The Tulane Hullabaloo

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USG reflects on engagement, looks to improve

USG+created+a+Canvas+page+this+year+for+students+to+join.+The+page+features+minutes+from+meetings%2C+constitutions+and+by-laws%2C+in+order+to+increase+accessibility
USG created a Canvas page this year for students to join. The page features minutes from meetings, constitutions and by-laws, in order to increase accessibility

USG created a Canvas page this year for students to join. The page features minutes from meetings, constitutions and by-laws, in order to increase accessibility

USG created a Canvas page this year for students to join. The page features minutes from meetings, constitutions and by-laws, in order to increase accessibility

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When the Undergraduate Student Government asked students, “What is USG lacking in terms of opportunities for students?” students responded frankly:

“I didn’t quite know I could run for anything as a freshman,” one anonymous respondent said. “I never know when I have opportunities to apply for stuff,” another said. Other comments reflected a perception that students did not know what USG was doing on campus.

“I don’t think it’s lacking opportunities so much as the opportunities aren’t heavily advertised,” said one respondent.

Though USG posts open positions on OrgSync and on Facebook, many opportunities are advertised only one or two days before applications are due.

These responses come from a survey sent out as part of a collaboration between USG’s Public Affairs Committee and Freshman Leadership Program to improve engagement with freshman students. The anonymized responses were provided by the Public Affairs Committee.

This year, USG appointed its first Director of Student Engagement, junior Maya Vasishth, who chairs the Public Affairs Committee. Vasishth had previously served as a Freshman Leadership Program coordinator and was recently elected Executive Vice President of USG.

Vashishth said the number of events this year was increased in order to reach more students. The committee members also created a Canvas page which allows interested students to join to receive updates. The committee plans to install a suggestions box in the Student Organizations Center for students to use.

In the survey, many students said they had incorrectly assumed USG served basically the same purpose as their high school student governments did, or that it simply did homecoming planning.

USG Senate 11/28/17

President Michael Fitts addressed the Tulane USG on Tuesday to discuss current campus issues, announce updates going forward and answer student questions.

Posted by Tulane Hullabaloo on Thursday, November 30, 2017

The plan is to use the responses to prepare a packet to debunk common misconceptions about USG, part of a broader project to increase USG’s presence at orientation to teach students early about the functions the body performs on campus.

“If I can go up to a student and they can tell me what USG is and what we’ve done then I think we’ve done our job,” Vasishth said.

Despite these initiatives, students have complained that efforts to connect with students sometimes appear to drop off after campaign seasons end.

“The most outreach I’ve ever seen USG do is for their own elections,” freshman Josh Ballagh said.

Director of Communications Felicia Tan said the USG website is still a work in progress. It is difficult to work on it because Wix.com, the online editor USG uses to build the site, is blocked on Tulane wifi.

USG

The USG website features key information about the body and connects students to links with meeting minutes, calendars and directories.

“We’ll be coming up with a list of accomplishments … so that prospective students, administrators, and even current students are able to see what USG does and approach us when the time arises,” Tan said.

Students can also email USG through a form under the “Committees” tab.

“We’ll direct those messages through relevant committees on USG or someone on exec board to follow up on it,” Tan said. “It does not have to be a suggestion; it can just be general feedback, or even if you would like to get involved.”

Some important information is unavailable online. Committee minutes for this year have not been posted, transcripts of Senate meetings have only been posted through Jan. 23 and the USG budget is not available. The new Judicial Council has yet to receive a page on the website. Much of this is in progress, Tan said, but she posts new materials as soon as they are available.

One committee, Awards and Elections, isn’t mentioned at all online. Tan said that this was an intentional decision but she would look into putting that information online.

While some students blame USG for poor communication, the lack of engagement is a two-sided phenomenon. Student apathy and irregular participation hinder communication. The Public Affairs Committee is planning to host fewer events and cancel roundtables next year because of lack of attendance, Vasishth said.

There are multiple ways for students who do not hold an office to get involved. Any member of the student body can register to be added to the USG Canvas page by filling out a form on TulaneUSG.com. Every piece of public information, including legislation, is posted there about two days before each Senate meeting, Tan said.

For those who prefer meeting in-person, every USG Senate meeting and most committee meetings are open to the public.

Events this year like Coffee With a Senator and Get TU Know Your Senators sought to introduce students to their representatives, while the How TU USG series provided attendees practical guides to joining committees and running campaigns. Roundtables, town halls and student forums brought together voices on specific topics relevant to the Tulane community, but the events sometimes struggled to attract diverse sets of voices.

“USG could do a better job of bringing these conversations to people and letting them know that you don’t have to have a bunch of knowledge going in,” Vasishth said, “You should just show up and become part of the conversation.”

But, she said, after USG has introduced itself, it’s also up to students to continue that engagement.

“[I]f we put ourselves out there, [we’ve] gotta meet you halfway,” Vasishth said.

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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans
USG reflects on engagement, looks to improve