Students should bring their voices to Illinois Student Senate

Students+should+bring+their+voices+to+Illinois+Student+Senate

By Matt Pasquini

For those who don’t know, the Illinois Student Senate serves as the official voice of the student body. It is comprised of four officers, the Student Trustee, a team of executive staff, 54 senators, six standing committees and five subcommittees, and a team of interns. 

The 54 senators make up the legislative branch. Comparatively to how the United States Congress represents the citizens of the United States, the senators represent the student body by college and vote on resolutions that represent and express students’ needs to the administration, local, state and federal governments.

I share this because I often hear the question, “What exactly does the Illinois Student Senate do?”

It’s a question I’ve heard time and time again from students across campus and a question whose answer is difficult to answer.

Because of this, it is imperative for the ISS to launch an information campaign to the student body to help us better understand what they do and how they can prepare us to be participating citizens once we enter the real world.

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    Furthermore, they need to combat the non-existent perceptions and apathy many members of the student body hold toward them. Because many students don’t actively engage with the ISS, the organization does not have much legitimacy in serving as the official voice of the student body.

    Universities, especially ours, are unique institutions of learning and research. They nurture curious minds, diversity and passions, and they work to help students develop the skills necessary to function in society. Furthermore, they empower the next generation with the skills necessary to ensure that society moves forward — technologically, socially and, especially, civically.

    As students, we should be invested in our personal development of civic engagement because it gives us a voice in the many facets of public affairs that have become so prevalent in our society.

    The student RSO, Beyond Coal, serves as a prime example of how civic engagement can impact our lives as students. During the spring 2013 semester, students overwhelmingly voted to have the University endowment divest in coal. 

    In spring 2003, a group of students organized to pass the Cleaner Energy Technologies Fee, which takes $2 of our student fees to invest in renewable energies. 

    Through these examples, we see the importance of student involvement in campus affairs and how their efforts can truly make a difference in our campus community.

    College students are very active and opinionated people, and we want our voices to be heard. Becoming engaged in the civic life of campus is one way to amplify our voices.

    One of the other ways to get involved is by proposing a referendum on the student ballot for our yearly student elections, which encourages us to become civically involved on campus. For a student or RSO to get a referendum on the ballot, it requires signatures from seven percent of the student body upon approval by the Campus Student Election Committee. If you’re a student senator in ISS, you’re required to collect signatures from five percent of the student body and receive a two-thirds majority from the entire student assembly.

    Because senators only need signatures from five percent of the student body, it is easier for them to create change on campus. We should be working with the student senators in ISS because it’s easier for them to push our agendas.

    While utilizing the senators appears to be more work and requires more steps to be taken than simply obtaining signatures from seven percent of the student body, participating in this process helps better prepare us for the civic life on campus.

    In the real world, being engaged means casting informed votes during election, contacting your elected officials to ensure they’re properly representing your views and attending town hall meetings to make your own voice heard and apply pressure to those who represent you. 

    Public opinion matters, and putting pressure on your bodies of government is one of the means of creating quick and meaningful change in society.

    The ISS is a unique group on campus and they can help us not only make positive and meaningful changes on campus, but teach us what it takes to be good citizens and make meaningful changes in our larger society.

    Matt is a sophomore in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewPasquini.