The Cavalier Daily
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Forum for the community

AS A FOURTH year, when coming upon the last few weeks before graduation, I'm beginning to think about all the things that I didn't do during my four years at the University. I really begin to see all this place has to offer and wonder why I did not notice it and take advantage of it while I could. Last week, I saw something for the first time in four years and wished that I had known about it before.

That thing is the community concerns portion of the weekly Student Council meeting. Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at community concerns on a bill Council was debating later in the evening. While listening to other speakers who went before me, I began to think what a great idea it was to have an open forum for students, faculty, administrators and the Charlottesville community in general where individuals or groups could express their thoughts and feelings. Each of these groups often feels separated from student leaders who make decisions around Grounds and the community concerns portion is a perfect forum to voice opinions in a first person, constructive manner.

Unfortunately, according to Adam Swann, Council executive vice president, students don't take advantage of community concerns as much as they could. He says that most students only show up when a big issue is before Council and that community members outside the student body rarely show. Community concerns is a great opportunity for students and adults to exchange ideas and express opinions and is something that both students and adults could benefit from if they attended regularly.

Representatives' peers choose Student Council members from the student body, but in a school of about 12,000 undergraduates, getting to know your school's Council representatives - or president for that matter - can be difficult. When you have a concern, finding that person and approaching him with that concern is a daunting task and may be difficult for busy students. Community concerns solves those problems.

A student or group of students with a concern can find all the Council members they need right in Newcomb Hall on Tuesday nights. Better yet, the meeting atmosphere cancels out other distractions and lets Council members concentrate directly on the students speaking. Council members also can ask questions of the speaker to clarify to better understand the student's needs.

At an ideal university, the relationship between the administration and students would be a close one that addresses the concerns of both while fostering a positive environment. In reality, this doesn't always happen and lines of communication between faculty and students can become blurred. Community concerns is a wonderful place for faculty members and administrators to voice their cheers and jeers to the body that represents all students. With lines of communication clearly open between the faculty and student representatives, Council will be able to work for the students and with the faculty better.

The Charlottesville and University communities often butt heads when it comes to students living, working and playing in the areas surrounding the University. The relationship between students and Charlottesville residents can be stressed at times, but community concerns can help to relieve that. If Charlottesville community members came to voice their opinions to Council, the representatives even could be more clued in to what they need to do to ensure that University students function with the surrounding community in mind. Community concerns from local citizens can give Council even more information on what students can do to better integrate the University into the community and Council can pass proposals or fund new groups to see that this happens.

I wish that in my four years at the University, I had spoken at community concerns more than just my one time last week. When I did take advantage of this unique aspect of Council, however, I felt that I was able to make an impact on the inner-workings of student self-governance at the University. Not every student has to be a member of Council to participate and make a difference. Making a difference can mean getting involved with a group or just making sure that those students who have chosen to be involved do their job with the best interests of students at heart. Students who can't give their time in the former capacity most certainly should give their time in the latter. They can do that at community concerns.

In a few short weeks, I will be graduating, knowing I accomplished a lot at the University, but feeling that I could have done more. Every fourth year probably feels this way as graduation approaches, but no one has to. Go to the Council meeting tonight in Newcomb Hall. Get up and say something - you'll be glad you did.

(Erin Perucci's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at eperucci@cavalierdaily.com.)

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