What types of legislation does Senate pass?
Senate passes legislation that specifically deals with changing the academic experience here at UT. So anything relating to courses, registration, schedules, curriculum, and then also anything on the periphery of academics that impacts how a student may perform academically, like creating a new major or minor, is within our purview.
How does Senate work with individual colleges and councils?
Senate features 21 college councils that each represent the student bodies of their individual colleges in our assembly, including both undergraduate and graduate colleges. We work directly with them, first by forming our collaborative legislative assembly where all initiatives brought through Senate are approved or denied by every single one of the councils through a voting process. Those councils are also able to submit their own legislation on behalf of their college, which will be reviewed by the other college councils.
And then on a more personal level, we just coordinate things like events, publicity and even socials to make sure that all of the colleges are working together to help promote each other’s activities and support each other’s attempts at positive change here at UT.
What makes for a positive working relationship between Senate and the colleges?
I believe that a positive working relationship between Senate and the colleges comes down to whether or not Senate is actively responding to the concerns, issues, and ideas brought up by the colleges. Our assembly is made up of the college councils, and we are supposed to be serving those voices directly, so if there’s a college that feels as though they have not had their concerns heard throughout a year, that means Senate is not forming a productive working relationship with them. To me, it means a lot of direct communication, not only on our legislative initiatives, but on everything that internal Senate is doing as a University-wide representative organization, and how it corresponds to the individual college-based things that the councils are putting on. And then also making sure that in all the interactions Senate has with university administration, that we are constantly keeping councils up-to-date.
What are some of Senate’s general goals for the upcoming year?
Some of our general goals for the upcoming year are, first, expanding our outreach. In years past, Senate hasn’t had any sort of institutional way of getting feedback from groups outside of student governance — so if you weren’t a college council, Senate really wasn’t representing your voice as directly as we could be. So this year, that goes into a lot of changing how our communication and legislative systems work in all of our events and policy initiatives. We’re reaching out to student organizations outside the LSO (legislative student organization) circle to find out how specific groups of students feel about the initiatives we’re undertaking, whether we’re undertaking the correct initiatives, and how we can access perspectives that we wouldn’t have otherwise heard.
We’re also focused on making the legislative process more transparent and collaborative, both between the college councils and Senate, and the general student body and Senate, in ways like including more council voices in the conversations we have and publicizing our legislation more on a regular basis to ensure the student body knows what Senate is doing and keep us accountable so those changes actually come to fruition.
What are your personal goals for the upcoming year as president?
Some of my personal goals going forward are, first, to have legislation continue to be an even more assembly-wide and organization-wide process. I think in years past, Senate, even though we are a legislative student organization, has had just a few voices really being the majority of those speaking on what legislation goes forward and what legislation we actively pursue. And I feel that every single member of both the college councils and our internal organization should be a voice in our legislative process, so I want to make sure everyone has all the proper information, and has their say on each piece of legislation we come up with.
I’d also like to get more involvement on behalf of Senate’s peripheral organizations, such as our agencies and University-wide appointments. We have groups like those that represent our interests on more specific issues or for more specific demographics of students, and I think we can do a better job this year of directly reaching out to them and encouraging their involvement in all that we do.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from your experience in past years?
I’d say one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from Senate over the last few years is just general persistence. Trying to make change at a university is something that happens slowly and with great difficulty, and it’s important as a student who has concerns, or is working with others that have concerns, to keep up the fight on any issues you may bring forward. Administration may not always be 100 percent on board with any changes you want to make, so you have to really carry those changes with you from month to month, from year to year, understanding that unless you keep the conversation alive, no one else is going to do it for you.
One of my other biggest lessons is learning how to lean on the people around you. Senate has 21 college councils and a wealth of internal members because we want to represent so many different perspectives and experiences, and I know that no one person, even as the president, can represent everything that a student wants to see at the university, and can know every concern. So always being willing to reach out to the people around me, to get feedback from them, and encouraging others I work with to do the same is really important moving forward.
How can students get involved with Senate to promote their own ideas and initiatives?
For starters, Senate legislation is not restricted to people within our assembly. Any student at UT can participate in and submit their own legislation. It can seem somewhat difficult to get involved, because we don’t have a lot of outreach with the general student body, but part of what we want to do this year through publicizing our legislation more and reaching out to student organizations is ensuring people know that they don’t have to be super familiar with the workings of our organization or be a member to get involved with the conversations that we’re having. Every student at UT is welcome to contribute their voice to the greater sum.
Additionally, we intend to have a lot more feedback on everything that we get done, including restructuring some of our internal committees and holding public meetings, like town halls and campus conversations, where students can provide their opinions on the legislation we’ve passed, what we should pass in the future, and what we should be addressing that we’re not currently addressing. Those are events that will be publicized and open to the entire student body, and hopefully the student body will feel comfortable with those events and engaged with Senate as their voice.
Every UT student is also eligible to apply for Senate’s first-year program, called our at-large program. In it, you’ll be assigned to a Senate committee and do a lot of specific work through their focus, as well as your own individual passions. The application is open to all UT students; it happens at the beginning of the fall semester, within the first week or two. If accepted, you serve through the entirety of that academic year, and we highly encourage anyone who wants to get involved with student advocacy and academic change to apply.
Jenkins is an English junior.