May 6, 2014

Letter: Outgoing SG slate reviews year in office

Now that our term is coming to a close, we on the Student Government (SG) executive slate would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what we have achieved and to assess what next year’s SG can still accomplish. But first, many congratulations to the United Progress slate on their victory in the recent election; we have great faith that Tyler, Aseal, and Arlin will serve students tirelessly and with integrity.

As the Maroon noted in  “A Progressive Path for Student Government” (5/2/14), we ran on a platform that promised to set a progressive agenda for Student Government, and we believe that we delivered on that promise during our time in office. Sofia Flores, vice president for administration, has led a student committee to design a peer education curriculum on the University’s sexual assault policy to inform students of their rights and the ins and outs of navigating the University’s process. She is also coordinating the Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which begins May 19. Michael McCown, president, chaired a committee of Assembly members that studied the question of how students are placed on the Independent Review Committee (IRC) of the UCPD. The committee produced a set of suggestions for future SGs to consider when selecting students for the IRC. We also worked with members of College Council to begin a pilot program to increase accessibility for persons in need of accommodations at RSO events.

Last week’s Maroon article somewhat mischaracterized our more ambitious platform pieces; we never claimed we would bring a trauma center to the University of Chicago—obviously, that is not a decision within SG’s purview—nor did we claim we would unionize graduate students. Rather, we pledged our support for these preexisting campaigns that are ongoing and to which SG can provide assistance. We hope that future SGs will not shy away from being vocal about issues of social justice on our campus, as SG is the democratically sanctioned forum for students to gain representation to the administration. Additionally, SG is a place where students of differing opinions are able to engage in dialogue with one another about these issues. At an Assembly meeting last quarter, SG voted to endorse the Coalition for Equitable Policing’s petition regarding UCPD transparency, but not before representatives registered dissenting opinions and discussed the significance of the petition to campus safety, social justice, and the student body.

The petition is a small example of how a more progressive SG can enhance, but not replace, students mobilizing to change aspects of the University. A concrete success of this model is Hallowed Grounds. Our conversations during the summer months with students and administrators, but most importantly the intense activity of a large number of students to directly lobby administration, kept the popular coffee shop from being merged with office space before school began. Similarly, we worked closely with students after sudden and unpopular changes were made at the University Community Service Center (UCSC), although with less success. However, the UCSC has established a student advisory board modeled after the one SG recommended it institute to incorporate student voices in the restructuring process.

We have also been busy reforming areas within our direct purview, which is the operation of the Student Association and the over two million dollars of Student Life Fee money Student Government is allocated to disburse to the myriad of RSOs on campus. Jane Huber, VP for student affairs, has worked with the Program Coordinating Council and the Coalition of Academic Teams to codify the way they work and to best support the different interests from all the different RSOs in the groups. Together with Flores, she revived the Funding Advisory Board to support the different funding bodies on campus by organizing more meetings, sharing best practices, encouraging more communication between members of the SG assembly, and advising the SG assembly on how to best allocate funding.

There is more we could talk about. We worked closely this year with Student Health Services to set up a robust Student Health Advisory Board that played a key role in renegotiating the University Student Health Insurance Plan. We held multiple events with administrators, including an event with the UCPD attended by over 100 students, and will host an upcoming discussion with administrators on how the faculty Protest and Dissent Committee will affect future student demonstrations. So that students are aware of these events as they occur throughout the year, we have recently added a new Communications Director to the SG Executive Board to help us to develop a strategic communications plan for SG. As a part of these larger efforts, this week we plan to launch a new website to more clearly present information on SG: what we do, how to utilize funding, and what services and resources we provide. As the school year is coming to an end, much of this work will have to be completed by the United Progress slate, and we look forward to working with them in the transition to lay the foundations for next year. We hope that they will continue key aspects of our legacy, and we are certain they will leave their own.

Michael McCown ’14,  Sofia Flores ’15, and Jane Huber ’16