Posted April 20, 2016 by Cooper Point Journal in Community
 
 

G.S. Who?

Encouraging student involvement with Evergreen’s student government



By Asa Kowals Rose

It’s no secret that Evergreen students have their share of bold political aspirations. Even Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is trivial compared to the ambitious goals of campus communists and anarchists; some wish to see the abolition of borders, the elimination of capitalism, and an end to government as we know it. Between these grand schemes and more traditional forms of political involvement, Evergreen’s student body has more than earned its reputation as unapologetically political. In this environment it is surprising that many students seem to overlook the governing body whose explicit purpose it to represent their interests: the Geoduck Student Union (GSU).

The GSU is made up of representatives elected every spring quarter by Evergreen students; there are also elections fall quarter in order to elect representatives from each year’s new class of first-year students. Although the GSU constitution calls for a body of 21 representatives, the current Union only has 15 due to a lack of interested candidates. These representatives are responsible for conveying the interests and concerns of Evergreen students to the college’s administration and Board of Trustees. According to its webpage, GSU representatives “work to improve students’ quality of life by advocating for students rights and needs, facilitating communication among students, and ensuring a fair balance of power among faculty, staff, administration, and students.”

Representing student interests, however, is easier said than done. In order for this to happen, students must be engaged in their student government, and that government must exercise enough influence to make sure that those in power heed students’ concerns. In some cases, the former issue can depend on students’ perception of the latter. Evergreen students might simply assume that the GSU lacks any real power over student affairs, and decline to engage with the body out of apathy.

Although GSU’s power is understandably limited, it would be wrong to write it off as impotent. In fact, the GSU wields significant influence. According GSU Speaker Tyler Bieber, school administrators actively approaches the Union to solicit students’ opinions. “The administration comes to us with a great many issues,” said Bieber.

In addition to their collaboration with the administration, the GSU is responsible for deciding what gets put on student ballots each quarter. This typically involves new student fees that are levied periodically to fund campus services and building renovations. Bieber pointed to the recent issue of parking fees on campus as an example. Students allowed to vote on how to get Evergreen’s parking department out of debt, either by raising regular parking fees, paying an increased quarterly transportation fee, or abolishing the parking department and having its debts addressed with money from the college’s general budget. Student ballot measures like these tend to only be advisory votes, but they are nonetheless an important means by which students can have a say in campus affairs.

Many students, it seems, are unaware of the GSU’s role in these issues, and remain disengaged despite their financial stake the Union’s affairs. According to Bieber, it’s rare for students to attend meetings. “Typically, only representatives show up. In the past, we’ve had 3-5 concerned students show up in individual meetings,” the speaker conceded.

To its credit, the GSU does attempt to engage students through a variety of mediums. The Union does online outreach, posting on Facebook as well as Greener Commons. It also posts flyers around campus, and tables at on-campus events. These and other efforts are directed by the Union’s secretary, who currently acts as its chief media and engagement officer.

Bieber suggested that it can be difficult for GSU representatives to coordinate these efforts effectively given their limited schedules. “Representatives are expected to be [conducting GSU business] four hours a week. We can’t expect that representation of the student body is going to happen at a very sufficient level at four hours a week,” he pointed out. As part of a plan to better organize GSU operations, the body recently hired a new Executive Director to assist representatives in their duties. This position, now held by Evergreen senior Michael Kollen, takes on a more significant role in GSU affairs than do normal representatives. The Executive Director is expected to work for fifteen hours each week, rather than four; and whereas each representative might only focus on one specific project, the Executive Director takes on a more administrative role.

The GSU also plans to revamp their web presence. Currently, the body’s web content remains scattered across several disorganized and sometimes outdated sites. Reorganizing and updating online material would foster more transparency between the Union and the student body, and could potentially help to engage more students. Of course, this also depends on more students opting to get involved with the GSU.

Those who wish to get involved with the GSU have a number of opportunities to do so. Students are encouraged to attend meetings, held twice a week on Mondays from 3-5 p.m. in LIB 2205 and Wednesdays from 1:15-3 p.m. in CAB 301. The first hour of each meeting is reserved specifically for questions and comments from the general student body, giving attendees ample opportunity to have their concerns heard by the GSU. Students also have the opportunity to serve as a meeting’s chairperson, even if they aren’t themselves an elected representative. If a student wants to get further involved, they can sign up to run for election as a representative. Given the current number of vacancies on the Union, it’s unlikely that these elections will be highly competitive.

If students wish to contact the GSU leadership team directly they can email Speaker Tyler Bieber at gsuspeaker@gmail.com or Executive Director Michael Kollen at gsuexecutive@gmail.com.