The results are in — and the public is far more educated about student government than you might think.
In a poll conducted over the course of the week from March 11 to 16, The Daily Pennsylvanian sought to measure students’ perceptions of the political efficacy of student government. The major questions of the survey included which issues students wanted to see addressed, how important student government was to their lives and whether students felt they could have their needs addressed by student government in a personal way.
Out of a total of 533 responses, 269 students completed the survey.
Overwhelmingly, the survey showed that students were knowledgeable about the services, issues debated and structure of student government. In a question that asked students to identify which services the Undergraduate Assembly had provided in the past year, the Shuttle Services, which run before breaks, proved most visible with 90 percent of respondents identifying it. However, students were also able to name services like the contingency funding that the UA provides for student groups as well as Penn Study Spaces.
UA Vice President and College junior Abe Sutton, in response to the student-awareness aspects of the survey’s results, said, “I’m really happy to hear about students being educated about the UA’s affairs, and I’m happy as well that students took the time to provide what is really important information.”
Less optimistically, some of the questions received answers that point to perhaps a disenchantment of students on campus. The average survey taker disagreed with the statements that he “felt empowered to bring his concerns to his UA representative” and that “the UA has addressed important issues this year.”
Another finding from the poll showed that 65 percent of students did not feel they heard from student government enough. “The fact that many students feel that we aren’t reaching out enough is an indication that our efforts need a little bit of work,” College freshman and UA Representative Aidan McConnell — who is also the editor of The Red and the Blue — said. “This has solidified for us that in the next semester we have work to do.”
In one of the most telling pairs of questions, the average survey taker agreed with the statement “student government should be involved in student life” but disagreed with the statement that “student government is involved in student life.”
Sutton said of the results, “The responses show that student government needs to be more engaging with the students, and we’ll work towards that.”
Respondents also proved their knowledge about student government’s internal mechanics. Eighty-five percent correctly identified the source of student government funding and only 15 percent misidentified resolutions passed by the UA in the past year.
In terms of issues that respondents felt student government needed to address, dining options, new academic programs and college house maintenance ranked highest. National policy advocacy, an issue that the UA grappled with earlier in the semester, ranked the lowest.
“I think in particular, with dining options and housing options, the several committees have definitely been working towards them,” College junior and UA Technology Director Nikolai Zapertov said. “Tangible results are hard to pull out of these though, since those are very difficult to deal with. I’d like to say that we are working on it.”
Respondents also offered some suggestions for new issues student government should discuss, such as banning smoking on campus, extending the PennCard’s currency outside of campus shops and printing.
College freshman Jonathan Dubin said, “I mainly agree with the results. I don’t think, however, that these problems are inherent to student government. I think that with the right leaders in place, student government can be both more involved in student life and have more outreach.”