In his first few weeks as a freshman ASG senator last year, Aaron Zelikovich asked the ASG Executive Board how to go about getting students rally towels for football games. ASG members got Zelikovich in touch with key people to design, manufacture and pay for the project. And within a couple months, free “spirit towels” were distributed at a pre-game tailgate.
That, according to Speaker of the Senate Wilson Funkhouser, is what ASG Senate is all about – identifying an issue, taking initiative and forging the relevant connections among people to figure out “how to get it done.”
“There’s no room at NU for lone rangers,” Funkouser said. “[ASG has] spent years cultivating relationships with student groups, the administration, Norris Center for Student Involvement and members of the Evanston community.”
Despite increasing criticism across campus that ASG has little effect on Northwestern student issues, ASG officials maintain that most of their initiatives do, in fact, make a difference – even if overlooked.
Fresh faces will soon get the chance to attempt to prove the naysayers wrong, as candidates from dorms and residential colleges are currently battling in elections in preparation for the first Senate meeting on Oct. 12.
Candidates’ campaigns this year have generated great enthusiasm for ASG, said Parliamentarian Jill Grewe, who oversees the election process in residential colleges and halls.
“There’s awesome competition going on in Willard and Elder especially,” Grewe said. “There are flyers all over the walls, and I’ve been getting emails from many candidates asking how they can make the most of their campaigns. It’s great to see that people are interested in ASG.”
Residence hall representatives comprise 15 of all 51 Senate seats. Eight senators represent off-campus dwellers, 12 are from Greek houses and 16 more hail from various student groups. Off-campus senators are appointed via an application and interview process through an ASG committee, while fraternity and sorority representatives are selected separately by various on-campus Greek organizations.
The selection process for student group senators was reformatted this year, Grewe said. All club presidents were required to apply for a Senate seat and encouraged to co-apply with similar groups.
“For example, it made sense for A&O, Mayfest and Niteskool to apply for a seat together,” Grewe said. “They have similar goals, can form a coalition, aligning ideas, and can communicate them to Senate through one representative. This way, more groups can be represented.”
ASG meetings – each Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Norris – begin with senators proposing and debating new legislation. Legislation, not just restricted to proposal by senators, is then voted upon the following week.
Senators belong to one of four caucuses: Greek, Off-Campus, Residential Housing Association and Residential College Board, or the Student Group Caucus. The caucuses meet weekly to not only debate issues pertaining to each group, but also formulate new legislation.
While many students think ASG is “worthless,” Zelikovich said, he and other officials maintain that most of its work is done behind the scenes – outside of weekly meetings.
“Student government does a lot of great things for students on a daily basis that they don’t realize,” Zelikovich said. “Some of the great things that ASG was responsible for this past year was Big Bite Night, renovation of Tech Library and better Wi-Fi service.”
Other initiatives include initiating the Book Swap, supporting the Living Wage Campaign and buying extra water for Dillo Day attendees, Funkhouser said, adding that ASG is not just high school student government.
“We don’t just sit around and plan the prom,” Funkhouser said. “Prom does require a lot of work, but we are a student government that, in addition to allocating about $1.2 million to all student groups, has a whole lot of sway with what goes on at Northwestern.”
Whether Northwestern students agree has yet to be seen. But if one thing is certain, it’s that this year’s Senators are in for a challenge – either to maintain ASG’s behind-the-scenes sway or to prove the body’s critics wrong.