Big Ten leaders convene at IU

Student body heads discuss student advocacy



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Delegates from Big Ten schools hold a discussion on student advocacy on Saturday at the Indiana Memorial Union. Clayton Moore

Senior staff from the executive branches of ten Big Ten student governments, including the University of Maryland, met at IU for the Association of Big Ten Schools Conference this weekend to discuss issues affecting their campuses.

According to the agenda, most of the major events, including four “breakout sessions” during the conference were scheduled for Saturday. These sessions were round-table discussions in which student delegates discussed issues such as campus safety, sustainability, governmental affairs and student advocacy.

On Saturday, student leaders were seated in a circle in the Indiana Memorial Union Redbud Room, which was packed with office chairs. Some were sitting on tables that had been pushed to the wall because there were more delegates than chairs at the Student Advocacy breakout session.

Facilitator Leslie Fasone began the meeting by asking, “What role do students play in student government? How are students’ voices heard?”

“Student advocacy is shedding light on issues, urging some call to action,” said Kyle Straub, IU Student Association president. “Basically, it’s advocating for the voice and concerns of students and encouraging stronger integration of that voice within
decision-making.”

Despite the fact they were representing different universities, most delegates gave answers showing they shared similar concerns about student advocacy. These ranged from conflicts with the organization of student groups to ensuring students are civically engaged through programs like voter registration.

The group also discussed the problem of engaging students to communicate what they want and expect from student government.

The current IUSA administration has taken steps toward improving student outreach by creating the Campus Outreach branch of IUSA in April 2012 shortly after they were elected. IUSA Chief of Staff Augustin Ruta said the responsibility of Campus Outreach, led by Dia Sharma and Katy Flanigan, is to find out what students want from the student government.

IUSA has also been working to engage students through projects such as a survey to collect data for the Vision of an Ideal College Experience, or VOICE, Report. The report is a compilation of recommendations for administrative action based on the survey data.

“Finding quantitative data to understand what students want has proved very beneficial for us,” Straub said.

Ruta said surveys were sent to 75 percent of students on IU’s campus via email through an independent consulting company called Campus Labs.

“We had students identify the most critical needs and issues facing IU,” Ruta said.
Citing the Culture of Care project, the Safe Ride program and the Tax-Free Textbooks initiative as examples, Straub said most of IUSA’s current initiatives align with conclusions drawn from this data. These conclusions will be published in the VOICE Report later this month.

Straub said the VOICE report idea was well-received at the ABTS conference.
“All of the schools were pretty much blown away by the power of the VOICE Report, and most showed some interest in adopting some portion of the process,”
he said.

Although student polling was suggested by several delegates at the meeting, other delegates also suggested using social media such as Twitter or Facebook to reach out to students.

A representative of the Association of Students of Michigan State University said the ASMSA plans to use the Twitter hashtag “wtfMSU”, so students can concisely voice complaints or issues online.

For students interested in voicing their concerns directly to the student government, the current IUSA administration has office hours from 7 to 9 p.m. every Monday night. Ruta said at least two or three senior staff members are available to talk to students at that time.

Ruta also said the IUSA is passionate about engaging students civically and giving students a voice outside the IU campus.

“Aside from being a IUSA representative, I would say talk to your senator, talk to your congressman,” Ruta said. “Write a letter telling them how you feel about higher education. The student voice is very powerful, and I think, sometimes, it might be under-utilized.”

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