The Lehigh Student Senate for the 2017-18 academic school year met for the first time on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in the UC. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Student Senate’s founding. (Ana Madrigal/B&W Staff)

Senate celebrates 30th anniversary with a focus on longevity, unity

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On Tuesdays, they can be seen on campus wearing business-casual clothing, discussing the most prominent obstacles and aspirations of the Lehigh community. Yet for one weekend each year, the members of the newest Student Senate swap their suits and ties for sweatshirts and sneakers to bond at the Great Pocono Escape.

It’s times like these – in mud, in cabins and in the cold – that members are reminded they, too, are students and the work they do aims to serve and advance individuals just like themselves.

This year Senate celebrates 30 years of student-centered efforts and initiatives, as well as another year of bridging gaps between different groups on campus.

Senate president Matthew Rothberg, ’18, said the group has handled many issues over the last few years, and he knows Senate will continue playing a large role in campus concerns, including the debate and petition regarding Donald Trump’s honorary degree.

Senator Aislinn Strohecker, ’18, said addressing the 2016 presidential election as a whole was one of the biggest challenges Senate has faced since she joined her freshman year.

“People wanted us to respond (to the election) and we weren’t quite sure how to do that because there was no precedent,” Strohecker said.

Along with responding to campus and world events, Rothberg said Senate also serves as a point of communication between students and administrators.

“We need to make sure the students’ voices are heard,” Rothberg said. “But we also want to make sure what administrators are saying is being translated and sent out to students, so they understand what’s going on in their community.”

Since there is so much going on in the Lehigh community, Rothberg said Senate is taking a more individualized approach when it comes to handling the issues that matter most.

In addition to a permanent student outreach committee that is responsible for engaging with students directly, there will be a heavier focus on distinct projects and ideas brought forth to Senate. Rothberg said students will be encouraged to share their thoughts on campus issues, and senators who show interest will work on projects specifically addressing their concerns.

Rothberg said he anticipates the biggest issues of the upcoming year will include the cost of parking, dining options and campus unity and safety.

“People are really passionate about a lot of different issues around campus,” Senate vice president Lindsay Wilson, ’18, said. “Sometimes it’s hard to see follow through. People graduate, or they voice an idea and don’t really see it through, but we are working on it.”

To secure the longevity and sustainability of Senate’s efforts, Strohecker said a four-year plan is in the works. She said only about 50 percent of council members remain from year to year, so goals, as well as lessons learned from the past, often get lost in transition phases.

“Right now, there are only three people on Senate who have been there for all of their four years (at Lehigh),” Strohecker said. “Writing a four-year plan would really help us remember what direction we want to go in and set a blueprint for the future.”

Strohecker said campus safety and unity will be a large component of the four-year plan.

In looking to the future, as well as addressing current issues, Senate is teaming up with the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council and Peer Health Advisers to implement the “Nighthawks” program.

Rothberg said the objective of the program, which is proposed to begin next semester, is to create a bystander intervention team.

“The goal is to make sure students feel safe at social events but also provide a median to allow the social scene to come back on campus, because having the social scene off campus has created a litany of issues,” Rothberg said.

In light of Senate’s 30th anniversary and the start of a new academic year, Rothberg challenges students to reach out with their concerns so they can start seeing, and also be part of, change on campus.

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