Change begins with your vote

By Roy Ribitzky

Student voices are a mere whisper these days.

Using our collective voice and influence on this campus is vital to continuing reform here at the University of Massachusetts. For three days beginning Sept. 28, the Student Government Association will hold elections for its student representatives. It is imperative that we all take the 20 seconds to vote in support of our fellow students in order to develop a more unified student body.

I was one of those students who thought the SGA was a joke. I actually never heard of it until the end of freshman year, despite the fact that I was a community leader using funds from the SGA to support community building initiatives. I found myself split between having no respect for the SGA and seeing it as a window of opportunity.

I kept on having to make sure I was living in the 21st century during the online voting debates. Should we have online voting or not? The fact that it was even a question was outrageous. In the era of Facebook, digital voting in national elections, e-mail, and BlackBerry messaging, I was irritated by the fact that some individuals felt that a mere voting process on Campus Pulse would hinder the ability of the SGA to actually do something on campus. After the initiative passed, voter turnout was discouragingly low. Is it all that surprising? Students were laughing at the pointless debates taking precedent over the real issues. I don’t want to say I lost hope – it’s not like I had any to begin with. I was more disappointed in the divisiveness and lackluster performance of our SGA.

Interestingly, it was a campus tragedy that got me thinking that the SGA could actually turn things around with the right people in place. It got me thinking that perhaps power truly does lie within the student body, and that the administration can work with us as opposed to just above us.

The Boston Globe printed an article about how an admitted rapist avoided virtually any punishment from the UMass administration. This tapped into a wide spectrum of feelings and emotions, which are still felt today. I wrote an editorial in the Collegian about what we, as students, could do to change the campus culture of violence. One of the e-mails I received was from a senator in the SGA. He told me how he had been trying to get a student-run committee to look into ways to end sexual assaults on campus for about a year, but that he wasn’t gaining traction.

While that group is now winding down, many of the members are a part of the Catalysts for Campus Culture Change, which was just officially charged by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jean Kim. This committee is made up of faculty, staff, SGA members, and, most importantly, students.

What does this have to do with voting for SGA representatives exactly? I am using this story to show that when the right people are elected, we the students gain a powerful voice in the administration. Jean Kim specifically invited students to this committee. While it was a tragedy that caused us to move forward, it happened, nonetheless. While this is an extreme case, this is still an example of average students working with the SGA to advise Whitmore. This is the change we need on campus, and the only way to get there is for all of us to vote.

In an ideal situation, let’s say that 10,000 students vote this month. That roughly represents the majority of on-campus residents. When that newly inaugurated senator goes into a meeting with the Vice Chancellor or Dean of Students with a proposal to cut textbook prices, or plans to help create new residence halls, or ways to curb students from falling behind in school, the administrator will know that he/she has thousands of students backing him/her.

In other words, our voices cannot go unheard.

We know two things: barely anyone bothers to vote in SGA elections, and that with the right mix of people the student body can achieve significant clout in our community. While these elections have nothing to do with national taxation or war, these elections are about creating a bright future for UMass. I am often skeptical of new policies the administration devises, especially if no students are involved in their crafting. That being said, students must work in conjunction with the administration or else everyone loses.

I have two years left at UMass. I figure if significant changes in the SGA occur, I will be graduated before they are fully implemented. The current class of freshmen and future students will be here to witness the improvements, however. At some point, perhaps even our younger siblings or our own children might go here. That project the SGA worked on with students and administrators might become reality. I won’t try to make these elections bigger than they are, but I will point to the importance of having a voice.

If anything, students need to play a major role in the remodeling of UMass. We are the game changer UMass has been looking for, and the game starts on Sept. 28.

Roy Ribitzky is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]