ISS strives to address concerns

By Michael Logli

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series about the Illinois Student Senate. Check The Daily Illini on Tuesday and Wednesday to read about the newly elected executive board members.

The Illinois Student Senate has had a short history of three years, but many strides have been made to continually improve it from its roots, said Ryan Ruzic, senior in LAS and former student body president.

“We didn’t do as much as we are doing now because it was new, but we formulated the structure and bylaws and are much more efficient now,” Ruzic said.

The student senate was originally two separate groups: the Student Senate Caucus and the Illinois Student Government. However, both groups received complaints from members and students about their lack of direction and alleged corruption, Ruzic said. In 2004, the two committees passed a student referendum and created the student senate to consolidate the efforts and eliminate the problems of the two separate groups.

In order to address students’ concerns and also help the senate accomplish tasks, the senate is divided into 12 committees, including academic affairs, the University budget, students’ rights and cultural and minority affairs. The president appoints the committee chairs and the vice president internal oversees their progress throughout the year. These committees will do various projects over the year to inform students about issues and ask about what concerns students have, said Ariel Avila, senior in Business and former vice president internal.

“We also send out polls to the entire student body through e-mail or Quad events,” Avila said. “(The committees) can focus on issues that are important to students.”

Generally, the senate’s resolutions are non-binding and do not directly affect University legislation, Avila said. However, the power of the student senate comes in its collective seats on the Urbana-Champaign Senate, the committee with power to affect University policy, Ruzic said. This committee composed of students and faculty contains 300 members, and of these members, 50 seats are reserved for the student senators.

“(The student senate) can’t force the University to do anything, but they take us very seriously,” Avila said. “It is the students’ voice after all.”

Ruzic said that an important component of becoming the voice of the student body lies in the diversity of the senators.

“In terms of not only majors and classes, but racial and ethnic backgrounds, it’s amazing how much diversity you’ll find in the student senate,” Ruzic said.

Ruzic and Avila agree that the only way the senate has any power is if it connects with the student community and lets them know the senate exists and fights for students. Whether it’s passing out condoms in a bar to encourage sexual health and awareness, or lobbying senators in Springfield, Ill. for increases in higher education funding, the senate will continue to address the concerns of students if students make their concerns known, Ruzic said. Students can do this by speaking at senate meetings, which take place every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the Pine Lounge at the Illini Union.

“We hope students can come to us with their concerns,” Ruzic said. “But we can’t make a difference for students if they don’t know we’re there.”