Student government leaders deliberated how to hold administrative officials more accountable and increase student engagement at a conference Sunday.
The Student Leadership Association of California met at UCLA with student government representatives from a dozen universities including UCLA, Stanford University, the University of Southern California and Occidental College. SLAC is an association of about 15 student governments dedicated to building connections between the universities.
“Public schools, private schools, community colleges, large research universities, (were) all there and you tend to find that we all have more in common than what a lot of people think,” said Robert Watson, the president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council at UCLA.
Sunday’s conference began with opening remarks from Watson and went into a group discussion about how each university’s student government is structured, how they plan to hold administrators accountable and how to increase outreach to student bodies, said Katherine Shen, a director in the USAC Office of the President and a fourth-year business economics student.
Trenton Stone, the president of the USC Undergraduate Student Government, said a big outcome of this event was the further formalization and organization of SLAC as an association.
Occidental College, USC and Pitzer College formed SLAC in 2018.
Truman Fritz, the USC USG senior director of communications, prepared a foundational preliminary report of a proposed structure and outline of the association.
“I think setting that foundation is really critical (and) really paramount to what we’ve done over … last year to be able to really formalize this initiative,” Stone said.
Shen said she thinks her office can benefit from learning about the structure of different student governments.
She said, for example, Harvey Mudd College officials tend to focus more on housing issues since a high percentage of their student population lives on campus.
“Just learning about different schools, … how they approach certain things, for example, administration or something like that, it just helps us see if there is anything missing in our system,” Shen said.
Despite differences in structure, Watson said he thinks student government officials face similar challenges.
“Most of the time, we have more in common than not, and that’s whether it’s working with administrators, how we support student organizations on our campuses (or) how we advocate for students who are underrepresented on our campus or underserved,” Watson said. “We all struggle with those challenges in our student government.”
Dina Rosin, the president of the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College, said in an email statement that she enjoyed sharing resources, experiences and best practices with the student government leaders at the conference.
“I am hopeful that by working together, we can better organize and build power to more effectively take on the challenges that students face within our state,” Rosin said.
Stone said he thinks there were numerous benefits to hosting a student government symposium, including building a network of student government leaders to allow them to work together.
“At the end of the day, we all just want to support our student body and find ways to connect and engage students, so being able to share those best practices can just help us improve what each of us do at our student governments,” Stone said.
Aside from their work at the conference, student government leaders from UCLA, Stanford, USC and Yale University co-signed an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times published Aug. 7 regarding the college admissions scandal, which found parents of students at prestigious universities had paid to facilitate their admission to the university.
The student government officials argued educational institutions should help support students who come from historically underserved communities.
USC and UCLA student representatives, both graduate and undergraduate, also released a joint statement in June calling on school administrators for increased communication to students about incidents of sexual assault and harassment.
“None of that would have happened without these conferences where we go and connect with people and realize that a lot of our platforms … are really similar,” Watson said.
Watson said his goals for the conference were to make it accessible and grow the attendance from years past. He said the prior quarterly conference had four institutions and about 22 people.
This conference had 51 people in attendance and a dozen institutions in attendance, according to attendance records from Shen.
“We really tried to connect with governments across the state to join in on this,” Watson said. “And the ones that didn’t come, we still connected with them … and (are) making sure they feel included in the Student Leadership Association in California.”
SLAC conferences are quarterly, with the next one taking place sometime next spring.
Contributing reports from Megan Son, Daily Bruin contributor.