UT Student Government has lost sight of its primary mission

Terry-Ann Wellington

UT’s Student Government prides itself on being a voice for students; its mission, according to its website, is “to earnestly represent the interests of students, to preserve and protect the traditions and legends of the University, and to support students and student organizations in their academic and community endeavors.” Recently, however, it appears that Student Government’s leadership is more concerned with its exertion of power and internal conflicts than representing “the interests of students.”

I joined Student Government as a freshman. It was the place where I met my closest friends; it was where I found my place in the University, and most of all it was a place where I felt I could have a positive impact on the student body. As a freshman I was shown the possibilities of SG, what had been done and what could be accomplished with team effort and student support. Naively, I believed that everyone was committed to the same goals and people felt a responsibility to their constituents. During my sophomore year I served as the assistant director for the Federal Relations Agency. I started out my term excited for the ways I could show students how laws in Washington, D.C., affected them and how they could effect change. Early in my term I realized that I was essentially a figurehead, someone to fill a spot. My agency director did not work with me, and the individual who oversaw the agencies never addressed my concerns, as I was continuously told to wait a bit longer. I contemplated stepping down from my position at the end of the semester because of my frustration, but I stayed on until the end of my term in hopes of seeing improvements; there were none.

After the end of my term, during my junior year, I stepped away from SG. I did not want to hate the organization that I loved and had devoted two years of my college career to. Seeing SG from the outside, as a student, has led me to write this. I was able to look at SG from an unaffiliated student’s point of view, and I began to understand why students do not take SG seriously or put much stock in legislation. This year, more than any other year that I’ve been a student, there has been internal fighting and what appears to be a lack of respect among the members, as evidenced most recently by an attempt to remove Chief of Staff Chris Jordan from office. Legislation has been passed that I, as a student, have not seen followed through on. Instead, it appears as though many SG members have forgotten their purpose, to serve the needs of students and to be their voice.

Student Government has the resources, the support and the drive to create real change around campus. That is evident through the programs that have already been accomplished. During my freshman year the PCL became a 24-hour facility during midterms and finals, and recently, the FAC followed suit. There have been programs implemented to assure students safety, such as Sure Walk, an initiative that helps students safely get home from campus, and this year URide has been implemented to give students a safe ride home from downtown. Agencies such as Longhorn Run, State and City Relations and Diversity and Inclusion have reached out to students about issues that greatly affect them, such as voting in local elections and fostering discussion on appropriate Halloween costumes. In the past, legislation has been passed to support undocumented students, to support Sexual Violence Prevention Month and, more recently, to update student IDs so that they qualify as voter IDs. But these pieces of legislation are merely words and suggestions. It is important to show support for different events and groups of students, but one more step needs to be taken to create spaces where students can come together and discuss problems, to learn more about each other. Student Government has the ability to create change and impact students’ lives, but more steps need to be taken to focus on students, to follow through on legislation and sustain and grow already existing programs.

This is not a call to dismantle Student Government, to remove people from office or to single out individuals. This is a plea for student leaders to come together and serve the University and students. Student Government has the ability to impact student life. It is supposed to be the voice of students, an advocate. Student Government should not be just a line on a resume, a tool for getting into law school or a way to gain power. The success of a representative is not in being elected, but in fulfilling his or her platform and making a tangible change on campus. The members of Student Government need to take the time to look at the platforms they ran on, reflect and return next semester with goals that will positively affect the student body and complete the tasks they were elected to do. They need to leave the office and the Legislative Assembly Room, meet their constituents, hear their issues, be seen and be vocal. Student Government can do better, and its members should be held to a higher standard by the student body.

Wellington is a Plan II junior from Dallas. In Student Government, she served as a Longhorn Legislative Aide and Federal Relations assistant director.