At 7 p.m. on Feb. 23, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) will host the Caucus Town Hall Meeting, an initiative brought up by former USG Speaker Jacob Ma, and launched by current Speaker Jack English. The new forum, to be held in the Tinkham Veale University Center, is expected to increase student-representative interaction and promote student participation.
USG representatives are divided into five different caucuses, four of which represent the four undergraduate schools: College of Arts and Sciences, Case School of Engineering, School of Nursing and Weatherhead School of Management. There is also a caucus to represent the first-year student body. Based on the number of students in each school or in the first-year class, different numbers of USG representatives affiliated with these schools or class are elected.
The caucus system is designed to better serve different constituencies and solve problems specifically related to different schools. However English feels that little has been done in the past year and a half in terms of caucuses.
“The caucuses are supposed to be tools to advance student interest, but they have, to some extent, fallen by the wayside since the committees are able to take a lot of the load of getting student interest taken care of,” said English.
The current caucus system does not work as closely with students as was originally envisioned. While many initiatives are brought up by different USG committees, the caucuses seem less active in collecting student suggestions and initiating proposals to address student concerns. English feels that the caucuses have done very little, so their only function is to determine how many representatives each school or the first-year class has.
One of the USG speaker’s responsibilities is to oversee the caucuses, so English, succeeding Ma, is trying to reinvigorate the caucus system with the new Caucus Town Hall Meeting.
USG invites all undergraduate students to join in at this monthly forum. During the first 30 minutes of the forum, each attending student will talk with two or three representatives. At this time, students may give suggestions and concerns, and their thoughts will be considered in the following session. The representatives will then come together according to their caucuses and go through every suggestion brought up to them. They determine whether the issues fall under USG purview and, if so, how they can address them. If USG cannot directly solve the issues, an alternative path will be provided to the students to pursue other solutions. To increase transparency in the decision-making process, the discussion process will also be open to students.
“The main point is that student representatives are elected to serve their constituencies, and [the Caucus Town Hall Meeting] is, apart from the committees, the best way we can think of to serve our student constituencies,” said English. “We want to let them know that we hear their problems and we are trying to either solve them ourselves, or put them on the correct path to get them solved.”
English thinks it is important to ensure students that their voices can be heard by the administration, and their concerns will be addressed through the effort of their student representatives. The Caucus Town Hall Meeting is expected to bring students and their representatives together for better understanding and greater student efficacy.
It is unclear to many students what channels are available for them to express their suggestions and concerns to. Besides the Caucus Town Hall Meeting, students can also submit their suggestions through a mailbox on the USG website. However since the mailbox was enacted, there have been only two responses: One complained about the quality of coffee at Leutner, and the other was related to the need-aware issue.
Although students are generally less informed about the ways to contact their USG representatives, they feel confident that they can address their concerns to USG if needed.
“I have never felt the need to seek out, but if I do, I think I could find more than one way to get in contact with USG representatives,” said Holly Johnson, a fourth-year student.
As some USG representatives have observed, students have been more concerned with campus issues and more active in voicing their opinions in the past year. USG is working on better serving its constituents and addressing student concerns by increasing its accessibility.