Carter Brown – Staff Writer
On Thursday, Nov. 4, the Gustavus Student Senate has just finished their elections for new hall representatives for Arbor View, Sohre Hall, Gibbs Hall, North Hall, and Sorenson hall, Norelius, Prairie View and Chapel View. These hall representatives will become new senators in the Student Senate and represent the interests and concerns of those living in those halls.
With this, a recurring question that the Student Senate often receives rears its head once more: what exactly do they do? Ombudsperson Birgen Nelson, who leads the Student Senate’s ethics committee, offered general information on Student Senate and what they do.
“Student Senate is composed of elected students from each dorm hall, class year — as well as [for international and off-campus students] — and the Cabinet members,” Nelson said. “[The] Senate acts as a liaison between students and the administration, so our main function is to listen to students. Senators hold office hours, talk to their constituents, and then bring their issues to the Senate. Alternatively, Students can come to speak during Community Comment to have their voices heard.”
Aside from listening to student concerns and bringing them to the Student Senate, they also fund every student organization on campus and create programs with the intended purpose of enhancing accessibility and quality of life for students.
“The Senate is responsible for funding the Gus Bus, the Aunt Flo tampons in the campus center, the laptop loaner program, the compost bins, [the water filling stations] and many others. Last year, the Inclusive Excellence Committee created gender-neutral housing for students in Coed,” Nelson said. It can also be noted that there are some operations that, while not directly sponsored by the Student Senate, are created and run by students within it in order to help their constituents, such as the new Gustie Food Drive.
And while initiatives are important, the Student Senate would like the importance of these things to be known, and just how much work they do. When talking with Co-President Regina Olono-Vidales, there were some things that she had wanted to be cleared up regarding the actual role of the Senate.
“Student Senate is really important because we have the opportunity to create change on campus. While students may think it’s more day-to-day activities and funding student orgs, we actually establish a precedent for future Gusties,” Olono-Vidales said.
“We have made it known that Anti-Racism is important on campus, we have made it known that we care about sustainability, we have made it known that each student deserves to feel comfortable in their living assignment regardless of gender identity. Future Senates [here at Gustavus] can take on these ideas and continue to expand them in the future, overall creating a better Gustavus,” Olono-Vidales said.
Throughout COVID last year, they continued their work as well. Conducting their meetings through Zoom, the Student Senate continued to meet throughout the year every Monday, just like in “normal times”, but now that it is back to normal, they claim to have gained a new perspective on certain situations on campus.
“This semester, we can meet in person, which has helped us get to know each other better and makes it easier for us to communicate. Last year, we did everything over zoom. We still got a lot done, however, it was not an ideal situation because a lot of what we do is listen to students,” Nelson said. “[But] that did not stop us from creating the [Anti-Racism and Racial Justice] committee, or the laptop loaner program. We still met each Monday and tried to support students from home. Covid made us more aware of how important it is to tackle racism on campus and make sure that we are constantly checking in with students’ mental health,” Olono-Vidales said.
And although the search for hall representatives has concluded, the Senate is still in search of new people and new voices to contribute to the current platform and interests of the Gustavus student body. Olono-Vidales gives an open invitation for those who are interested in the constituency to join the Student Senate.
“Our job is to make sure we can support every single Gustie through funding or policy. No issue is too big or too small, in fact we had someone come to us regarding a ghost in Uhler. We just want everyone to know that we are passionate about changing campus climate and passing items that can help our community in the long run. We are also always in need of more representation, so please consider joining the Senate as well,” Olono-Vidales said.