What can a student senator do for you?

With so many names and so few opportunities to research them, students might have some difficulty electing the candidates for Illinois Student Senate and Student Trustee.

Among other referendums and positions, University students will be able to vote online for whom they want as their representatives on Tuesday and Wednesday, the climax of weeks of fliers and chalk on the Quad. But long after the sidewalk chalk clears and the fliers are covered, students might still be in the dark when it comes to the function of the student senate.

“What our role is, is to essentially speak loudly and very sternly on behalf of the students,” said Carlos Rosa, sophomore in LAS and senate member who is up for re-election. “That’s what I view our role to be, to serve as sort of a sounding board to the administration on what the students want.”

Rosa said the senate’s constitution describes the group as the official voice of the student body, though he added that its power is somewhat limited.

“In terms of power, we don’t have a lot. Our only power comes from the ability to go and speak to an administrator and say, ‘I’m not just a student, I’m a student senator, and I was elected to represent the students,'” he said.

But while the power might not be expansive, members’ responsibilities are, said ISS adviser and Associate Dean of Students Rhonda Kirts.

“It’s a large time commitment for anyone who’s participating at the level that’s required,” Kirts said. “They have meetings every Wednesday, Urbana-Champaign Senate meetings once every few months, different committee meetings, and their weekly two-hour office hour requirement. It’s a lot of work.”

Kirts, a former University student body president herself, has been the ISS adviser since 2004, when the body was established in its current form. She said her role is to help members get in touch with administrators, make resolutions more effective, and provide historical perspective on campus issues. She added that senate members need to keep student-centered policies – such as providing newspapers and effective bus routes for students – in mind.

“(Senate members) have a lot of input into different University functions and policies that happen,” she said. “But then there’s also what I would call the student life, things that are happening, like the Collegiate Readership Program or working on the MTD contracts, kind of responding to what the students’ needs are.”

With elections happening Tuesday and Wednesday, though, some candidates are more focused on getting their names into the open for right now.

“I think kind of how the election is run here is more about getting your name out rather than showing people what you’re capable of and what you stand for,” said Debbie Liu, a freshman in AHS and candidate for senate. “So I think that’s flawed.” Rosa agreed.

“I think definitely a lot of it has to do with name recognition,” he said. “A lot of the voters do not actually know any of the positions for the candidates they’re voting for. But I think that if you do actually go out and speak to the voters, go out on the Quad, visiting their residence hall or visiting an organization, I think that you can make a lot of headway in ways that just putting up fliers can’t.”