Imagine you have a problem at Northwestern. You’re worried that you might get evicted from your off-campus apartment. You’re concerned that you pay too much for your meal plan. You’re upset that Northwestern hasn’t taken a strong enough stance on promoting sustainability.
What do you do about it?
Ideally, students should seek their ASG senator. Senate should be the vehicle to vocalize the issues we care about as students. Senate should be the forum where our voices are heard, and where students feel comfortable and confident articulating their concerns. Senate should holistically portray the diverse interests of Northwestern students.
But in reality, this doesn’t happen. Most students don’t find Senate relevant. Many don’t even know what Senate is. And because of this, Senate fails to truly represent students.
Since serving as a freshman senator for Allison Hall, I have witnessed this firsthand over the past four years. Despite working to make Senate more accountable and effective, the underlying issue still persists: Senate, in its current form, does not fulfill this role for students.
As a result, to truly evaluate Senate as a representative body, ASG recently created an ad hoc committee composed of student group leaders, ASG senators, and executive board members. This diverse group of individuals brought a critical set of eyes to what Senate’s fundamental problems are.
We identified three key problems:
1. An overlap in represented constituencies: In the current system, some students are represented by several senators, while others are only represented through just one.
2. A lack of legitimacy: With low attendance and frequent vacancies, it is clear that Senate is not seen as a legitimate body on campus.
3. A lack of quality content being discussed: Legislation too often focuses on internal matters – it is rarely used as a vehicle to discuss pressing campus needs.
We brainstormed all possible solutions to these problems, approaching them as if we were building a representative body, customized to Northwestern’s unique needs, from the ground up.
Our recommendations to solve these problems are:
1. To cut down the size of Senate: We recommend reducing the number of senators from 49 to 20. Fewer seats would allow for active participation by all senators and make seats more valuable, as well.
2. To have senators be chosen through “at-large” campus-wide elections: With open elections not tied to any specific constituencies, this would allow for students to choose what issues and interests are most important to them. Additionally, campus-wide elections would increase the level of competition and quality of senators.
These recommendations are not final — they are just the beginning. We want the student body to weigh in, and provide input about the best way that the student voice can be represented at Northwestern. If more students participate we will be more able to create a system that best suits all students’ needs. Please join us for a forum this Thursday at 6PM in the Lake Room.