Participating in elections offers path to improving campus life

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Student Government President Kevin Helgren and Vice President Binna Kim participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the MindBody Lab in the Student Activity Center on Nov. 28, 2016.
Photo Credit: Alissa Jae Lazo-Kim | Daily Texan Staff

Do we feel like we’re being ousted too soon? Of course we do — and we’re getting really emotional about it. At any rate, with campuswide elections just around the corner, we want to take a few minutes of your time to do three things: Thank you, inform you and encourage you.

First and foremost, thank you. Thank you for supporting us, thank you for challenging us and thank you for believing in us. Serving as your student body president and vice president has been one of the most humbling and transformative experiences of our lives, and we are so grateful for each and every one of you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Now, we could spend the next few paragraphs talking about what we’ve accomplished since taking office — which we’ll do closer to the end of the semester, just for good measure — but we’ll settle for the highlights in the meantime. We brought a new MindBody Lab to the SAC, we created and institutionalized the Campus Climate Advisory Board and the Interpersonal Violence Coalition, we brought golf carts to SURE Walk and helped launch the BeSafe campaign, we secured free parking for all prospective students and families who take campus tours through the Office of Admissions and so much more.

Beyond the tangible change we’ve been able to bring to campus, we’ve also been asked to swing at a lot of curveballs: A tragic homicide that unfolded on our campus three days after being sworn in, a ruling on the affirmative action case and the insensitive bake sale that followed, the implementation of campus carry, which coincided with the fifty-year anniversary of the Tower shooting and an emotionally charged presidential election that has, in recent months, been accompanied by hateful rhetoric and discriminatory policies.

Lastly, we’ve tried our very best to spark a change in the organizational culture that so often characterizes Student Government by bringing warm, welcoming personalities to these positions. Qualitative change is difficult to measure; however, we’ve continued to create an open-minded, inclusive campus environment by hosting Story Nights surrounding issues like race, mental health and interpersonal violence. We also share jokes with the
 Assembly on Tuesday nights. Well, Kevin does. They’re not always funny, but he tries his best.

All good things must come to an end, though, and our terms as student body president and vice president are no exception. With just under two full months left in office and in light of the impending campuswide elections, we implore you to take an active role in campus politics. Engagement is crucial at all levels of government — including the campus level — and opportunities to do so are all around. Run your own campaign in an effort to achieve a Student Government that is truly representative of the student body and not of hyper-involved students who occupy small pockets of our campus. Do your research before casting your vote by reaching out to candidates, attending debates and analyzing the feasibility of their platforms. And lastly, hold your elected representatives accountable. After the smoke has settled, join members of the executive and legislative branches of Student Government at their weekly meetings Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. in SAC 2.302 and ask them about the extent to which they’ve made progress on their campaign promises. They owe you transparency.

Contrary to what some of you may believe, Student Government has the capacity to effect a great deal of positive change on our campus. By overseeing hefty budgets, appointing students to the University’s most important and influential committees and meeting frequently with administrators in decision-making seats, Student Government representatives play a direct role in conversations that go on to affect the student experience on all levels. Representation is important.

Your opinions, desires and concerns are valid, and your voice truly does matter. So take a proactive role in shaping your own student experience by electing representatives you believe in.

Helgren is a senior studying neuroscience and psychology. He serves as the student body president. Kim is a senior studying marketing. She serves as the student body vice president.