Macalester College Student Government: An (un)representative body?

When asked what he knew about MCSG, Angel Diaz ’18 responded, “[I know] they are currently trying to get students credit for science labs. I also heard that they were responsible for the panini press in Café Mac.”

Although he did vote in the most recent election, Diaz suggested that increased interaction between MCSG and the student body would make him feel more represented: “I [would like it] if MCSG put out a newsletter weekly or bi-weekly that displayed what they are currently trying to achieve and how to contact them with opinions … I think increasing the avenues through which the general student body can interact with what is going on in MCSG will go a long way in decreasing apathy.”

Caroline Peters ’18 responded similarly: “I think MCSG has the intention to make Macalester the best that it can. However, I have no idea what MCSG talks about in meetings, when it meets or what its agenda is … Perhaps if MCSG was more transparent, those not involved would be more interested in it.”

Diaz and Peters demonstrate an apparent student apathy towards MCSG, which has also been seen in the low number of upperclass students running for representative positions and a high turnover rate within the organization.

Merrit Stueven ’17, an MCSG representative for her class, said, “I feel that the Macalester community in general is a bit apathetic towards MCSG. When things happen that reflect negatively on MCSG, such as the controversies around org funding at the end of last year, people focus on those things because they are mostly unaware of the other great things that MCSG has done to improve the lives of students at this school.”

Stueven herself has experienced apathy towards participating in MCSG. After not being elected for a position on MCSG in her first semester, she did not seriously consider running again, “partially due to the sometimes negative attitudes towards MCSG held by people in the Mac community.”

In the most recent MCSG election, Stueven ran as a write-in candidate after she realized that no other candidates had come forward. She said, “I have for a long time been bothered by the dismal state of female representation in MCSG and [it] had gotten to a point where I felt that I could no longer rightfully criticize the problems with the institution if I was not willing to be a part of the solution.”

But with the opportunities for problem-solving and creating positive change on campus through MCSG, there also comes an increased responsibility. Caroline Duncombe ’18, Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) Chair, commented that, although exciting and challenging, a greater commitment to MCSG can be overwhelming, especially for those in their sophomore or junior year: “[As an executive], you’re dedicating yourself to a full-time work study job without being paid. And as a representative, you’re [only] dedicating three to four hours per week.”

Participation in MCSG can be particularly difficult for juniors studying away. Although there are ten juniors in MCSG, half of them are currently abroad. Finding candidates willing to commit for only one semester is often difficult. The quick turnover also affects projects and organization.

Duncombe added that it is also difficult to attract students, especially sophomores, to MCSG once they are already involved in other things at Macalester. Furthermore, many students end up dropping out of MCSG because participation is such a time commitment.
MCSG also has a high turnover rate. According to Duncombe, “This year we’re pretty new.” She attributed the turnover to time: “A lot of people want to do internships or research outside of the college. But for MCSG, you have to make the meeting every Tuesday night from seven to nine.”

Stueven said that the high turnover rate may make it difficult for MCSG to create visible, institutional changes. She said, “Most student governments have significant ups and downs: the high turnover and relatively little institutional memory make it difficult to continue work in more long terms ways, which is often required to make institutional changes. However, that is something MCSG is aware of and working against.”

Overall, both Duncombe and Stueven attribute student apathy towards MCSG to a lack of visibility for MCSG projects. According to Duncombe, “Overall, we’re doing quite a bit. Last year, some of the projects we were working on did not come to fruition because of time delays and administrative pushback, but this year [in the AAC], each person has their own project with regards to bettering academics at Macalester.”

Stueven added, “MCSG does productive work, both by coming up with its own plans and also by facilitating the ability of students to follow through on their own. However, I do think that people are not as aware as they could be about how MCSG is involved in campus life. Things like the textbook reserve program, the new funding for summer internships and the community chest, which funds non-org affiliated student events and ideas, are all great examples of ways MCSG has found ways to improve student experiences.”

Despite recent student disinterest in MCSG, there are still students involved in the organization who care about the group’s future at Macalester. Much like Duncombe, who has been excited about meeting new people and finding different ways to make change, Stueven has been enjoying her time in MCSG. “So far MCSG has been a very welcoming and inspiring community for me … The members of MCSG are doing what they do because they are passionate about making a positive impact on this community. I’ve heard so many great ideas and ways to improve in the few short weeks I’ve been a part of this organization and I’m really excited to see those initiatives followed through.”