Student government needs to advocate for students–not just put on events

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I have always had a passion for leadership. I was heavily involved in student government throughout high school. I was class president during my freshman and sophomore years and on the Student Council Executive Board during my junior and senior years. One of my favorite things about being in student government was being able to advocate for the student body and make change happen. My fellow officers and I would constantly suggest polling students when weighing important decisions. 

My brother attended the University of Indianapolis from 2013 to 2016 when I was still in K-12. He always fostered my love of leadership and encouraged me to join my future college’s student government and urged me to choose UIndy as that future college. 

Before I enrolled at UIndy, the university’s student body government went through a major transformation in August 2020, according to a Reflector article. The Indianapolis Student Government, Campus Programming Board and Residence Hall Association consolidated into one organization–the Student Leadership and Activities Board, commonly known as SLAB. According to the SLAB page on UIndy’s website, “SLAB offers students opportunities for advocacy, programming, and leadership development, all while impacting the UIndy campus community in a positive way.”

When I looked at SLAB’s official Instagram page at the end of November, I kept searching for posts in which the organization advocated for students at the university, but I did not find much. And in this case, when I use the term “advocated,” I mean amplified and advanced students’ opinions in all things regarding the university and campus life. I did not find any publications for this semester promoting the university-wide “Town Hall” meetings hosted by SLAB. These meetings are an opportunity for students to voice their opinions and hear about current happenings at the university. According to SLAB, only two were planned for the fall semester of 2022, on Sept. 14 and Nov. 9. There does not seem to be enough marketing for (and explanation of) Town Hall meetings on social media and not enough meetings themselves for SLAB to properly advocate for students. I also briefly saw something about volunteering with the organization via “SLAB Council,” but there was no additional information about that opportunity. And yes, I did find posts for this school year promoting celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month and an event helping students understand Brightspace. However, those are not advocating for or uplifting student voices to university administration. 

On the contrary, according to a Reflector article in 2016, the then-student body government ISG noticed that students were displeased with a change in UIndy’s dining policies that limited them to four swipes per day. In response, ISG partnered with a representative from the Office of Student Affairs to host an in-person forum where students could openly express their opinions to the university. Less than a week later, the university announced that it would increase the value of one swipe to $7.50 and set the limit at six swipes per day, which is still the case. It was largely due to ISG’s advocacy that students were able to make changes in the institution they pay to attend and have access to more swipes (and therefore more food) per day. 

Although I may not be a part of UIndy’s student body, as my brother once advocated, I have messaged SLAB’s Instagram account several times. The three most-recent times were all student advocacy related. On Jan. 17, I suggested that SLAB look into getting an area/park for dogs on campus (think of all the emotional support animals at UIndy). I received no reply. On Aug. 1, I asked about student worker rights at UIndy. I received no response until Aug. 16, when they directed me to Human Resources. I still have not been able to get a solid answer from anyone at the university about whether there is a student union, but I digress. Most recently, on Aug. 26, I messaged SLAB to ask whether they would promote my petition for the university to provide an accessible color printer on campus. I had amassed over one hundred student signatures on that petition. A week and a half later, they responded by asking me to send a link to the petition to their official email and saying they would look at the petition at their next board meeting. I was pleased that they had replied and were considering my request on behalf of the student body, and I promptly sent the link, but I never heard anything more from them. I am not the only student who is concerned about the lack of an effective student body government. Sophomore chemistry and biology major and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow for the UIndy Ron and Laura Strain Honors College Carson Mullinix sent an email on Nov. 30 to all registered student organization points of contact that proposed “bringing back student government at UIndy.” Mullinix expressed disappointment with the “[administration’s] responses to student voicing” and said that a novel student body government was in “preliminary stages of formation.”

Yes, I do appreciate that SLAB puts on various events for students. Yes, I do think it is important for students to feel engaged in their campus community, which can be fostered through events. Yes, I do believe a student body government should put on events for what can be considered their constituents–but those events should not be mostly for amusement. UIndy’s student body government should empower fellow students by acting as an arm of their “commonwealth”–not just an arm of the university. Student government should let the administration know how we feel about dining and housing; it should not just host a trivia night with prizes and catering by Chick-fil-A. Student government should promote and foster interactive, productive opportunities between students and administration. Ultimately, I do not want “bread and circuses” from any government representing me. Give me a voice, instead.

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