The ability to be an informed and active member of campus affairs is a privilege I’m glad to have. As an Engineering student and a member of several student organizations, I certainly care deeply about how things are run at the University, be it in my department, within my organizations or as a whole. But I’ve found that many students across campus, regardless of their background or involvement, remain apathetic about campus affairs. And I’ve never been too sure of why that is.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion hosted by the University’s Engineering Council — the College of Engineering’s student government — that talked about student activism. Among the panelists were DeAndree Watson and Brendan Campbell, current president and vice president of Central Student Government. Prompted by my general feeling of dissatisfaction with student involvement, I asked them about how they can get people to care about issues on campus, or at least care enough to vote and to think they have an impact. While I didn’t necessarily get a straight answer, I was definitely motivated by Watson’s response that what made him personally care was simply recognizing the idea that “this University belongs to me” — and he’s right. The University doesn’t just belong to the state, the Board of Regents or the administrators. It belongs to the 40,000 students that pay tuition here, and that should be enough to recognize that the opinions of students certainly matter.
Campbell shared a story about how CSG recently received an e-mail that there were no efficient water fountains in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. It seems trivial, but the fact that someone cared enough about something to reach out to someone who might be able to change it shows what power we each have as students. In fact, plans are already underway to replace those water fountains — proving that a student governing body can make real things happen.
Inspired, I decided to test this concept out myself. I’ve had issues all year with being able to shower in my residence hall. It seems that every set of showers available to me is always being cleaned right when I want to use them. And sure, maybe I have a weird showering schedule, but my personal preferences shouldn’t hinder my ability to take a shower. So a few days ago, I decided to take my issue directly to a residence hall administrator, not really expecting anything. To my pleasant surprise, I received a thoughtful and prompt response, and was told that facilities staff had been notified of my issue and steps were being taken to stagger cleaning schedules such that at least one set of showers would always be available to all residents.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like much. Maybe the kid in the UGLi and I were just lucky that our concerns were not only heard but also acted upon. But I’d like to think that this is the kind of thing that makes the University great. Faculty, administrators and student government representatives are in their positions because they care. If you have a problem, take it to someone whose job it is to listen. People may insist on advocating for “letting students’ voices be heard” or “giving a voice to those who have none” but the truth is, every student does have a voice. And there is someone out there who wants to hear it.
The University is mine just as much as it is yours, your professors’, your student government representatives’ and your administrators.’ So if you have something to say, just say it. Because someone’s always listening.
Hema Karunakaram is an Engineering sophomore.