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Desk Decision: Underachieving Student Government?

New USG leadership should improve its efforts to represent students.
Image by Ava Weinreis
Questions continue to surround USG’s importance to the larger student body.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this editorial do not represent The Minnesota Daily’s newsroom and are not necessarily representative of any individual on the Opinions Desk. This piece has been agreed upon for publication by a majority vote of all members of The Daily’s Opinions Desk.

Do you know what the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) on our campus does? The people who are a part of it? What they do to improve our campus life? 

For a lot of students, the knee-jerk response to these questions is a resounding no, followed by a dismissal of the organization entirely. 

It is a natural response. After all, distrusting or disregarding the government is one of America’s pastimes. Less than half of our country can name our state’s representative but that doesn’t stop 65% of us from believing they are overpaid. 

Considering USG, it is tempting to say, “Because I don’t know about it, or it doesn’t affect me, it must be unimportant.” 

But is this actually the case? Is USG adding value to campus life?

USG is doing a lot of things right — especially regarding transparency and representation. 

On their website, they offer students access to forum meeting documents which provide insight into how they run meetings and address campus-wide issues. They have connections with a variety of people from all branches of the University administration and possess the ability to influence student life in a multitude of ways. They hold events like Food 4 Feedback, which gives students an efficient platform to voice concerns. 

All USG representatives and senators have outreach requirements within their organization and the larger student body, according to incoming president and vice president Rahma Ali and Clara Junemann, who said expanding these numbers is a top priority. 

“We constantly talk about having more than 1500 student groups around the University, but the majority of us don’t even know about each other,” Ali said. “We’ve been in the planning process of setting up meetings with them, being able to join them for their board meetings and bringing in a USG perspective.”

Current president Sara Davis emphasized USG’s commitment to ensuring each part of the student body is heard within the organization’s frequent meetings. 

“We do debate and we ensure that, regardless of which side you might be leaning towards, you get a dedicated opportunity that’s built into our debate procedure for you to speak if you want to, and we will wait until you do,” Davis said. “Anyone can co-sign on to legislation that they support, or sit in a committee and comment.”

Davis said USG goals can often take years to accomplish, but there are some outliers, like the Fight for $15 campaign, that are accomplished in a single academic year. 

Instead of acknowledging how the implementation of change can take years to come to fruition, as Davis mentioned, students often anticipate unrealistic timelines for the resolution of issues. 

This impatience often fails to consider the actual power of student government, which may have to go through administration, all kinds of legal and government barriers, or other organizations to get something done. 

However, this is not to say that students don’t have valid criticisms. 

Right now, there is a massive communication barrier between students and USG. Hardly anyone knows about the recent discussions with administration, the timeline of campus improvements that have been passed, the topics discussed during meetings or what they hope to achieve in the near future.

We don’t know how, or if, they are improving our lives. 

If USG wants students to be informed about what they are doing, they have to be the ones to inform them. Send weekly updates that address each of these things. Set up a booth with one of the organization’s members, representatives or senators on each college around campus. Go to different classrooms and inform students of an issue relevant to them that you are discussing. 

And if you are doing those things, advertise it better. 

It is hard to believe the organization doesn’t possess the manpower to do some of these things.

Addressing communication issues can be solved, and hopefully will, with Ali and Junemann’s help. 

But the more important question here is not whether USG unintentionally interferes with what should be a direct line of communication between students and administration. 

At its core, USG is full of passionate members who genuinely care about the student body. But, just like the federal government, when you have a conglomeration of all these different voices, issues and opinions coupled with bureaucratic debate procedures, it can slow things down. 

It’s also important to recognize that college students are here to focus on their degrees, get drunk with friends and set themselves up for adulthood. They have to balance classes, jobs and mental health. 

As a larger university, we lack a certain community aspect that can contribute to how much students care about campus-wide issues. 

Regardless of its current flaws, USG can still serve an important purpose in the lives of college students. They have demonstrated an ability to do so. 

It is our opinion that the organization could improve its efforts to serve as a direct line of communication between students and administration. We hope that Junemann and Ali take this task seriously.

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