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Enhancing your Brandeis experience: the Student Union

Published: October 3, 2014
Section: Features

“All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players.” -William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Campus life could be likened to a theater, and the people we meet here to actors on a stage, each playing individual roles on campus through student organizations, social groups or campus events. But behind the curtains in a production is always the stagehand who carefully orchestrates the scenes created. The stagehand of your life at Brandeis is the Brandeis Student Union, a group of undergraduate students that works the ropes of this campus. The Union aims to advocate student interests and provides extensive support for student life. The members are dedicated to enhancing your Brandeis experience; their wide jurisdiction ranges from adjusting dining plans, recognizing clubs and organizations and empowering students with a voice.

The Student Union’s membership is comprised of undergraduate students who are elected to represent the student body each semester. To give a brief overview of its structure, there are four separate branches of the Union: the Executive Office, the Union Senate, the Union Judiciary and the Union Finance Board, each serving its own respective function. In April 2014, the 2014-2015 Executive Office elections were held, which was the first step toward new goals for Fall 2014. The chairs of the Executive Office are as follows: Student Union President Sneha Walia ’15, Vice President Sofía Mühlmann ’16, Secretary Charlotte Franco ’15 and Treasurer Andrew Miller ’16. The Union Senate ratifies the Union budget for the duration of the semester and, as the gatekeeper for student clubs and organizations, approves on-campus recognized and chartered student organizations.

Other specialized positions are offered in the Union to ensure that the unique values the school upholds are advocated for on campus. Founded upon the Campus Sustainability Initiative, the Brandeis Sustainability Fund Board funds and advises undergraduate projects that promote environmental sustainability on campus. Still fresh in our memory is the introduction of 100 dual-flush toilets in five campus buildings, one of the most recent projects that this program funded. The establishment of the Gender and Sexuality Coordinator position and the Gender and Sexuality Center was approved last spring. Walia stresses that it is essential to encourage communication and collaboration between “all of our branches and truly working like a team of leaders” in a previous interview with BrandeisNOW.

One of the main focuses of the Student Union is to ensure that students’ perspectives are reflected in administrative decisions, such as dining systems and transportation. Last year’s Union has taken various measures to increase the students’ ability to influence dining operations. The Union distributed student surveys to evaluate their current satisfaction with the dining administration. Students’ needs were met with change. Members of the Senate Dining Committee worked closely with Sodexo last spring to revise meal plans and facilities. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks have been added to campus, Louis’ Deli in Usdan and Peet’s Coffee in the Science Center were launched, and the Stein and Lower Usdan were renovated for the fall semester.

The new “student-focused Student Union” has shown an increased interest in improving dining services, even addressing it as one of Student Union’s main initiatives. Walia, in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot following her election as president, promised to ensure that this year’s Union “lives up to its goal of being an advocate for students and a connection between students and administrators.” Since her inauguration, she has again expressed this commitment but through practical measures. On Sept. 15, the Union held a student forum to follow up the recent dining changes, where students raised their concerns about the services that they have encountered upon returning to campus. Their concerns were taken into consideration and filtered through the Union to Sodexo, facilities and the administration, according to BrandeisNOW. “We try to make sure student voices are involved in conversations about topics related to students by bringing what we hear about student concerns to administration and working on actionable solutions,” stated Walia.

As the Union is a body that represents the students, it is essential for the Union to “be aware of the needs on campus,” which includes addressing the needs from different demographics on campus and creating an inclusive environment. “The Union is currently in the process of getting all Union members trained in bystander intervention, and will be having a forum with representatives from the ICC at our upcoming all-Union meeting to discuss our connection to the ICC and work being done related to diversity,” said Walia.

To further marginalize the gap between the administration and the students, the Union proposed the Community Enhancement Fund through the Constitutional Review Task Force last April. Through this $250,000 fund, students can submit to the Union new and innovative project ideas on how to improve the school facilities. According to the Student Union Website, installing new lights for Gosman Field and smoking gazebos in residential quads are a few examples. These ideas are then carefully contemplated upon the basis of the criteria on whether the project is necessary, beneficial and practical. The fund will widen the doors for new changes but will become another important agent in enhancing the democratic nature of the school facilitation.

While the Student Union has been making visible differences on student life, it remains behind the curtains for the most part, or more accurately, in Room 301 of the SCC. People question what exactly the Student Union does, and Walia wants to give answers. She hopes to increase the transparency of its inner-workings and strengthen the connection between it and the students. It is taking measures to inform students about initiatives of the Union and campus in general. This semester, the Executive Office promises to publish a comprehensive list of their initiatives for the school year in a newsletter. Carrying on the spirit of last year’s roundtable discussions with the administration, the Union will hold open forums where students can stay updated on various campus issues in the future.

As far as where the Union is at a month into the semester, Walia explained that although the Union is not yet a full unit, “[appointed Union members] are getting settled into their committees and ready to go. The Union will set up their university committees next week now that things are set on our end, for example.” When asked which upcoming projects she is most excited for, she replied, “’DEIS Impact, which we cosponsor, is near and dear to my heart and the committee there is amazing so I’m excited about that as a participant.”

It is true that the Union is a powerhouse on campus, holding the purse strings of the Student Activities Fee and harnessing power over various school operations; but a more representative picture of the Union would be to say that the Union is a group of passionate individuals who simply want to stand with the student body and make Brandeis a more enjoyable place.