May 1, 2012

A more perfect union

Increased grad presence and participation in SG should encourage undergrads to reach out.

The Maroon reported last Friday that graduate student participation in Student Government elections rose by 211 percent this year, with graduate students casting 30 percent of the vote. This was also the first time in recent years that more than one candidate ran for the position of graduate student liaison to the Board of Trustees. This stands in stark contrast to the circumstances two years ago, which saw four different people hold the position during 2010 alone due to high turnover. Given this revitalized interest, graduate students have demonstrated their right to be part of Student Government, and their increased involvement should be embraced, as it can only benefit the University and its students.

Granted, graduate students have some interests that simply do not pertain to undergraduates. Childcare and health benefits, for example, are core concerns for graduates that largely do not involve undergraduates. However, the prevalence of these unique issues should not deter undergraduates from working in concert with grads on shared causes like transportation and safety. Each graduate school has a representative committee to deal with graduate-specific problems. Undergraduate concerns that they may have to compete with these unshared goals in SG are thus largely unfounded; rather, they should cooperate with SG’s Graduate Council and the larger graduate community on common initiatives.

Further, Student Government was designed to serve the needs of all University students, not just undergraduates, and is therefore one of the best tools for connecting graduate and undergraduate students. In addition to being students of the University, graduate students pay a student life fee and are thus financially entitled to have their say in SG affairs. Moreover, they greatly outnumber undergraduates; there are 10,000 graduate students and only 5,000 undergraduate students. The power of graduates’ sheer numbers gives them the right to voice their concerns in SG, but can also be used to help undergraduates in a number of ways. For one, many graduate students have specialized knowledge in certain areas that are pertinent to some of SG’s current policy concerns. Another reality of SG initiatives and events is that their success is predicated largely on the scale of involvement and interest underpinning them. So even a relatively small amount of support coming from graduates could prove to be the difference in many cases.

Undergraduates also have a lot to learn from graduate students outside of SG. Many graduates are at vastly different places in their lives than undergraduates; many have families and past careers. Heightened interaction between the two groups could create fruitful relationships, both professional and personal in nature. However, venues for such interaction must first be created through both official and unofficial means. In light of these unprecedented SG elections, there has never been more incentive for undergraduates to do all they can to bridge the divide and reach out to their busy, yet interested, counterparts. The potential benefits are too great to ignore.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.