Student Government is an important part of campus life which directly affects a number of issues for students from sexual assault and campus safety to wages for student workers, but engagement with student government is usually very low on college campuses, with programs struggling to recruit students to run for office or even vote in campus elections.
The makeup of student government can differ depending on the campus. Some universities have a student senate with student senators representing different academic departments while other schools may have a board of directors, each with their own roles like student body president, vice president, treasurer, and others.
What is Student Government
Student leaders represent students on committees and meet with administrators as well as trustees or regents who are in charge of broader university networks like the California State University or the University of North Texas systems.
In most cases, these student representatives are elected via the student body. Student government can be a way for students to make their concerns known and enact change on their campuses, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The turnout of eligible voters in elections for student government is often very low, suggesting a large majority of students are not interested or engaged with student government affairs.
“Student governments often struggle getting people to participate, to run for office,” W.H. Butch Oxendine Jr., the executive director of the American Student Government Association told The College Post. “Their election turn out is four percent at the national average, so it’s…horrific really, but it indicates that students, in general, don’t see student government as a true way to make change.”
The ASGA is the only national organization in the country dedicated to training and supporting leaders in student government on college campuses. Oxendine Jr. said his goal at the ASGA is to help students understand their roles in student government and turn them into great leaders capable of serving the needs of their constituents.
“If schools are members of our association, they get access to our resources,” Oxendine Jr. said. “We do eleven training conferences, so they go and learn techniques on how to improve turnout in elections and get people to care about students as well as how to work with administrators.”
Another resource the ASGA offers to member schools is a searchable database of every student government in the country where members can look at trends, benchmarks, and data from thousands of other institutions.
Earnest Robinson, ASGA’s professional development and civic engagement specialist told The College Post he believes student government is important because it promotes civic engagement among students just as they are becoming eligible to vote in local, state, and federal elections.
“Many students are coming into college who are of age to vote and the represent such a large part of our electorate,” Robinson said. “I think that if [civic engagement] is reinforced while they are on campus, those behaviors will be perpetuated once they actually leave campus, which ultimately will have a greater impact on our communities.”
Student Government In Practice
At the University of North Texas, the UNT Student Government Association is working on two major initiatives during the Spring 2020 semester including one to raise the minimum wage for students who work on campus and another to increase awareness of sexual assault among students.
According to Noah Hutchinson, the communications director for the UNT SGA, students who work off-campus are making two or three dollars than students working on-campus in the same position. Hutchinson said this is unfair to residential students or students without cars, calling the disparity a “convenience fee.”
“We’re just fighting for those kinds of students to make sure that everyone has a fair, fair game to play and everyone’s getting paid a fair wage,” Hutchinson said. “So we’re working with the system, with the chancellor, and with the president to establish a specific number.”
On-campus workers at UNT currently make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and the SGA is hoping to raise that to $9.00. Further, the SGA aims to implement a 5 to 10-year timeline to continue raising hourly wages for students with on-campus jobs.
With regard to sexual assault, UNT’s SGA plans to participate with other student organizations on campus in organizing events for a Sexual Assualt Awareness week during the last week of March that will continue into April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“UNT has had different instances where students have felt like that issue has been swept under the rug…so that’s a big concern that students have that we want to be sure we’re addressing,” Hutchinson said. “we’ll be…talking about the different ways that students can get engaged with organizations on campus and how students can write legislation through our student government to be voice of change themselves.”