I strongly believe that a good student government is integral to the well-being of any college student body — especially a small liberal arts one. Inclusivity, diversity and community are held as fundamental pillars of our values here at St. Olaf, and the student government has an important duty in promoting these core values. In understanding that, the question turns to whether or not the Student Government Association (SGA) at St. Olaf is doing an adequate job at fostering these values. This is a difficult burden to uphold. Difficult, and perhaps even impossible, due partially to the structures and history of SGA, but also due to the natural faults of student apathy and accessibility that any government body faces.
In an institution created solely for the advancement of education, apathy in extracurricular participation is the key force in why participation is so low. As participation in academia increases, participation in extracurricular activities decreases. This is the driving force of what I will refer to as “extracurricular apathy.” As academia demands more and more from students, it is simply inevitable that students will feel less inclined to devote any amount of time to extracurriculars not essential to the betterment of their professional future. I am not saying that academia devalues extracurriculars, rather, students who participate in a laborious academic environment are less likely to participate in activities that take mental and physical energy away from this necessary academic participation. SGA is just one body which falls prey to this extracurricular apathy.
In the case that a student does not possess this apathy and wishes to participate in an extracurricular organization such as SGA, this student will find it difficult to access the very organization he or she wishes to participate in. Unlike natural extracurricular apathy, SGA can be held at fault for accessibility. The primary problem in accessibility is confusion. Students at St. Olaf are left confused as to how we can participate in SGA, and how to find information on SGA’s activities or decisions. The main source of this confusion is the Oleville website, the primary medium through which an individual can hope to learn about SGA’s events and activities.
My immediate gripe with the Oleville website is its layout. In attempting to place aesthetics above functionality, the website makes it difficult to maneuver and find specific information. The lack of a clear guiding design makes navigating the site a chore.
Extrapolating from my qualms with the website, knowing how to participate in SGA is in and of itself confusing. The key to this confusion is connectedness. I don’t feel connected to SGA. And this isn’t for any sort of apathy. As expressed initially, I think student government is crucial to a positive student body. But if I can’t feel connected to the very organization that I hold at principal value to ensure my connectedness, then how is this connectedness supposed to be fostered, if not from the source that should be tasked with fostering it? Open meetings where participation is encouraged feel restricted only to SGA members, elections which supposedly impact the college often leave students unaware and the eventual decisions of SGA, which are supposed to effect the entire student body, are never truly realized.
Do I have any answers to fix these problems of apathy and accessibility? Unfortunately, I don’t. But I hope that simply giving voice to these concerns can enlighten SGA to reevaluate itself, to ensure that it is fulfilling its integral duty to the students of St. Olaf.
Jacob Maranda ’22 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Rock Island, Ill. His major is undeclared.