Addressing our complacent and unengaged student body
Editor's note: The following is an unedited article from Cait Bennett. The opinions in the article do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Polytechnic nor its affiliates.
Thank you for bearing with the rick-rolls. We had to make sure you were paying attention.
This is Cait Bennett, your (former) Grand Marshal, or student body president. You may have seen me in your inbox each month, or at the polls last Wednesday, completely sleep deprived, telling anyone who would listen, “you can just do things!” That phrase has become somewhat of a catchphrase for me and PU Colleen Corrigan, as we grapple with the apparent apathy crisis around campus. We have been here for 5 and 6 years, respectively, and are part of the very few students who remember what life was like before COVID.
When I took this role in 2021 under Dr. Jackson, our Student Senate relied on toothless motions begging an unwilling administration to listen. Our Executive Board was fighting about minutiae while the Union’s clubs floundered in the face of COVID-19. In 2021, you demanded more from your elected officials. You asked for detailed plans; you asked for tangible changes; you asked for your power back.
I have spent the last two years fighting tooth and nail to redefine our power as students. We have students on Marty’s Strategic Planning Committees— there were none on Dr. Jackson’s. We have students on the Provost/Vice President Recruitment Committee— it was a fight just to get students in the room for the Presidential Search. Our Executive Board has crafted regulations to balance administrative partnerships, all while managing a multi-million dollar budget. This is what a student-run Union looks like. This is what student power looks like.
Maybe we haven’t said it enough, but RPI’s Student Government is not some playground to plan prom. We have direct control over a nearly 4 million dollar budget. We have a voice in who gets hired to serve students. Student government alumni gawk at me when I tell them that students are pioneering Handbook changes once more, or that the President presents to the Student Senate each semester, or that I have Marty’s phone number. Our alumni would have killed for this level of student involvement and engagement. Yet, our current student body isn’t taking advantage of it. We have record low engagement with student-led governance in a time when we need it most.
You don’t need to be Grand Marshal to make change on this campus. For the first time in years, the administration is willing to listen to student leaders. Just this year, one of our Class of 2026 Senators, Chris Roe, worked to get student IDs to include a preferred name for Fall 2023, a feat that previous Senates tried and failed to accomplish. It wasn’t a magic trick– it was hard work and devotion to our alma mater.
People talk about getting back to our 127-year-long history as a student-run Union. Over the past two years, we’ve gotten pretty damn close to where we were before the Save the Union protests of 2017. We can’t afford to have a complacent and unengaged student body. Save the Union isn’t a movement that happens once, it’s a mindset. When we ask you to respond to a survey, join a project, or run for office, we are asking you to be a part of the mindset with us. Without an involved student body willing to put in the effort, our history and our Union will be reduced to nothing but a neat trivia fact and a tattered old top hat.
Thank you for the opportunity to be your Grand Marshal for two years.
All my love,
156th Grand Marshal