Illustration by Shenuka Corea/The Gazelle

In Defense of Student Government

About 20 minutes into a meeting between the current and new Executive Board members this week, an incoming member paused for a few seconds, then said, ...

May 7, 2016

Illustration by Shenuka Corea/The Gazelle
About 20 minutes into a meeting between the current and new Executive Board members this week, an incoming member paused for a few seconds, then said, “You guys actually do so much stuff behind the scenes.”
This person’s sudden realization perfectly encapsulates what our biggest problem has been with Student Government this year — people have no idea what we’re actually doing.
We haven’t made people aware that we were behind improving the meal plan at the start of the semester, getting student input on the new Core curriculum, keeping the library open until 2 a.m.,  editing the Community Standards Document, the End of Year event, organizing StressFest, the 2010 Fund, starting conversations on leave of absence policies, managing funding for all the Student Interest Groups, getting cheaper summer housing options, sorting out the mess regarding study-away for engineering students and the new bed swap policy, among other things.
This lack of awareness is something we only have ourselves to blame for and underpins a lot of the other issues surrounding Student Government. We fully admit that our communications haven’t been as effective as they should have been, but the fact that our publicity issues have been equated to Student Government being ineffective, inaccessible and self-obsessed is something I think is unfair, and needs to be addressed.
The line between being distant and disengaged, and, communicating so much that it becomes meaningless is a very fine one, which we know we probably didn’t get right this year. Our attempts to make communication with the student body more professional and standardized were intended to make it easier for students to trace Student Government communications back. Further, we wanted to avoid causing meatless mondays-esque meltdowns every week; the eventual goal was that the Facebook discussion our critics crave would be on Student Government’s own Facebook page rather than on the NYUAD Forum or the NYUAD Student Life. In the long term, this will hopefully make things clearer, more streamlined and easier to track for students, but admittedly it means we’ve suffered this year.
A recent article on The Gazelle also concluded that Student Government should work more on important issues like “academic policies, university finances and disciplinary procedures.” Our work this year on the new Core curriculum, in developing flexible housing prices and on the disciplinary procedures in the Community Standards Document can hopefully satisfy that wish. Furthermore, the barrier to getting your issue heard and acted on by Student Government only requires you to send a Facebook message to an Executive Board member, so I find the claims of inaccessibility and irrelevance challenging ones to accept.
Another attack was on Student Government’s needless focus on procedural and constitutional reshuffling. Believe me, we hate having to deal with the Constitution more than anyone. However, given the incoherent mess we inherited, we thought we would make it our responsibility to clean it up and actually make it functional for the future. I think Director of Communications Jules Bello and Global Vice President Samia Ahmed deserve enormous credit for that, rather than ridicule.
Finally, we are often told that we’re too close to the administration. Regardless of how cavalier some students may wish for us to be, gaining staff members’ trust and respect is by far the most effective mechanism for creating real change at this university; it is in no way mutually exclusive to fighting and advocating for students. I don’t know of any time this year when an Executive Board member has put the needs of the administration above the needs of their constituents, so I don't feel the idea of us working for the administration instead of for the student body is justified.
For example, Student Government was advised last week that, “When administration acts contrary to student interests, like when they introduce a new meal plan with zero student feedback or involvement, you need to call them out on it.” I think President Farah Shammout's meetings with Vice Chancellor Al Bloom that directly caused the improvements in the meal plan at the start of the year adequately constitute “calling them out on it,” and serve as an example for the countless times Student Government has been advocating and fighting for students behind the scenes.
It gives me absolutely no pleasure to point out these things because I know we should have communicated them far earlier and much more effectively. We acknowledge that there are things that we’ve not done well this year, but we resent the idea that we’ve been useless and ineffective just because a lot of our work has been behind the scenes. I hope this has done a small amount to explain some of the difficulties we’ve faced this year; if you want to discuss this further, please come and talk to any of us.
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