ASCH: Effective student self-governance requires more education

In order to be stewards of U.Va., students must engage with organizations on Grounds

op-StudCo-CourtesyUVAStudentCouncil

An educated constituency is essential to the success of student self-governance.

Courtesy University of Virginia Student Council

One of the many notable aspects about the University is the tradition of student self-governance. At the University, there are several student groups tasked with carrying out various functions, such as the Honor Committee, University Judiciary Committee, the University Programs Council and Student Council. It is easy to imagine first-year students being overwhelmed by the sheer number of different student organizations and their responsibilities when they arrive on Grounds. Because the University has such a proud tradition of student self-governance, it is important that students be informed about these organizations before they step foot on Grounds. At the start of their first year, students are already required to complete a series of modules which will help them transition to life at the University, so it is imperative that we add education about the student organizations tasked with running very prominent segments of the University.

Having a module to educate incoming first-years about prominent councils and groups on Grounds is important because there are so many that have a lot of different responsibilities. For example, until this year I didn’t know there was a Library Council, and I still have no idea what they do. Also, I am just now learning about how the different committees in Student Council function. For these programs to be as effective as possible, students need to be informed about their functions before they come to Grounds. This will not only help facilitate student decision making processes about which organizations to join, but it will also ensure students have the knowledge base they need to engage with the organizations which help run the University.

Additionally, it is imperative we expand knowledge about these organizations due to the fact that they are given a lot of responsibility. UPC is responsible for creating and organizing a lot of programming for the student body, including the recent “puppies and pumpkins” event. Student Council has a relatively large budget and is tasked with passing legislation to improve students’ lives on Grounds. Perhaps the best example of student self-governance is Honor, which has the power to remove students from the University. Despite a lack of awareness, these student organizations have shaped students’ time on Grounds and have their hand in nearly everything that students do. Through these powerful organizations, students are given immense power to shape the University and make their mark. It is essential that students know how to navigate these organizations before they arrive here.

Hopefully, improving student education about these organizations will increase student involvement and also increase student participation in student elections. Generally, voter participation for student elections has been low. Voter participation is likely lacking because people do not know who they are voting for, what these organizations do or what these individuals can accomplish in their positions. By preparing students for self-governance before they arrive on Grounds, the University would ensure that more students become cognizant of the role of these organizations and take the power that they have to make change seriously.  

An educated constituency is essential to the success of student self-governance. Students are the constituents of the various sub-governments at the University. In order for governments to be effective, constituents need to be better informed, likely leading to more engaged students. Students do not necessarily need to be constantly aware of every development that occurs within these organizations, but a baseline level of general awareness would be beneficial. This awareness is especially important because these organizations function using money from the student activities fee paid by all students. For students to be the most effective as members of the University, educating them about what these organizations do is necessary. It is ironic that Thomas Jefferson placed so much emphasis on civic education throughout his life, but his University does not try to educate students about the institutions which govern us. In order to be effective stewards of this University, we must push for a new module to educate new students about these organizations. By doing so, the University administration would ensure students have the knowledge to govern themselves. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com

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