Town hall shifts IUSA’s focus

Both the IU Student Association and Union Board have sought to integrate information from the Nov. 7 Town Hall Meeting into their new policies.

In particular, representation of minority students and smaller student groups needed to be addressed, IUSA Chief of Marketing Alex Sabol said.

“We like to talk about how democratic our election process is or IUSA’s election process (is),” Union Board Vice President of Programming Riley Voss said in an email, “but there is nothing democratic about getting elected and then shutting the door in front of those who we are supposed to be representing.”

Katy Flanigan, IUSA co-director of campus outreach, said the town hall was eye-opening, particularly for IUSA’s Campus Outreach committee, which is in charge of gathering information about student opinion and bringing that information to the IUSA office.

Now, IUSA is looking to set up new teams to address concerns raised in the Town Hall Meeting.

“We especially want to create a team to reach out to minority groups and ask them how they would like to be represented by their student government,” she said. “We hope to hold a dinner with minority group student leaders before the end of the semester.”

Sabol said single-issue advocacy groups on campus are a “tough barrier to hurdle,” but not because it was hard to speak with them.

“When we move forward with initiatives, we want to make sure that we can actually affect that issue,” he said. “We also consider if we can add to part of the effort.”

IUSA is better at starting initiatives and then passing them to other groups as the initiatives grow, Sabol said. The Lifeline Law was a good example of this, he added.

“Sometimes we cannot take on entire projects, but at the very least, we can always listen and connect them to other resources or groups that may have a similar interest,” Flanigan said.

Improving student contact with IUSA is a recognized concern, IUSA Vice President Patrick Courtney said, and solutions are already being implemented to fix this issue.

One solution includes a block of office hours in the IUSA office where the majority of the IUSA executives would be present to answer any questions or concerns students may have.

IUSA executives are not the only members of IUSA that students can speak with, Sabol said.

IUSA Congress members are meant to be the representatives of student interests, yet their role in policy creation has waned in past years, he said.

IUSA has recently taken steps to reinvigorate IUSA Congress as another avenue of communication with students.

“Congress has definitely been revamped this year,” Courtney said. “We’ve given a lot more power to Speaker of the House to more separate the powers, like it is supposed to be.”

IUSA is currently working to make Congress members’ information more visible and available, he said.

After Thanksgiving break, contact information about each Congress member will be available on the IUSA website, which is being redesigned to include, among other things, a suggestion box for student input, Courtney said.

One glaring issue Sabol noticed with the Town Hall Meeting was the lack of Congress members on the Town Hall panel.

He hoped to change that and make improvements to future Town Hall Meetings.

“It was good, not great,” Sabol said. “We wanted to see more participation. We could do better with terms of interaction of our executive team and the students. We got good student opinion, but it was kind of like ... a line dividing us and the students.”

He did note that the collaboration with Union Board made reaching out to students easier.

Voss said connecting with students may always be somewhat difficult but shouldn’t deter leading bodies from attempting to connect.

“In these types of roles it is very easy to get caught up in trying to inflict our own agendas at times,” he said. “But when we’re faced every day with making sure we are acting or spending based upon the values of our students, it’s essential that we have these types of moments where we’re doing the listening and somebody else is doing the talking.”

Courtney thought the event was fairly successful and enjoyed hearing the opinions of students, but said IUSA definitely wanted to make the event more informal to encourage more discussion.

Current considerations include breaking students into small, round-table groups so they would be more willing to discuss concerns.

“At the end of the day, that’s what we all are — classmates,” Voss said. “We should be working together and cooperating on the most basic levels to try and make Indiana University a better place for ourselves and those who come after us.”

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