The time was 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 24, and the location was the Student Organization Center at the Tinkham Veale University Center. Over 40 Undergraduate Student Government (USG) representatives from three different caucuses—the Caucus of College of Arts and Science, the Caucus of School of Engineering and the First Year Caucus—were sitting behind three rows of tables facing the entrance, eagerly waiting their constituents. To the representatives’ dismay, the chairs on the other side of the tables, originally prepared for students who wanted to express their concerns to USG, remained mostly empty.
The representatives were assembled for a new monthly USG event, the All Caucus Forum. An initiative by USG Speaker Jack English, who is responsible for USG caucuses, the All Caucus Forum is a new attempt to increase student input in USG through a town-hall style meeting, where representatives address students’ concerns in person.
However the student turnout was not satisfactory. During the one-and-a-half hour meeting, only two students came to raise their concerns. They were welcomed by the representatives, and chatted with them casually.
One of the attendees, third-year student Cara Fagerholm, talked to her representatives from the School of Engineering Caucus about raising awareness about sustainability on campus and updating the general bulletin on the Case Western Reserve University website. Cara thought that the All Caucus Forum was useful, although she felt that there should be a stronger student presence.
“I appreciate that USG considers students’ voice and concerns, but I feel like a lot of students are not aware of it,” said Cara after the meeting. “It would also be helpful if students were told what the prompts are for the meeting and issues that USG can influence.”
For the rest of the representatives who did not have the opportunity to talk to their constituents, some issues were assigned to them for discussion. These issues, submitted to USG via its online suggestion box, ranged from academic policies, student services and campus facilities to food at Leutner Commons.
One suggestion was related to providing new facilities for napping on the quads and at the Kelvin Smith Library. Representatives across caucuses offered various solutions such as having some sleep spots at the library or adding a new lounge at the TVUC. At the same time, concerns were also brought up that more facilities for sleeping at public areas may encourage unbalanced studying and resting routines. Although there was no clear solution reached during the meeting, this issue will later be referred to the student life committee, which will investigate the feasibility of different solutions and take action accordingly.
Representatives also discussed academic concerns. The members of the College of Arts and Science Caucus discussed a suggestion to create an interdisciplinary research showcase. As more and more research is employing cross-disciplinary knowledge and many CWRU students are double-majoring in different fields, the suggestion proposed a showcase to expose students to interdisciplinary work and research opportunities. After the College of Arts and Science Caucus considered the proposal, they felt that it would be redundant to have a special showcase for interdisciplinary research, considering that the existing SOURCE Symposium and Poster Session already included research from all disciplines. However they agreed that it was necessary to promote research related to humanities subjects and to advertise for off-campus research opportunities.
Several solutions were also mapped out for this suggestion, including contacting the SOURCE office for potential collaboration and redirecting the issue to the USG academic affairs committee for further actions.
After discussing suggestions brought up by students, the representatives at the end of the meeting also expressed their suggestions to the All Caucus Forum. Since this was USG’s first meeting in this style, the representatives felt that there was definitely room for improvement.
Representative Andrew Thompson suggested more frequent meetings with smaller group of representatives, since he felt that some students may be intimidated by the presence of all USG representatives at the same time.
Representative Ed Niedoba also had a suggestion to have different caucuses host meetings separately at the schools they represent. Representative Archishman Ghosh added that each USG member should form personal contacts with their constituents and promote the All Caucus Forum on an individual basis.
English, who led the forum, is considering improving the forum to make it more accessible and effective for both the representatives and the constituents they serve.
“If we keep [the All Caucus Forum] as the same structure, we need to work more on public relations, figure out as many ways as possible to get students here, and have better preparation ahead of time for different caucus speakers and members,” said English. “If we don’t maintain the current system, we need lots of experimenting with different ways to try to address student concerns.”