Create Connection with the Student Activity Fee

By Audrey Kohout

As a student representative on the Board of Trustees campus life committee, I learned recently in a presentation from Health and Wellness that, in most mental health issues, Macalester students are on par with students at peer institutions. However, we are significantly more lonely and disconnected from our peers than students at similar schools. While I do not believe this disconnection is caused by student government actions, I do think the current structure of accessing student activity fee—primarily through student orgs—is problematic when not coupled with alternative means of socializing on campus. Around the same time that I learned about Mac students self-reporting loneliness, MCSG was debating over whether or not to fund popcorn in the student lounge. The debate made it clear to me how incredibly difficult it is for the average student on campus to put student activity fee dollars toward things they think are important and work to better campus life. If only org leaders, MCSG members and Program Board hold access to these dollars, and try to put on events for everyone on campus, it will not be enough. Orgs do great things for this campus, and PB does too, but not everyone with great ideas about how to improve life on campus is an org leader. For example, first-years are probably the people most impacted by the spending of the student activity fee but have very little control over how it is spent. Orgs have distinct purposes and are expected to program around their missions, Program Board spends most of its money on the two big events—that is, Spring Fest and Winter Ball—that nearly everyone goes to, and budgets for the year are too far in advance to allow for much flexibility in our funding. There needs to be another way for all students to use the student activity fee money to positively affect this campus. Anyone who has an idea for how to improve student life should be able to go through a simple process of obtaining activity fee dollars. A pot of money set aside for people who want to do things they thought would be awesome for the school without going through the red tape to set up an org (or people in orgs who want to expand beyond the mission of their org), would be one step towards fighting campus disconnect. If any student could be funded to fill in a gap they saw on campus, to put on an event they thought was missing or even just to give out doughnuts to people around campus on finals week, they should be able to. We have the money to do it. We could start a program for open student use of the student activity fee, allowing anyone to reach out to everyone. Student activity money should go toward improving student life in the long run. One thing that needs to be drastically improved on this campus is making it easier to connect with all the other students on campus—not just those in your orgs, or those who live on your first floor hallway, or those who play on your sports team—and student’s self reported data agrees. In Tuesday’s Legislative Body meeting Vice President Jesse Horwitz proposed a bill to do this. This bill provided a way to give the student body the same power over a piece of the student activity fee as Program Board does: to see a need on campus and meet it. The Legislative Body decided not to suspend by-laws to vote on the bill, despite the fact that time to plan and organize an event on campus this semester is running short. The opposition pretty much came down to a number of members of MCSG thinking there were not enough checks and balances on the program. What I saw as an unnecessary desire to create more bureaucracy around a $2,000 pot of money (less than 2% of the semester’s budget), one that could only be used by students wanting to reach out to the campus community, stopped this bill from passing. Although I respect their reasoning and their caution with student funds, I am disappointed that MCSG balked at the opportunity to start something new, something that might make a difference. Audrey Kohout is the Chair of Program Board. This piece is her personal opinion and is not meant to represent PB or MCSG. refresh –>