–Negotiating university policies is not sexy. When students want a change, someone needs to fight through the bureaucracy to represent their interests in front of university management and staff. Traditionally, that “someone” is the collective of student council members. At universities all over the world it is the student councils’ task to make the education system democratic, by translating input from individuals into changes in university policy. At AUC, that process has been far from ideal.
Rayan Vugdalic, a third-year Social Science major and External Communications Manager of last year’s AUC Student Council (AUCSC), addressed the lack of visibility and recognition amongst students that the former Student Council (SC) had to grapple with. “It is an inherent part of the student council, that the tasks we take on are just not sexy to talk about”, says Vugdalic.
According to Vugdalic, a lack of visibility becomes an issue when the voices of students are needed to ensure a democratic decision making. The students that attend events run by the SC are few and usually the same. However, attendance is crucial as individual opinions will be applied to change policy explained Vugdalic. “That is sort of unfair, because a very few amount of people have all the decision power”, he said.
The lack of wider student participation directly impedes the SC’s work. AUC management often asks the student council “what do the students think?” said Ellen Ackroyd, a third-year Social Science major and former Co-Chair of the AUCSC, “But without any input [from students] that question is impossible to answer.” And while students have no shortage of opinions, Ackroyd observed, individuals often don’t turn their criticisms into constructive feedback. “Throughout the whole year we have been hearing continuous criticism, but then it just disappears into a void of nothingness”, she said.
According to Ackroyd, the time the group spent promoting and asking for input could have been used more productively. “Either you talk to people about the important meeting you have to go to, or you go to that meeting, but you can’t do both”, added Vugdalic. This lack of student engagement has lead the two to experience working for the Student Council as extremely unrewarding.
The current SC of 2017/18 is mindful of Ackroyd and Vugdalic’s experience as it works toward implementing its policy plan. Jaime Serra Lopes, a second-year Social Science major and Co-Chair of the current AUCSC, explained that one of the group’s main goals for the year is to ensure that the student body is aware of what the SC actually does. That, in turn, will ensure that students know what issues they can approach the SC with. “Students are sometimes quite confused and start doing things on their own, while they have this big institutional power right here that can help them”, he said.
For Lea Bonasera, a third-year Social Science and Humanities major and the AUCSC’s Internal Communications Manager, the Student Council is a mediator through which students can make their voices heard by the institution. “I see ourselves often as connection points between students and teachers or management, so if something is coming up, then we can be the ones facilitating conversation between teachers and students”, she said. According to Lopes, the SC provides students with an opportunity to get involved, constructively complain about university related issues, and shape their studies according to their wishes. “We are here to channel the students’ voices to the management”, he added. However, just like their predecessors, the current SC is struggling with low student participation.
“Our job is to reflect the students’ voices, and we can’t do that alone”, said Adele Beinaraviciute, a second-year Social Science major and AUCSC’s co-chair. Although, she explained, many students might be discouraged from participating, due to the fact that they will not experience the impact of their voice during their own studies at AUC, every opinion is needed to make a change. “The more voices come through to us, the stronger our voice will be in front of the management”, said Lopes.
Based on their experiences gained during a whole year of SC work, Ackroyd and Vugdalic give the current SC some advice for the months to come. According to Vugdalic, the group’s biggest task will be to find a balance between remaining interesting to the student body, and doing more important things at the same time. “I think it’s inherently a double-edged sword, in that you have to try to be sexier and have to attract people, but then that diminishes the quality of your work”, he said. Ackroyd advised to focus on gaining visibility first, and once that is accomplished, returning to the actual SC work. “At the end of the day you just have to admit that not everyone is interested in what you are doing”, she said.