This week, I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for and running Student Senate committee chair interviews, which, by the way, are still open; you should totally apply online at http://poly.rpi.edu/s/16senateofficer/. One of the first questions I ask in each interview is “What does the Senate mean to you?” Talking to people about this and the time spent working on our Middle States reaccreditation meetings led to me thinking about it myself, and the Rensselaer Union in general.
I remember the moment when I realized how different our Union was from most. During Fall 2015, I went with then-President of the Union Nick Dvorak ’16, and some members of the Union Executive Board to an Association of College Unions International regional conference. ACUI is an organization where college unions come together to discuss practices and techniques. There were a lot of presentations about things that other unions do and the best practices to implement. Overall, it was a great learning opportunity both in and outside of the presentations.
After one day at the conference, we realized that we were very different in terms of what we did in our union. The most similar union structures to ours were the ones based in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In their setup, their highest officers were sabbatical officers. These are paid officers who are normally taking a gap year from school or had recently graduated.
One day, there was a panel of student speakers answering questions. This panel included one representative from the United Kingdom and three from the United States, including Nick. When asked about the greatest challenges they’d faced as leaders, we expected that everyone was going to have fairly similar answers as they’d had for everything else. There are always issues creating programs that reach out to all students, or interacting with other parts of your institution. This was far from the case. The representative from Manchester talked about their union’s reaction to a protest group setting up camp on their grounds and members of the union wanting them to take a stance on the university’s decision to evict them by force. Nick talked about the process of transitioning our bookstore into a collegiate store run by a third party. The representatives from the American schools talked about issues with people stealing video game controllers or rearranging rooms in their union right before a performance because someone changed their mind about the setup they wanted. As we listened to this, the RPI delegation members looked at each other while it dawned on us exactly what our ‘difference’ is.
The Rensselaer Union empowers students in a transformative way that few places do. We take an active role in our own futures, placing millions of dollars directly into the hands of student groups to use, which doesn’t happen at many places in the United States. This uniqueness and ability to take a huge role in our self-determination is why it’s so great to get involved at Rensselaer. Whether it’s joining a club, trying to become an officer, or running for student government, there are so many ways to take an active role here. So check out the Union website, look at some fliers, and find something to dive into. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.