Our new student leaders must seize opportunities

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is also spending the semester in Washington, D.C. Both of us are heavily involved with campus organizations at Carnegie Mellon, organizations that benefit from working with a strong, active student government, and we were disappointed to hear about the disastrous state of student elections. I confided to my friend that I hardly expected to see grand presidential platforms and heavy voter turnout — maybe the fact that student government is not as visible and active as we would like is because it’s not meant to be. Maybe, I said, we should just lower our expectations.

My friend’s response surprised me. “Maybe you’re just giving in to their argument,” he told me. In other words, just because student government has, in my time at Carnegie Mellon, not taken strong initiatives doesn’t mean it doesn’t have that capacity. And if I lower my expectations, then I’m not supporting change, only stagnation.

His comments certainly got me thinking. Of course it’s possible to elect into office motivated, powerful leaders. But do the candidates themselves realize their potential for change?

I hope these are questions that Karl Sjogren and Andrea Hamilton are asking themselves. I’ve known both Karl and Andrea since my first year at CMU, and they are both amazing individuals. I admire their work ethic and their interests, and I am always impressed at how they make efforts to welcome everyone.

Poor voter turnout, a disappointing debate, and missed deadlines are lessons to be learned for next year, but for right now they’re through. It’s time for Sjogren and Hamilton to focus on what they call their “vision” for the campus and to make every concerted effort to follow through on their proposals. Since they stressed learning about what the campus community wants from them, here are a few suggestions to consider:

We all love to talk about improving communication, but do we ever stop to think about what actually means? I would love to see the student body president and vice-president make a point of publicizing and attending events not only in their own departments, but in all colleges; grab some space on Carnegie Mellon’s website; utilize campus media organizations; contact the mailing lists of organizations who might be interested in events they otherwise wouldn’t know about; and help student groups poster, table, and publicize. Also, a comprehensive events calendar would be amazing.

Another word we love: diversity. Let’s have the student body president and vice-president really throw their weight behind cultural organizations and raise awareness. The less-than-lovely truth of Carnegie Mellon is that while we hear constantly about diversity, certain groups of students still feel alienated. There may only be a handful of people in the student government, but it’s their prerogative and duty to make sure they get to the root of all student concerns.

If there’s one thing Carnegie Mellon seems to lack, it’s advocacy and education about social issues. We don’t put much investment into Pittsburgh, nor do we encourage students to participate in service or work toward making any kind of serious difference in people’s lives. Why not? If we’re so bright, let’s use our talents to help some people. The SBP and SBVP could definitely set an example and encourage this kind of involvement.

In his book On Leadership, John W. Gardner writes, “Most men and women go through their lives using no more than a fraction — usually a rather small fraction — of the potentialities within them. Among the untapped capabilities are leadership gifts.... We can do better. Much, much better.” I hope Sjogren and Hamilton take this into account as they step into their new positions.
I, for one, am going to hold them to extremely high expectations, and I have faith that they can and will deliver. I look forward to seeing what changes they make next year.