In discussing the story on page A1 this week about Northwest Student Senate, we editors asked ourselves a simple question: who represents us on the student senate? Embarrassingly, none of us could say for sure. Though we’ve all read or written stories about their activities, our ignorance, in many ways, mirrors that of most of our fellow students. We all have an idea of what they do, but our interaction with them as students is sadly non-existent. This needs to change.
It’s easy to perceive the office of student senator as a simple resume-builder. Many of the members of student senate are involved in several organizations and for some, student senate may be just another notch on their belt. Due to this perception, many students may not take student government seriously. This viewpoint, while likely an accurate assessment of some student senators, is trivial and does nothing to strengthen the detached relationship Northwest students have with their representatives.
Detached might not even be the best word to describe the marriage between student representatives and their constituents. It implies that the student body and its government were once in a close relationship.
Throughout its reporting on Northwest Student Senate in recent years, the Missourian has always found that other students are largely unaware of what their representatives are up to. In fact, the vast majority of students do not even participate in the election of their senators. The turnout in last year’s student senate election was around 10 percent. Even if students do vote, it likely has little to do with their aptitude for governing or their vision of student senate’s future. The students who vote presumably do because a friend, acquaintance or classmate is a candidate in the election. Some may even just go on name recognition, which, to be fair, is not much different than any other election.
This sort of political apathy, at any level, is concerning. Many students do “not have a clue” what student senate does, as the story on A1 reported. However, despite preconceived notions our fellow Bearcats may have of student government, the decisions they make have a serious impact. This impact is not confined to the here and now, but has consequences for future Northwest students. This is not your high school student government.
For those who may not know, the Northwest Student Senate votes whether or not to increase student fees every year. These fees are tacked on students’ bills when they register for classes, as they are charged per credit hour. Several of these fees have been raised year after year to keep up with technology, capital improvements, and minimum wage standards among other things. After hearing this, students are often surprised, to put it lightly.
To be fair, much of these fee hikes would not see much of a debate even if students were engaged in student government. Students largely support the sort of improvements these fees go toward. Still, the complete lack of debate or student awareness on matters that affect their bank account is perplexing.
Student senators likely do not get much feedback from their constituents after being elected, if at all. Some senators may make more effort to reach out than others, but in the end, the responsibility lies with the student body.
Student senate elections are coming up in April and the Missourian is hoping for a more robust student involvement this time around. Democracy, on any level, depends on an engaged and informed electorate.