We set out to make Student Government a more relevant, transparent and impactful organization under the collaborative philosophy of “together students can.” On the campaign trail, we promised to advocate for affordability, reform Student Government, improve legislative accessibility, promote social justice, improve city relations, increase freshmen representation and pursue environmental sustainability. With the help of the hardworking student leaders in SG this year, we accomplished all of our goals and then some.
Critics claim that SG does not work for students. This year, we proved them wrong by producing tangible results during a historic crisis for our institution. At a time when it is increasingly difficult for students to afford a quality education at UT, we reduced our own stipends to create a $4,000 Executive Board Scholarship, revamped the appropriations process in order to appropriate more than $21,000 in funds to a more diverse array of organizations than ever before and distributed more than $30,000 in scholarships. We understood the impact of textbook costs and worked with the University Co-op to launch the textbook rental program in the same way we looked for ways to cut costs off campus and laid the groundwork for a citywide student discount program.
We faced the potential loss of the E-Bus service, increased presence of parking meters in West Campus and lackluster representation of students in important city issues such as transportation and housing. We responded by establishing the Mayor’s Student Advisory Council, offering UT students the opportunity to give input. With the help of knowledgeable representatives in the assembly, we delayed the West Campus parking meter proposal indefinitely, secured a student seat on the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee and worked on a publicity campaign with Capital Metro to promote proper E-Bus behavior to preserve the service.
And to directly address the criticism that SG was an insider-only institution that wastes student fees, we authored the most comprehensive reform in SG history. With the consolidation, elimination and reconstruction of agencies, we were able to cut wasteful spending and increase avenues of student involvement in SG with a new, tiered leadership structure. And for the first time, freshmen will be able to participate as representatives in the assembly by way of an annual special election in the fall.
We worked with various campus entities to establish the Green Fund Committee so that monies collected from the new Green Fee have the proper oversight to fund effective sustainability projects. We worked with students and university officials to help make UT a smoke-free campus and a more inclusive one both by establishing the sale of discounted breast pumps for student parents and by making significant changes to university policies affecting GLBT-identified faculty and staff with the new soft benefits working group commissioned by President Powers at our urging.
We tackled the bureaucratic process of contracting student talent to overhaul the SG website to make the site more informative and accessible to students, the final product of which will be launched in the coming weeks. When students expressed concerns about the lack of student involvement in the University’s budgeting discourse, we worked with the Senate of College Councils to create the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Councils to increase the student voice in the budgeting process. We altered the function of the Student Services Budget Committee by spearheading the creation of two new student seats — one guaranteed for a graduate student and the other reserved for the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee’s at-large student representative — reallocating $1.2 million back into SSBC reserves and prioritizing units like the Counseling and Mental Heath Center whose demand far outweighs their supply.
For far too long, SG leaders worked in isolation without mobilizing the incredible resource that is our talented and diverse student body. Our proudest examples of collaboration and student empowerment were our Hook the Vote and Invest in Texas campaigns. Between the two initiatives, we collaborated with well over 40 student organizations, including an unprecedented alliance with the Senate of College Councils and Graduate Student Assembly. We registered more than 5,000 students to vote in a 14-hour-long registration drive. We marched a diverse coalition of hundreds of students to the Capitol on multiple occasions to urge lawmakers to keep UT safe, competitive and affordable. We know that even after we are gone, we have set up the infrastructure for thousands of students after us to participate in the legislative process and be influential during session.
It is our sincere hope that our work will renew students’ faith in Student Government. We hope the newly elected SG administration will forge ahead and build upon the framework of transparency, effectiveness and collaboration we’ve provided. As we reflect on our terms in office, we can at least be certain of one thing — together, students did.
<em>Parks and Kabir are the outgoing SG president and vice president.<em/>