Let’s talk about student council. I realize that with my first sentence, I’ve already lost approximately half of you. Because I get it: You just do not care about student council. You’re all so hip and above caring about this official form of leadership—and doesn’t Columbia teach us to question authority?—that you will not even bother skimming this.
That is something I have had to accept as someone who has come to at least appreciate the Mickey Mouse political soap opera that defines Columbia and Barnard student councils. I have gotten super invested in the dramas and “scandals” that break out, only to realize I am one of the few people on campus who is actually paying attention. Eyes glaze over when I mention them, no one responds to my emails, and no reporter ever wants to be the one stuck researching archaic Columbia College Student Council rules and histories.
Fair enough. I understand that a lot of this lack of interest comes from feeling that student councils are not important and do not affect your life. I felt this same apathy, refusing to pay much mind (or coverage, while I was editor of Bwog) to what was going on in student government. But as a campus media member, you are eventually forced to pay attention and understand the situations and atmosphere of the councils. And let me tell you, it’s a fun scene—just like Scandal, but with less sex and less actual power.
Unfortunately, however, most people are not involved in campus media and thus miss out on all this. Now, I’m not here to tell you to start writing for a college news publication—though you totally should—I’m just here to tell you that maybe you should start browsing those CCSC/ESC/GSSC meeting recaps.
One of the neat things that happens once a lot of people are paying attention is that those in charge are held accountable for their actions. If no one is looking, leaders are free to act as they want—for better or worse, it is far easier to get away with doing or not doing things when no one cares about your actions. But once people do start to look—reading the recaps, analyzing statements, following Twitter accounts, going to meetings—councils step up and do the right thing, working harder to gain the approval of their constituents.
It is more than just that improvement in action, though. By not ignoring student councils, you also see the many ways in which they do, in fact, affect your life here at Columbia. You see the intense, hard work they put into what they’re doing and the ways in which they are trying to improve student life on campus. This is something a lot of us take for granted, choosing to grumble rather than acknowledge it.
In the past year, the various student councils have helped us out a lot—from bigger things, like regaining undergraduates entrance to the B-school library, to smaller things, like those charging stations in Lerner or the marvelous fact that we won’t have to deal with a fire alarm test in our dorms before 10 a.m. anymore. By not paying attention, we are disrespecting our hardworking peers who dedicate their time to making Columbia work better for us.
I’ve got a game plan: First, read the next big article that comes out concerning your student council. Second, skim through the next meeting recap. If you haven’t already, start getting to know your council members, including those representing your class year and the entire student body. Go on, Facebook-stalk the shit out of them. Read about the University Senate. Get caught in a WikiCU procrastination loop.
Student council meetings are open to the public, so if you get really invested, go sit in on one. And if you really care, run for student council. At this week’s CCSC meeting (seriously, read those recaps), Alumni Affairs Representative Daniel Liss, CC ’16, proposed a change to the election system that would make it easier for interested individuals to run for office without needing to form a party. Earlier this month, Spec’s editorial board (“Mixing up the student council elections,” Feb. 14) was right in encouraging wider participation in this organization that, you know, organizes a lot of your college experience. If you are unhappy with something, run for office. If you think current leaders are not doing enough, run for office. If you are going through a breakup and need something to fill that void, run for office. Especially since you probably can’t get a cat.
But enough of that diatribe. You don’t have to run for office or join campus media to understand student councils. You just have to pay a bit of attention to them. Hold them accountable for their actions, make sure that they are fulfilling their promises, but also acknowledge their efforts and learn about all the neat things you can do because of them. Or at least grab a bag of popcorn and watch the drama play out. With an invested student body, the council is bound to be stronger and more effective, and we do ourselves a disservice by not being an informed population.
Alexandra Svokos is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing and economics. She is the former editor in chief of Bwog. Svocalizing runs alternate Wednesdays.
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