Student Government a great way to effect change at UT

Taral Patel

Only 13 students have signed up to run for 43 Student Government positions, according to University data, and students can easily file until Feb. 17 at noon in SAC 2.102 (see: Having been involved with the organization as a University-wide representative over the past year, I’ve come to see that SG is an important organization that could benefit by being more representative of the student body and that means involving more students and especially those who don’t normally participate.

Throughout my time at UT, I’ve seen many diverse groups of people, but I rarely see them involved in SG. SG gets a lot of criticism because many see it as ineffective and unimportant, but I’ve come to see its significance. For example, members of SG represent the student body to the Legislature and to the regents, examine local issues with city and county task officials and lobby in many areas to benefit students. When I came to UT, I didn’t think much of it, either, but I came to see its importance.

When I first became interested in SG, I had heard mostly bad things about it. Even though honorable leaders like J.J. Pickle and Lloyd Doggett got their start in UT’s Student Government, it seemed to a complete outsider like me and many others as nothing more than a resume booster and rubber stamp for unpopular ideas the administration wanted. Furthermore, a primary criticism against SG was not being composed of the colorful strings of diversity that stretch from Austin to the Rio Grande Valley and all across the world tying our campus together. Moreover, some of the most pressing issues on campus including affordability, transportation and sexual assault were not being addressed. Students saw SG discussing trite issues like toilet paper and other internal conflicts that had no significance to most. When important issues came up, students felt like SG took no real action.

For example, SG failed to consider the popular objections to the tuition hikes proposed last March and gave “student approval” via a haphazardly constructed ad hoc committee. On top of all this, the negative stigma increased when a former president made national news for his controversial views on women. However, SG can have a bigger influence and should raise its voice regarding important issues. That’s why I decided to run, even though many of my friends said it would be nigh impossible because I wasn’t in a Greek or spirit organization. We created a platform focused on listening to students and including priority issues like sexual violence prevention, increasing facility hours and lobbying the Texas legislature. We also met with UT staff to determine how to best make our goals happen. To overcome the popularity contest, we created a strong legislative agenda that has yielded concrete solutions while connecting with student groups.

For those who want to make a difference but are worried that SG isn’t worthwhile or that you won’t get elected, I have a few solutions. First, truly believe in what Gandhi-ji said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Then, form ideas that focus on the needs of students, rather than just the old, over-used slogans. Lastly, communicate your message and vision to every group and reach out to every student (hint: social media isn’t enough).

It’s imperative the diverse population that composes the campus, regardless of whether they reside in North Campus, Riverside or elsewhere, get involved and help continue to better UT. Students need to highlight other issues and concerns for SG to focus on. Join an agency, apply to get nominated for a committee or even run for the various positions that are open this spring! You really can be the change you seek.

Patel is a biology junior from Katy.