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SUBU's popularity fades with time

In the spring of 2006, a group of students formed the Student Union of Brown University, intended as a democratic forum for members to air their concerns about University policy. The group grew quickly, attracting 400 members in its first semester and 150 more the next fall.

But just two years later SUBU has effectively disappeared, with former members citing an overly ambitious agenda and the inevitably fleeting nature of student involvement.

"Basically, SUBU's not really doing too much these days," said Will Emmons '09, one of the non-hierarchical group's original organizers. The organization has not held a meeting this year, he said. Last spring's meeting was canceled because it did not attract enough students for a self-imposed quorum of 1 percent of the student body, or 59 students.

The group was originally founded as a large-scale forum for student voices and interests, Emmons said.

"I think the original impetus behind trying to organize SUBU was (that) we wanted to find a way to build a mechanism that would harness student voices," Emmons said. "SUBU was kind of envisioned as a collective democratic voice for students to impact the university."

Alex Tye '10, another organizer, explained that the student union was founded largely as a response to the Undergraduate Council of Students.

"A lot of us had been kind of disappointed by the job that UCS was doing in representing students, and up to that point, UCS had kind of a monopoly on being the way students had represented themselves," he said.

But Michael Glassman '09, who was UCS president last year when the student union was still active, said the group's position as an alternative to the bureaucracy of UCS may have contributed to its own eventual dissolution.

"I went to a (SUBU) meeting, and they spent so much time going over codes and rules, which is a complaint people have with UCS," Glassman said. "So when people saw that, I think they lost interest."

"People seemed really excited about the idea, but it's hard to keep up that momentum." Glassman said.

Tye and Emmons also said that after such a visible beginning, it was simply difficult for the group to maintain its momentum.

"Organizing SUBU was a bold task," Emmons said.

Tye said the student union's ambitious goals required a level of attention that may simply have been unsustainable.

"For the entire time it was around, SUBU was in the phase where it required a lot of attention from people," he said. "It was trying to be a really large group, which meant that it required a lot of participation from a lot of people."

When a core of active members graduated or left to study abroad, many of the group's remaining members began directing their activism energy to other radical groups on campus, especially Students for a Democratic Society, he said.

"After so many people graduated, the original organizing crew folded ourselves into SDS and other groups," Emmons said. He added that the fundamental values and goals of the two groups were similar.

"The vision that inspired people to join SUBU - making student voices heard - has gone on to be really central to all the work that SDS does on campus," he said.

Tye said he himself was less loyal to the student union as an organization than he was to groups he had been involved in earlier.

"For me personally, as someone who was involved less and less with the organizing aspects of it over time, it just wasn't in the same category to me as something like SDS," he said.

Despite the group's dissolution, Emmons and Tye are proud of what it accomplished in its brief time on campus.

"We did facilitate a good amount of dialogue on campus," Emmons said.

Glassman also credited the group for inspiring conversation and applauded its members for trying to influence university life. "Here's this group of people excited about working on campus issues," he said. "It was exciting to see."



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