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Mills ’15: You should care about UCS

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, April 18, 2014

I became involved with student government this fall. I had been going to Brown for two years and had accrued a laundry list of gripes and grievances against the University. Paying over $200 a semester for books, getting stuck with summer assignment and living in a quad, paying the fee for missing the pre-registration deadline, a cost you can’t appeal if you don’t fill out a room condition report, and the pearl onions they can’t ever seem to keep out of the peas at the Sharpe Refectory all made my list. Some things were trivial enough that you might be able to laugh them off, but others issues — like the $60,000 tuition burden — had me clenching my jaw. I wanted my voice to be heard.

I’m not looking for anyone to pat me on the back for getting involved with student government, and I’m not going to tell you to join the Undergraduate Council of Students or run for an elected office. But I’m going to tell you how my involvement changed my perception of student power at Brown.

I was initially optimistic about UCS — I didn’t think I could change everything, but if I could address a few issues and maybe better understand why certain things operated they way they did, I would be happy. But a few weeks in, I was disappointed. It became clear to me that many UCS members joined because they wanted to be part of the UCS community or make friends. I thought maybe other students felt this way about our motive too and held it against UCS. I welcome any and all involvement in UCS and all other facets of student government — but this was a low point for me. Imagine if that’s what our senators and representatives said in Washington — “I ran for office so I could make friends in D.C.,” or “because it sounded like fun,” or “because I wanted to pad my resume.” I would be pretty embarrassed too.

I also realized many students don’t care about UCS or even know what it is. A surprising number of students are unfamiliar with what UCS does or can do. When talking about UCS, I’ve been asked more times than I care to admit, “What is UCS?” At first, I was somewhat indignant. But when I reflected on my own view of UCS, I realized I could understand where they were coming from.

I always wanted to know why the food in the Ratty wasn’t very good and what the rationale was for forcing students to live on campus. Through my questioning, I eventually received a tour from Joe Barboza, facilities manager for Dining Services, through the bowels of the Ratty, and I met with Senior Associate Dean of Residential and Dining Services Richard Bova to talk about housing issues. My questions were starting to be answered, and it felt like I was finally in a position where staff members and administrators valued student input and concerns.

My opinion of UCS and student government started to change. I started to see that there was actually a large role for student voice here at Brown. At one of our meetings, Senior Lecturer in Education Luther Spoehr claimed that students don’t really have any power, they just have influence. I think that absolutely characterizes our situation. But I also think we are lucky to go to a school where the administration cares deeply about what we have to say on many — though not all — issues. If students don’t take student government seriously, fail to get involved or take the opinion that UCS doesn’t matter, though, then the influence we have as a student body will dwindle. We can do things that matter. If we speak up, the University will often listen. Recently, UCS passed two resolutions — one urging for greater diversity in the faculty of science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments and the other urging the University to divest from major coal companies. The Residential Council moved the housing lottery online this year. UCS got bigger bowls in the Ratty.

If you want the University to divest from coal, if you want to ban controversial speakers from campus, if you want to live off campus as a junior or even if you are just tired of using only one-ply toilet paper, you should pay attention to UCS. We are the student voice in those decisions, and you can and should be a part of that. UCS can be your conduit to the ears of the administration. To voice your opinion every once and a while is all I ask — make sure to take the fall poll when it comes around and make sure to vote in the elections or come speak during community time in a UCS general body meeting.

 

 

Walker Mills ’15 was recently elected chair of Campus Life and welcomes any and all input related to issues of University dining, housing or safety.

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  1. '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

    yeah whatever happened to that two-ply TP campaign?

  2. wrong and dumb says:

    “I met with Senior Associate Dean of Residential and Dining Services Richard Bova to talk about housing issues”

    And Bova ignored you because he’s a tool.

    “But I also think we are lucky to go to a school where the administration cares deeply about what we have to say on many — though not all — issues.”

    This sentence takes the word “deeply” out behind the barn and shoots it in the head.

    “If students don’t take student government seriously, fail to get involved or take the opinion that UCS doesn’t matter, though, then the influence we have as a student body will dwindle.”

    Every bit of influence we have comes from groups that are not UCS. If you don’t have power you don’t have influence and if you’re not organized you don’t have power. UCS does not organize. Kid stuff, man.

    “The Residential Council moved the housing lottery online this year. UCS got bigger bowls in the Ratty.”

    That is your zenith.

    “UCS can be your conduit to the ears of the administration.”

    Screw administrators and screw their ears, too. They need to be scared of us, and it’s tough to scare administrators when they’re being ear-banged by student government.

    “To voice your opinion every once and a while is all I ask.”

    Ask more.

  3. You See Us? says:

    The issue is UCS is not a fully elected body. The general body members who cast the votes on UCS initiatives are not elected represented and thus not held responsible to the student body. From this, we get a student organization that rubber stamps Administration and Corporation as students join for the “opportunity” to meet with these University officials. UCS does not stand up to the Administration or Corporation for any sort of collective bargaining on behalf of students. That is why the crowning achievements are bigger cereal bowls and an online lottery system. That is why students do not believe UCS matters and remain apathetic to UCS.

  4. jumped the shark says:

    if you want to ban controversial speakers from campus

    If you can’t stand hearing things you disagree with at a university, you probably don’t deserve to be handed a diploma by one.

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