The Student Association Senate’s creation of a task force to explore the state of pre-health advising at Rice has drawn some attention to the purpose of the SA in recent weeks. Since this bill has passed and a number of people have already opined on the subject, I do not think it productive to wade into this debate. Instead, since it is a little over halfway through our term, I want to clarify how the SA operates and evaluate what more we can do.
First and foremost, the SA exists to give every student the opportunity to shape the undergraduate experience. To this goal, we fund blanket tax organizations, administer a campus wide initiative fund and advocate for student interests inside and outside the hedges. Each year, these initiatives touch all aspects of the undergraduate experience, from student life to well-being to academics.
In order to increase the efficacy of our advocacy, we often form committees and task forces to explore a given topic in greater depth. These groups are given a narrow charge, such as studying the experiences of low income students on campus, but they work in coordination with other SA initiatives. The narrow scope simply acknowledges that we must set realistic objectives given our term of less than one year.
Every initiative the SA sponsors inherently services a certain interest. Sponsoring a singular initiative that would adequately further all aspects of the Rice experience is impossible. That fact is precisely why we have a central SA, to help coordinate these various efforts. Whether we are talking about last year’s Critical Thinking in Sexuality program, the Rice Education of Future initiative or recent initiatives related to low income and first generation accessibility, a specific interest is inherently being pushed. With all of these initiatives, one can ask why we are prioritizing sexual assault prevention over the more general goal of student wellbeing, or why we are prioritizing first generation accessibility over accessibility for all students. We need to address these larger concerns in smaller pieces, or we would get nothing done. To say the SA should not simply serve special interest groups grossly simplifies and misunderstands the purpose of the SA, its structure and the initiatives it pursues.
The student body should be holding us responsible for our actions and should be pushing us to do more. I am excited we are having disagreements about the type of initiatives the SA should be sponsoring and I encourage more people to participate in the process. Vigorous debate and disagreement only stands to make our ideas stronger and encourage broader community buy-in to our conversations. But I also want to ensure we are being judicious in our evaluations of initiatives. Since many senators and college presidents are still looking for campus-wide projects to take on, it seems misguided to criticize the few initiatives that have been proposed simply because there may be better initiatives out there. We still have plenty of capacity and time to pursue further change. The only question is, what should we tackle next?