The campus is buzzing and posters cover every building wall — it’s Student Government (SG) election time again.
Each candidate has a lot invested in the running, and for good reason; SG makes decisions that directly affect much of the student body. Beyond its own mission to raise pride and spirit on campus, it influences many events at RIT from behind the scenes.
SG is part of RIT’s shared governance system, which is made up of three representative bodies: Academic Senate to represent faculty, Staff Council to represent staff members, and Student Government to represent the student body. Each group has a say in changes to RIT’s policies or initiatives, allowing students to make decisions alongside faculty and staff.
SG didn’t always have an influential role on campus, however. In past years, SG focused its efforts on campus events and entertainment, and only recently has it become a key player in RIT policy. “I have seen SG, over the years, shift from being a heavy programming body to an organization that really is more interested in governance,” says Dr. Heath Boice-Pardee, associate vice president for Student Affairs and co-advisor to SG. “They do still do some events, but their events have shifted from dances and BBQs to things that really impact the campus community.” Boice-Pardee cites 2009’s Dorm Challenge and this year’s Real RIT Challenge as examples.
Former SG president Ed Wolf was one of the first proponents of this change. “In the past, SG was seen as a joke,” he admits. “In fact, former Provost Dr. Stan McKenzie once told me he saw SG as the ‘Cheerleaders of the University.’ Regardless, we partnered with the other governance groups to become a key leader in setting Institute policy and helping RIT become more student-friendly.”
The current RIT ID card, likely in your pocket right now, was designed by SG in 2005. SG was also responsible for advocating free laundry for students, and it later acted on that initiative by replacing the laundry machines on campus. Created to keep students on campus informed, the SG-initiated Collegiate Readership Program passed out 67,950 papers during 2008, its first year.
In addition, SG hosts the annual Horton Distinguished Speaker for Brick City Homecoming each year, and has arranged for such well-known speakers as Rudolph Giuliani, Erin Brockovich, Steve Wozniak, Bill Nye, Jimmy Wales and Al Pacino.
Currently, SG is focused on increasing RIT pride, something it believes that our school lacks. They have promoted orange and brown over the past few years, distributing bracelets and, more recently, Principia notebooks in the Institute colors. “Last week I saw a young man with orange and brown sneakers,” Boice-Pardee mentions, “and I’m fairly certain that he bought them because of the school colors.”
Despite its efforts to represent the student body, SG has faced its fair share of controversy. In 2007, the College Activities Board (CAB) caused a stir on campus by inviting insult comic Lisa Lampanelli to perform. Many students were upset by Lampanelli’s comments about deaf students, and several people brought their complaints to both Lampanelli and SG. Then-president Lizzie Sorkin was faced with a challenge: How could she support both CAB and offended students, without alienating fans of Lampanelli? Fortunately, Lampanelli was open to students’ concerns and reacted well to the incident. Now, however, campus organizations raise the question of not whether something could be done, but whether it should.
More recently, SG became a target of backlash after last year’s decision to switch to semesters. During the debate, surveys indicated that the majority of RIT students preferred to keep the quarter system. When asked for its input, SG voted in favor of semesters despite this knowledge.
“[Then-president Matt Danna] asked SG, based on their constituents, what they thought they would want,” Boice-Pardee explains. “Everyone voted and it was for quarters. And then I thought he did something extremely brave; he asked [SG] in sort of a straw vote, based on what they knew.” Unanimously, they voted for semesters.” Danna decided to vote on the side of the informed leadership. “He took a lot of heat for that,” says Boice-Pardee, “but in the end he felt comfortable with his decision.”
Despite Danna’s confidence, much of the student body was frustrated with the decision and felt as though their view was not accurately represented.
In recent years, SG has grown into a more influential player in RIT policymaking. Currently, it plans to moves forward with new green initiatives and proposals to change meal plans and housing selection. Given its new role, SG has been able to accomplish more than it has in the past but, for the same reason, it also has faced more controversy.