Hats were out in force this week amongst my fellow Cobbers, due to the chilly weather. I too wear a lot of hats on campus, but most of mine are metaphorical. Two of my favorite experiences in college have been holding a commissioner position in the Student Government Association and writing for The Concordian. A few weeks back, I found myself trying to fit another hat on: joining a Political Awareness Week debate team. As you may know, this event never happened. The Concordian piece from last week on the cancellation of Political Awareness Week hits some great notes. As someone involved in all parties concerned in this story – including the Concordian itself – I am drawn to reflect on the purpose of these organizations.
The most important thing to understand is that Student Government Association is not a student organization. At Concordia and beyond, student governments exist institutionally; most colleges specify duties to student government members such as committee membership or seats on Presidential councils. At Concordia, the President of SGA serves on the Board of Regents. It should come as no surprise that the responsibilities of student government extend beyond those of traditional student organizations. I think this is why I’m especially disappointed political awareness week fell through.
Let me be clear – I’m not writing this to point fingers or to sling mud. I am writing to convey the significance of a student government dropping the ball on political activism. Student governments exist to promote an interest in actual governance. SGA members are welcomed into the bureaucracy of Concordia College, sharing in the trials and tribulations of campus committees. While my terms have yet been short, I have learned an immense amount from serving on Faculty Senate and the college’s Budget Planning Committee. Through SGA, we learn the intricacies of Concordia College. We learn that Concordia couldn’t possibly be run by a single person and that a lot of the work is – frankly – kind of dull. We learn, in a nutshell, a microcosm of our own political system.
If fulfilling its duties to its college is the first obligation of a student government, I would say promoting civic engagement is a narrow second. Across the country, student governments host and encourage voting drives and facilitate voter education. This is student government at its apex: encouraging responsible engagement in the campus and the world. It’s particularly troubling, then, that SGA fumbled the Political Awareness Week events. In my framework, this is not just student organization events that were mismanaged or happened poorly; this is a fundamental disservice to our constituents. Elections only happen every two years, meaning that juniors and seniors will not have another time to connect with the election process while at Concordia. What should be the ultimate goal of a student government became a side effort. As a member, I know and appreciate everything SGA does. Perhaps its time to do a little less, and do it a little better.
There was a solid performer in this scenario: The Concordian. Our favorite campus newspaper took a story about events that didn’t happen and ran it on the front page.The topic of the article was Political Awareness Week, which sounds about as appealing as playing a video game that doesn’t have “Ocarina” in the title. Bad similes aside, this story deserved to happen, and it deserves the attention its placement grants it. So I’d like to recognize Lauren Wilson’s reporting and the activism of Cate Bruns and Nate Lacombe. More broadly, I’d like for all of us to reflect on the roles major student organizations play on our campus. My Concordian hat feels especially warm this week.
Zach Lipp (’16) is an economics geek, a wannabe sociologist, a Regents’ Scholar and a mathematics student at Concordia College. He has served in Campus Service Commission, Student Government Association, and Hall Council. Zach now divides his campus activities between geeking out at analytics club and starting a Roosevelt Institute Campus Network chapter at Concordia. His hobbies include overusing Microsoft Excel, taking Smash Bros. too seriously, and loudly talking about Twitter.
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