Some brief information, before I get started: Komal Luthra, a member of the Student Association executive team, brought this bill forward to create a small task force to investigate the state of pre-health advising at Rice. In my opinion, though, Komal presented this legislation not as an executive on the SA, but as a pre-health student who wants to help improve something she cares about. After much discussion and debate, it was finally passed two weeks ago (you can read more about it in the Thresher article from that week).
The first thing I want to say is that this bill’s controversial nature makes it valuable. Even as a relatively minor piece of legislation, the fact that it has been so polarizing forces the community and the SA to inspect and dissect the situation. What is going on in this process and legislation that has caused such disagreement to build, and how will the SA learn and grow from this? I’m glad we are asking these questions and discussing this aspect of our Student Association.
After personally reflecting upon this bill and discussing it with others, I realized that this bill has rustled up so many differing opinions because it represents a question central to the spirit of student government: Should the government only act in representing the aggregate of the student body, or should it be available as an advocacy channel for specific interest groups on campus?
This question is difficult for anyone to answer, including me. Consequently, I had to take another step back and investigate the SA’s overarching priorities. The Student Association Constitution begins with a statement of purpose: a seven-part mission statement that I believe superbly encompasses our highest priorities as undergraduate students. The third part, which states that the Student Association shall be “to provide a forum for the expression of student views and interests,” almost answers the question for me. The mission also states the SA should “enhance the value of the Rice University experience” and should “provide channels of communication and cooperation among all parts of the student body.” Nowhere does it state we should solely focus on the grander aspects of student life. Nowhere does it limit the SA to only making decisions that benefit the entire student population.
I voted for this legislation because I also want to create the best Rice experience for as many people as I can. That goal is better achieved if we create a culture in the SA that encourages students to come forward with their ideas to improve the community around them. I want to be a member of a student association that will support and assist students who want to enhance the aspect of Rice about which they are most passionate. If the SA limits itself to only supporting legislation that affects the entire student body or concerns issues the entire student body feels is important to them, it also limits its ability to be a beneficial force of change for undergraduates at Rice campus. We must use every resource we have to make Rice as great as we can, and nothing less. The next time a student seeks SA support in a personal endeavor to create a better Rice, I will be prepared to back them.