Guest column by Sebastian Negron-Reichard | On my UA experience
March 31, 2014, 6:41 pm · Updated March 31, 2014, 9:44 pm·
C ong r atulations to all the new members of the Undergraduate Assembly and Class Boards! Now that elections are over, it is time to get to work.
With a student body that cries for transparency, accountability and above all, less politicking, this new UA should focus on sparking a reflection process to go back to its foundations and a process of analysis of its true purpose. Yes, everyone has something to say about the UA and about how it works. However, unless you are there for a year, you are not completely knowledgeable about how this government apparatus works. In this column, I intend to shed light on the incredible experience that working in student government represents and wish to present my humble suggestions as to how the new incoming members can shake things up.
First things first: I am deeply thankful to the student body, specifically Wharton students, for electing me as their representative. Although a lot has been said about the UA this past year, serving on the body was a truly rewarding experience. Hard work, coupled with the ability to listen to others, was key in order to achieve a successful term. The UA members must value the great work that they did and must be proud of what was accomplished. A lot was done: the creation of the Undergraduate Health Coalition and the interfaith center, the founding of the Residential Services Advisory Board and the promotion of more non-work study jobs on campus. Additionally, we lobbied for financial assistance for people joining MERT who need it, achieved the Open Data Initiative and ensured line iteming for SAC’s budget.
However, we must also acknowledge what we can improve. I present six points for further growth:
1. Representatives must foster more approachability in terms of really asking students what they want to see the UA doing. Students should not be approached solely for votes.
2. The UA needs an effective communication strategy that presents what it does to the student body. Specifically, it would be beneficial to target the incoming freshman class so as to change the culture little by little in terms of how the student body views the UA.
3. A lot happened in this election period. It is Joyce Kim and Josh Chilcote’s responsibility to bring the UA back to its roots by eradicating the highly political culture that some students foster. There are a lot of new members on the body, and it is the new cabinet’s responsibility to halt any intent of politicizing the body.
4. The UA and the other student government branches should convene regularly — once every two months — in a type of town hall meeting to discuss the pressing issues moving forward (shout-out to Christian Cortes for this suggestion). This would allow for more collaboration between branches and less unnecessary work.
5. Representatives are human. UA and other branch members will make mistakes. The more experienced members should understand this and serve as mentors in order to encourage growth.
6. The UA committee structure should be revamped. Instead of focusing on producing many and diverse projects, committees should focus on presenting tangible deliverables. Quantity trumps quality. (Shout-out to the outgoing Social Justice Committee and Joyce Kim for this idea).
Not all Penn students have to run for the UA. It’s not everyone’s calling to hold office in student government. Consequently, the student body should value what the representatives do. The representatives should understand that they work for and have their positions because of the general student body. The UA is not an airport shuttle club, as I have heard some people say. For most, if not all, of the representatives, it is an innate call to do something productive with their lives while fostering a better University.
This reflection is not an excuse for inefficiency. It’s the spark to start working. The new UA should build upon the last UA’s successes to create an even better body. If I weren’t going abroad, I would have definitely been on that ballot running for a position. There’s nothing worse than criticizing without action. Criticism must lead to action.
I want to thank Abe Sutton and Gabe Delany for their great leadership, my running mate Julio German Arias and everyone else who contributed to this year’s success. To the new UA, whether in the UA or not, I am always available to help. I know that this year will be a great year, and I wish student government all the best!
Sebastian Negron-Reichard i s a College and Wharton sophomore and an outgoing Wharton representative in the UA. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.