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Participation in senate meetings are important to create sense of community

A paradox: I claim to be heavily invested in my community and care about school- wide decisions. But I have only been to two Senate meetings in my entire time at Guilford. Whoops.

My situation is common. Senate meetings have proportionately low attendance compared to the population of the traditional student body — about 1000 students compared to about 20 students at most weekly meetings. I’m no math major, but that’s around two percent of the students being heard. And those numbers do not add up.

There is, of course, one simple solution: more students attending Senate meetings. Students need to care more about their college in a practical way and be part of the decisions that affect them instead of just complaining about them to their close circles. However, as easy as it is to vaguely place the blame on “lazy” students, the situation is a lot more nuanced than that.

First, the issue of Senate attendance is not just increased numbers but increased representation. Students who attend Senate and the Senate Executive Board should make sure the people speaking on issues are the ones being affected by the discussions and decisions. For example, it’s important that transgender students can speak on the issue of gender inclusive restrooms. Creating an inviting space where new people feel welcomed is necessary for making sure more voices are heard in a fair and representative way.

More direct, word-of-mouth outreach, especially to first-years, is one way to achieve this.

First-year Zach Schaefer says that they are interested in student government but didn’t know about Senate until junior and Vice President Lesly Vasquez invited them to attend. Since then, Schaefer has attended every Senate meeting this year and feels that more students should attend. “You have no reason to complain about the administration unless you’re taking an active role to engage with them,” Schaefer said.

Some responsibility also lies not in the individual student but in the members of Senate and the way meetings are structured. Rashad Clark, a junior, regularly attends Senate meetings and believes some students, especially first-years, might be intimidated by Senate meetings or might have the wrong impression about what it is.

There are a whole host of reasons far more legitimate than laziness for why a student might not attend Senate: the scheduling, sacrificing an hour of homework time on a school night, social anxiety or not feeling safe or welcomed to name a few.

Sophomore and Senate Secretary Celene Warren says that this year’s Executive board is working to increase attendance through incentive systems and advertising, which is certainly a step in the right direction. One thing she wants people to know is that the board tries to be as welcoming and accessible as possible.

Another issue that might be harder to solve is that some people are just jaded with the process. There’s a demand for faster results that Senate just can’t provide.

“Most people know it’s going to be an ongoing discussion,” Clark said. “It can be frustrating if it feels like we’re just giving ideas and not doing anything.”

Sure, it can be difficult and may not always be the most exciting part of the week, but if students claim to care about their school, then they need to attend Senate meetings. The Senate Executive Board is making changes to encourage people to attend, and while there’s still improvement needed on this system, we as the student body need to meet them halfway: in the Founders Lounge at 7 p.m. on Mondays.

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