The Student Union has made progress but still needs work
If you told me in high school that I’d be the student body vice president at Brandeis, I certainly wouldn’t have believed you. And yet, a few months ago, you put your faith in me to serve alongside our amazing President Hannah Brown as the “face” of the student body. Now, halfway through my tenure, I’d like to share some thoughts on what we’ve accomplished as a team, what I’ve learned, and what suggestions I have for the future.
My vice presidency began with a simple message to my colleagues and myself: DO YOUR JOB. This mantra comes from my high school music teacher, who, alone, balanced conducting, teaching seven classes, running an extracurricular club and his career as a professional saxophonist. How did he handle such a full schedule while also solidifying our reputation as one of the finest programs in the state? He had high expectations and instilled in us the desire to meet them. We understood that if we didn’t do our jobs and meet his standards, our grades would suffer.
But it wasn’t fear of a bad grade that motivated us; it was the fact that we were a team. One person not doing their job let the entire team down. We all shared in the effort, so that in the end, we could all reap the rewards. In the process of achieving consistent, superior ratings, we learned how to focus on the right priorities, align our goals and roles responsibly, and hold each other accountable. Now, these seem like the traits of any successful organization.
I’m a results-oriented person. To me, “doing your job” means valuing action over talk. It means being resourceful and resisting the temptation to overthink things. I’ve learned that this is much more difficult than it sounds, and I’m certainly not perfect.
Luckily, this mantra resonates with many in the Senate. In just a few weeks, much has been accomplished. For instance, we’re conducting a comprehensive review of all our governing documents, revising outdated rules and streamlining processes. We’ve worked on the accessibility of the BranVan, completed the campus-wide distribution of free menstrual products and condoms and will be working to expand students’ access to mental health services. We’ve done a better job reporting student feedback to Brandeis Dining leadership and continue to plan “Meet-the-Union,” Midnight Buffet, and several weekend excursions for the student body. We are also working hard on both a club advising system and the implementation of a revolutionary extracurricular management/online student portal system before the end of this academic year. I’m also proud that one of my personal projects, a new digital advertising system, was recently installed in the Shapiro Campus Center.
These are just several examples of projects undertaken by the Union. The praise lies with my colleagues who have put in hours of effort to make all of this possible. This work is not just for our benefit, but for the future generations of students.
Nevertheless, I believe we as a community can do more. Dining remains an ongoing issue. Our campus infrastructure requires upgrades. Equally important, some members of our community feel isolated, lacking a deeper connection to the school. What we lack in school spirit, we too often replace with unnecessary infighting and drama.
After three years in student government, I have some suggestions for my fellow Brandesians. It’s easy to blame administrators for all the issues the community faces. Clearly, sometimes that criticism is warranted. Other times, it’s without basis and serves to further alienate. Most administrators work extremely hard to accomplish nearly impossible tasks within the constraints of outdated structures and rules. As a student leader who’s learned about many of these behind-the-scenes processes, I can safely say that confrontation and blaming others often proves ineffective in achieving a desired result. Instead, we should focus on building partnerships. After all, we’re ALL on the same team — the Brandeis team.
Many of our school’s deep issues appear to be self-inflicted, requiring changes in our institutional culture. They call for more risk-taking and trust. Trust requires us to assume good faith in each other, rather than seek or overemphasize reasons to criticize. As University President Ron Liebowitz said during his inaugural address, this trust can only come from the “sharing of information, a clear delineation and understanding of who should have authority to make decisions and a willingness to believe the best in each of our intentions, even when there is disagreement.” I wholeheartedly agree. We also need a good sense of humor, and a willingness to have a little more fun. As Provost Lisa Lynch stated in her inaugural address, “This does not mean that we should not be serious — rather it means that we should not take ourselves too seriously.” We could all benefit from this advice.
Our Student Union has so much unrecognized potential. Our governing documents remain outdated, and we should seriously consider changes to our organizational structure in the long term. There is no reason why a community our size should have a complicated, bureaucratic Student Union, seemingly modeled after the inefficient U.S. government. At the same time, why is a student government that handles over $2 million and manages more than 250 organizations often relegated to the sidelines of student life as “just another club?” Why are the Union’s actions, communications, and events too-often ignored, overshadowed by other agendas, or irrelevant to the average student? Why is there an apparent unwillingness by some in the organization to unify around a long-term vision? Is this because of a high turnover rate? Perhaps we should look into creating more multi-year positions, or refocusing ourselves on continuity.
The Union must also ensure that day-to-day interactions with students remain positive and that our systems are user-friendly. That’s especially important when we discuss funding. I see little reason why a government flush with cash is often overly stringent in its funding policies. Perhaps we should examine what takes place at other American universities to see what we can improve upon here at home. Our long-term goal should be to find ways for students to spend less time in “marathon” or treasury training sessions, and more time enjoying their extracurricular events.
Ultimately, I feel that both our community’s greatest enemy, and its greatest asset, is ourselves. Change never happens unless people really want it. Making Brandeis and the Student Union better for everyone will require some personal accountability, a change of culture, a little less arguing and a focus on big ideas, coherent strategies, teamwork and doing one’s job.
In my high school's music program, if something sounded off, our teacher wasn’t interested in excuses, complaints, or arguments. He cared less about appointing fault and more about the end result. My suggestion to future leaders: please continue this administration’s efforts to improve student life in the long-term. We may graduate before we see those changes, but future generations will thank us for our work. The Union is headed in the right direction. Now it’s up to the entire community to do its job and help us move things forward!