Most Tufts students have their fair share of pet peeves. Some are even quite vocal about them. But even for the most miffed of students, Tufts Community Union (TCU) senators don’t usually make it onto the radar. But senators are looking to change that, and we are cautiously optimistic.
The Senate is currently considering a proposal that would give each undergraduate senator a “district” consisting of at least one dorm to represent. This would allow them to further inspect the issues facing individual residential communities and would potentially open new avenues of communication between the Senate and the student body.
As part of the plan, senators would hold at least half of their office hours in dorm common rooms rather than in the campus center. They would be able to collect comment cards, hear student complaints and take those concerns to the Senate as whole. By having a more direct line of communication, they would be able to submit more informed and effective proposals to the Senate floor.
That is, as long as students talk to senators and they, in turn, create concrete policy proposals. There is a largely unnoticed but very real barrier of apathy separating students from their senators. Students care about the issues, but often lack the confidence that expressing opinions to senators can lead to change. Senators, for their part, sometimes get lost in the clouds and forget that it is with the meat and potatoes that they can win respect.
This new proposal has the right ingredients to keep the Senate on exactly that track. Tufts, for example, has numerous dorms that could benefit from an injection of student leadership. The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) has left many students dissatisfied, and there is certainly no shortage of problems to fix. By getting paired with dorms, the senators could become better advocates for residential issues and strengthen the residential communities.
The challenge ahead is the translation of the idea into a reality. This proposal is certainly not the most important to come out of the Senate recently, but it will serve as a microcosm of the body’s interaction with students.
In this effort, perspective is important. In 2007, the Senate formed a liaison program that paired its members with student organizations. As part of the initiative, senators attended several club meetings to gauge how the Senate could better serve student groups. Despite the liaison program’s potential, it ultimately did not achieve its goals. Individual senators were often wallflowers at meetings and the program is currently being restructured. The Senate must take great care moving forward with its new system to ensure it does not meet with the same fate. New communication channels must lead to improved student representation and clear action. Otherwise, they are irrelevant.
When Duncan Pickard was running for TCU president, he spoke of the need for a better flow of information between the Senate and the student body. We endorsed Pickard in part for this promise and are happy to see him and other senators make attempts to follow through.