Election season is over, but much of the student body still does not understand the ins and outs of UNC Student Government and how student representatives use their positions to represent UNC students.
Students like junior Larissa Burke feel as if Student Government misses the mark when it comes to making significant, tangible change.
“They don’t do anything because they’re stuck in a pattern of not doing anything,” Burke said.
Yet Student Government operates on a day-to-day basis, working on issues concerning everything from student fees to providing student perspectives to both UNC and North Carolina administrators.
So what does Student Government actually do?
There are both Undergraduate and Graduate and Professional sections of UNC Student Government, composed of three main branches: the Executive Branch, the Senate and the Honor System. Here's a breakdown on how each branch affects UNC students.
The Executive Branch is meant to serve as the “student body’s voice and connection to administrators at the UNC-Chapel Hill and administrators at the University of North Carolina,” according to the branch’s website. The Executive Branch also works alongside other legislative bodies like the North Carolina General Assembly, the UNC System’s Association of Student Governments and the Board of Governors to represent the UNC’s student population.
Megan Teems, student programming and outreach co-chairperson, said she joined the Executive Branch specifically because of their direct work with students.
“I wanted to be an advocate for students to the administration and help meet student needs when possible,” Teems said.
The Student Body President of the Executive Branch is elected by students each year to implement and support their platform’s policy alongside the current legislation and administration. However, Teems said many students aren’t fully aware of the branch’s impact on campus.
“The Executive Branch impacts students on levels they often don’t see," Teems said. "For example, students might not be aware of the numerous meetings our president, Savannah Putnam, has had with the Board of Governors, Board of Trustees and the chancellor.”
Teems also said while many of the changes led by the Executive Branch seem small, the branch was instrumental in the approval for the creation of a Latinx space on campus and the codification of a Mental Health Task Force to remain in Student Government for years to come.
“We are a lot like the federal government in that we control the 'power of purse,’” said Stephen Wright, speaker of the Senate. “We are the ones in charge of who does and does not receive funding from Student Government.”
Wright said while they work alongside the Executive Branch to pass resolutions and advocate for positive change on campus, their greatest impact is determining funding for different groups on campus.
“We can’t always fund every organization, but we can try our best,” Wright said.
Elected senators directly represent different “districts,” which are divided by majors or large departments.
“I think our stance on Silent Sam, especially our opposition to the Board of Trustee’s plan back in December, went a long way toward showing that the Senate does represent the students, because each of our senators is elected by and for the undergraduate student body,” Wright said.
The Honor System may be the branch of Student Government that students interact with most frequently, though many might not realize the Honor System falls underneath the umbrella of Student Government and is advised by the Office of Student Conduct.
Infractions against university policy (including the Honor Code and the University Alcohol Policy) go through the Honor System, comprised of an Attorney General’s staff of students who either represent accused students or the University and an Honor Court that hears and deliberates the verdict.
Both the Executive and Legislative Branches of Student Government receive guidance from representatives from Student Life and Leadership.
Wright said the only way to help students better understand the organization of Student Government and its importance on campus is to address problems within the three branches.
“I’m a big believer in the ability of Student Government to produce real results and change, but if we’re going to do that, we need to do some housekeeping first and fix our internal problems,” Wright said. “Then, we can really make the case we are advocating for students and bringing their voice to the highest levels of the University.”
Wright said the focus of Student Government should be to represent students, not build resumes, a problem which he believes Student Government has recently struggled with.
"Something to tackle in the 2019-2020 term is trying to mitigate that to the best of our abilities so that we can do the job we were elected to do," Wright said.
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