By ALEX SEYAD
What is the difference between student government in high school and college? In high school, your class president was probably placed in charge of spirit week and some other school events but never really had much say in administrative matters. Student government in college is a different story. In most universities, student representatives and club leaders have a say in administrative matters at various degrees. At Fordham, for example, United Student Government (USG) has the ability to approve new clubs on campus, approve club budgets and vote on many other matters that concern the student body. In the past, these issues have included banners put around campus, the removal of the Robert Moses statue and the decision to reject bringing a Chick-fil-A to campus. While some of these things sound trivial, the ability of students to have a voice in the matter is important for transparency and democracy on our campus. The ability of the students to go against a Chick-fil-A on campus because of the company’s history of holding an anti-LGBTQ stance is a huge win for student activists. Unfortunately, these wins are overshadowed by unilateral decisions by administrators that overrule student government organizations like USG and, most recently, the Residence Hall Association (RHA).
When I was a freshman, I was in awe of the abilities of USG and was easily convinced to run for senator. My time on USG was entertaining, and at the end of the year, I felt that I was able to accomplish something on campus. We were able to push for the university to establish gender neutral bathrooms, among other issues. After I left USG my sophomore year, I was a part of the RHA senate my junior year where I was able to see how much RHA does to serve Fordham Lincoln Center’s residents, supply them with quality events and provide them a voice. It saddens me to see these organizations are being compromised, and that their ability to take part in administrative discourse is now in question.
The fact that administrators have overridden the decisions of student governments and, in the case of RHA, completely overhauled the previous system and replaced it with their own constitution and hand-picked executive board, shows that they have little care for how we perceive their actions or what we have to say. The Observer has reported before that the university wants to create greater transparency amongst the various bodies on campus, but the administration’s actions beg to differ. If the dean of students can veto a club that promotes social justice without consulting the student body that clearly favored the establishment of the club, what is to stop them from continuing to ignore us? If the Office of Residential Life can freely rewrite the constitution of RHA and eliminate the student-elected senate, then can we still call it a student government organization? At this point, the members of these organizations are being treated like puppets by the administration to give the students the illusion that they care about our opinions. For all of the Town Halls and Pizzas With the President, what will the administration change? Will they create avenues to allow for more student activism on campus? Will they give us the microphone so we may voice our concerns? I think all we will get is contempt and words that are supposed to make us feel like the administration is doing what is best for us.
Without uncompromisable student representation then all we can expect is more protests on campus. Whether that comes in the form of low student turnout at events or frequent protests in the plaza, we cannot expect to turn to USG or RHA with our problems because at their heads are administrators who will shut down those who are trying to speak up for the rest of us. Maybe I am being too cynical about all of this, but on the other hand, tyranny is the first step towards destroying democracy.