As a frequent reader of the opinion pages of the Hatchet I have come to notice that GW students have a unique passion for politics. While this zeal produces a variety of pieces on issues of national and international importance, rarely are there many articles addressing campus issues. The lack of such commentary does not necessarily indicate that students do not hold strong opinions about campus issues, but more probably they feel somewhat powerless to influence change on campus.
One example of student disenfranchisement is the situation regarding the proposed calendar switch to a mandatory summer session. While I have yet to formulate my own opinion on the issue, I have noticed that many students are ardently opposed to this plan’s implementation. Despite hearing widespread student opposition to this proposal, there is no organized voice of dissent or counter proposal from any individual. The lack of counterpoint gives no incentive to the administration to take concerns seriously.
This disenfranchisement, at least among underclassmen, can be linked to students’ respective high school experiences. When a high school administration makes an unpopular decision, little credence is lent to the student reaction to the policy. In a high school environment this is unfortunate, yet understandable. Students do not make up the primary constituency to which the school is accountable. Because of this, when students make the transition to campus life, they are not likely to feel that their opinions can affect the outcome of administrative decisions.
Unlike students in high school, college students have both the right and responsibility to seek influence in administrative decisions. A number of factors place students in a prime position to influence administrative decisions. One direct method of influence can be derived from tuition money. Quite literally without student enrollment, the University would not be able to pay its bills. Students are also the primary player in creating the public perception of the University and encourage their friends to apply and enroll at GW. Because of these facts, students are no longer small players in the operation, but the primary constituency of the administration. Because of this, students cannot be ignored.
While at times it might seem that students hold no influence in University policy, it is only because they have not developed the proper systems to channel our power. The Student Association is the most logical avenue to pursue influence in University policy. Unfortunately, at least during my first academic year, the SA has proven ineffective in this regard. However, there is still plenty of time for the new administration to prove that they are up to this level of involvement in campus affairs.
While students wait for the SA to step up to the plate, they should not allow the needs and attitudes of the student body to be neglected. Like in our parent’s generation, we too should have a popular movement united behind advocacy for student interests on campus. This influence should not just be channeled against policies with which students disagree. Students should be proactive by providing solutions to problems from a student perspective. I plan on using this column as a place to suggest ways that the student body can begin addressing important issues in order to stake a claim in our educational future.
There are an unbelievable number of issues that, if left unchecked, could have a major impact on the remainder of our experience at this university. College students are at a distinct advantage to influence University policy. Unlike the divisiveness of national and international politics, campus politics provide surprisingly strong student agreement on many issues. By channeling this sentiment in a positive way, students will be able to change from a group passively accepting decisions with which they disagree to a group that affects the outcome of important decisions. All students need to do now is figure out how to achieve this.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet contributing editor.