The Student Association is revamping its Student Advocacy Service in an effort to provide a more personalized touch to student government, SA officials said.
The reorganized service will provide students an outlet to address administrative and academic grievances, and general concerns about student life. SAS is meant to serve as a safety net to catch students who would otherwise fall through the cracks, SA members said.
“(SA President Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar) wanted a way of directly affecting students through the SA,” said Brian Schoeneman, SA vice president for judicial affairs and coordinator of the group.
Schoeneman said SAS is unique because, unlike the SA which serves the student body as a whole, the advocates’ primary focus will be to give personal attention and address individual problems.
“SA senators may not be able to work with individual constituents because they are responsible for legislation and acting in the interests of all their constituents,” Schoeneman said. “Advocates will have no other projects except to help a student who comes by and says, `Hey, I need help.'”
While SAS advocates have attempted to help students since the service was founded in 1978, they have had little past success. But Schoeneman said he believes past SAS failures are partially due to advocates who took their roles too seriously and “tried to be lawyers rather than advocates.”
Division of Labor
Four revamped divisions will include at least five advocates, each providing individualized help in financial aid, academic affairs, judicial services and student issues.
Financial aid advocates will work with the University’s financial aid office to help students identify which documents they need to complete. In addition, the advocates will help fill out forms and answer questions about the financial aid process.
Schoeneman said he hopes this group will act as a mediator between the financial aid office and students, who may view the office as unhelpful and the process intimidating.
Judicial affairs advocates will walk students through the judicial hearing process. Advocates will be trained to understand the intricacies of the University’s judicial process, as well as the Student Code of Conduct and the Guide to Student Rights and Responsibilities.
“Having a fellow student walk you through the process, and knowing what to expect, should take some of the confrontationality out of the hearing board process,” Schoeneman said.
Academic affairs advocates will help students figure out what forms are needed to declare a major. The division also will help students handle problems with professors and teaching assistants.
Though SAS may not be fully operational until the end of the semester, it already has handled a few cases. Recently it helped a graduate student who sought the help of the SA about difficulties with a professor.
The student issues advocates will act as a catch-all encompassing any aspect of student life not addressed by the other three groups. Schoeneman said he hopes the group will help with problems ranging from ISN difficulties to finding a work-study job.
Patricia McGaa, the assistant vice president of the academic affairs advocates, said GW’s diverse student population warrants a division that handles problems not directly related to subjects such as academics or financial aid.
Stepping Down from the Ivory Tower
And both Schoeneman and McGaa said they understand students’ negative perceptions of the SA may hinder the ability of the SAS to help students.
“I understand the `Ivory Tower’ perception, and the best thing for me to do is to come down from the Ivory Tower and encourage people to come to the SA,” McGaa said. “If people are uncomfortable coming (to the SA office), I’ll go to them. When you are able to impact a student’s everyday life, the Ivory Tower gets torn down.”
Schoeneman’s plans for a “massive public awareness drive” for SAS – including setting up tables in J Street to inform students of the service, going to residence halls to learn students’ concerns and asking for students to participate in the advocacy service.
“The only way we are going to shake the stigma is to produce,” Schoeneman said.