Last Friday, the Editorial Page Board wrote about student engagement with the Undergraduate council of Students after The Herald released its undergraduate student poll results, which reported that just over half of undergrad students held no opinion of the council.
While students surely have a responsibility to engage with elected leadership in UCS, this engagement is a two-way street. We again applaud the council’s recent efforts to connect with students, which constitute a step in the right direction, but these measures are not enough. If the objective of the student council is to “actively and authentically pursue student interests,” UCS must do more to turn student feedback into tangible changes, while remaining transparent with students on the council’s progress on various initiatives.
In recent months, UCS has shown an interest in collecting student feedback, but we struggle to identify how this feedback is informing the council’s agenda. For instance, when Jason Carroll ’21 ran for vice president, his platform included an extensive list of very specific objectives, such as advocating for need-blind admissions for international students, eliminating the dirty water coming from campus taps, introducing Saturday appointments at Counseling and Psychological Services and bringing an emergency contraception vending machine to campus. We applaud Carroll for the specificity of these goals and his passion for them. To us, his success in the election indicates that his platform resonated with students across campus. But, we cannot tell how much the council has progressed on implementing these goals — no information on the council’s efforts to tackle such initiatives seems readily available on its website. UCS has also not updated its website to include any committee-specific initiatives occurring this year, which could admittedly overlap with Carroll’s aims.
In comparison, UCS President Will Zhou’s ’20 platform revolved around a smaller, yet more abstract set of goals. While this may indicate that his objectives are more feasible to accomplish, their vague nature prevents the student body from being able to clearly evaluate the progress he has made on these goals. In a conversation with The Herald, Zhou said his platform’s main three points were: increasing funding and support for student groups and communities, especially those that are identity-based; making UCS more inclusive and proactive; and holding the University to “higher transparency, equity, and accountability” standards. Like Carroll’s platform, it’s difficult for us to identify to what extent the council has progressed in achieving Zhou’s campaign promises.
And, ultimately, addressing a vast number of disparate and abstract goals through policy-making is difficult, if not impossible. We propose that the council — particularly its president and vice president — should create a cohesive and realistic action plan with tangible objectives. Such a plan should consider the senior leadership team’s campaign promises and incorporate the recent feedback that the council has collected through its new student engagement measures. The council should then share this plan with the undergraduate student body.
Avenues exist for UCS to hold itself accountable to executing its goals and to give the student body regular updates on its work. Specifically, UCS should take advantage of the multiple digital tools at its disposal. Though they may seem small, the following steps could drastically improve student awareness of the council’s accomplishments and of opportunities to engage with the organization. First, the council should promote each general body meeting in Today@Brown, a daily email that 71 percent of undergraduates open. Second, UCS needs to update its website. The council appears to provide regular updates on its Facebook page, but its website does not offer a holistic and updated picture of the council’s work. Certain committees highlight their work from previous years without listing their current objectives and ongoing projects. Other committees just offer a broad description of their function within the council. These webpages offer valuable space for the council to both acknowledge and credit members for their ongoing work, while telling students how their perspectives are informing the student government’s agenda.
Last, given the council’s push to interact more with students, it should consider publishing a record of frequently-occurring, relevant complaints that it receives from students about campus life — such as the lack of water filling stations in dorms. Put together, these initial steps will facilitate the council’s transparency and assure students that their perspectives matter as UCS accomplishes its goals.
But most crucially, we hope that the student leadership of UCS will soon recognize the full potential of its platform, leveraging its access and influence to implement meaningful change on campus. As we’ve mentioned previously, we have seen UCS work at its best during moments like when the council’s leadership permanently changed campus admissions by leading the charge to waive application fees for low-income students applying to Brown. But crucially, UCS did not do this alone. In addition to the council’s partnership with First-Gens@Brown to co-write the proposal, then President Viet Nguyen ’17 worked strategically with national media outlets and first-generation student groups at peer institutions to rally support around the issue and place pressure on University administrators. In leveraging the press to draw public attention to the issue, Nguyen compellingly used a powerful office in student government to translate an ambitious goal into measurable and visible change. And we have most recently seen this form of work when UCS successfully campaigned to reduce the minimum for GET deposits from $20 to $10. We hope that the council will continue to honor this tradition and choose to narrow its focus to a few, specific issues of particular importance to the undergrad student community and serve as a champion, like Nguyen, for these causes to ensure that institutional change is achieved.
But ultimately we feel deeply that UCS has the potential to have a lasting and memorable impact on campus. We implore UCS to continue the strides it has already begun toward greater student engagement and to implement tangible goals that resonate with the student community.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Grace Layer ’20 and Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Dylan Tian ’21, Eduard Muñoz-Suñé ’20, Jonathan Douglas ’20, and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments to email@example.com.