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Leading by Example

Jessie H. Lowell

Throughout my time at MIT, I’ve noticed that all too often, the people who truly care about campus issues do not view the UA as a mechanism for solving them. I have been there. I remember my frustrated freshman self. I was not interested in student government, as the only student government I was familiar with was high school prom-planning, not one that dealt with the Ghetto Party, the flag policy, the irregularities of the discipline system, or any other matter that concerned me at the time.

What eventually motivated me to get involved with the UA were examples of those who came before me. My heroes, in the context of my UA work, are individuals from the late ‘90s who worked to preserve student culture and freedom in the wake of Scott S. Krueger ’01. A couple of these activists were personal friends, and I talked to them and read the old stories about them in the Tech. I read about what they had been able to accomplish and against what odds. Through these accounts of their actions I saw what student activism could accomplish via the UA and other forums.

There is a lot of angst in the UA about how we can get more people who care involved. One of my major goals as UAVP, and before that as a senator from East Campus, was to provide the kind of example for others that I had followed in my alum friends. I wanted to do more than fix problems. Everywhere I turned I saw passionate but disillusioned undergrads, and I wanted to show them, by example, what could be done by the UA. My most satisfying moment this year was when I released that the rooftop penalty was being changed from a $500 fine to community service. Many told me the fines could never be changed: that the administration could not be convinced. Thus, more rewarding than the actual change in legislation was the renewed faith in the UA and student activism.

The UA has taken steps to increase its legitimacy, but it has a ways to go. Next House Senator Hans Anderson, in his May 12 column, suggested that senators do not bring resolutions on controversial issues because of the UA’s dependence on administrative funding. I respectfully disagree. I believe that senators do not present controversial resolutions because they do not think change is possible. In order to address this, the new UA leadership (and the rest of the UA government as well) will need to change students’ attitudes through the force of their own examples.

Reform is important, but the UA must not become so preoccupied with reforming itself that it forgets about its community and its purpose. UA reform is only useful to the extent that it produces better advocacy, as there are many issues in the pipeline that will require effective advocacy. The Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons continues its evaluation of the GIRs. The Office of Student Life continues its search for a new Dean of Discipline. Time for Dorm Rush during Orientation is renegotiated every year. A new undergrad dorm is being planned in Ashdown. Undergrads desperately need an increase in effective student advocacy. This increase will be affected by both the efforts of those currently in office and the recruitment and training of new UA members.

It has truly been my privilege and honor to work for and with the MIT community over the last year - both those of you in student government and those outside of it. There is a popular belief that MIT students do not care enough to give feedback when asked for it, but every time I have posed a question to you guys, I have been flooded with dozens of insightful and impassioned responses. You have been wonderful. Keep fighting the good fight, and in the words of ILTFP, keep MIT special.

Jessie H. Lowell ’07 is the outgoing UA Vice President.