Columbia College Student Council and the Student Governing Board have been taking throughout the semester. The facts surrounding the mysterious student life fee, for example, were not known to the general student body until CCSC and Engineering Student Council took a hand in pushing for their release. There was no voice from the student body calling upon its elected representatives to do something about the lack of concrete information available about the fee, but a lack of input from the student body did not stop some of our council leaders from doing what they thought was right in this matter. Similar efforts can be seen in the creation of the student effort to revise the Arts Initiative, the completion of a review of Columbia’s financial aid services, and even the alteration of Barnard’s fliering policy.
Over the course of this semester, we have seen more successful student activism and administrative negotiation than we have in any other semester in recent memory. An email from the dean of student affairs explaining where the administration stands on issues that matter most to students would have been unthinkable two years ago. This openness from administrators, paired with some council leaders’ proactive efforts, has resulted in tangible results: release of the student life fee, changes to the financial aid office, the creation of the Health Services confidential services fund, and the fliering ban, to name a few. We hope that these efforts indicate that lack of input is never an excuse for lack of action, and encourage all council members to fill their roles as elected leaders proactively.
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