Despite an unconventional fall semester, Student Senate is determined to face the challenges of the semester head-on and is beginning to look ahead to the spring as well.
The organization’s mission is still to represent the student body and promote positive changes on campus, but it looks slightly different in its execution given the pandemic.
“If anything, our job is much more important now,” said Declan Coster, ‘23, chair of the Senate’s Student Outreach Committee. “Students need answers now more than ever in these uncertain times.”
It has been a semester of adaptations for student senators thus far, since many of their processes have been impacted by COVID-19. From student elections to soliciting feedback from undergraduates, almost nothing is being done the way it was last semester.
“Elections are being held over Zoom this time around, but they’re typically done through online forms anyway,” said Eve Freed, ‘21, president of the Senate. “But it gets tricky when it comes to campaigning. It’s harder for freshmen to advocate for themselves remotely. They can’t exactly go from table to table in a dining hall and say, ‘Hey, vote for me!’”
The communication difficulties that accompany the transition to online operations transcend elections, impacting day-to-day operations as well.
“It’s harder to stay engaged with large meetings over Zoom, and it’s devastating that people might be less inclined to speak up due to technical issues,” said Victoria Drzymala, ‘23, chair of the Club Affairs Committee. “It can be scarier to address a larger group over Zoom than in-person.”
The social aspect of Senate meetings is also missed, seeing as ideas are often floated before and after large group meetings.
“Remote working requires over-communicating, which is harder to do now,” Freed said. “The sparks that fly during interpersonal meetings are missed.”
Still, the Senate is finding ways to best these obstacles. Though they, like many other on-campus organizations, were not able to go on the annual Grand Pocono Escape retreat, they compromised by participating in Zoom team-building activities for a few hours.
Student senators are attempting to also be innovative when it comes to accomplishing their other goals for the fall.
One such goal revolves around Drzymala’s Club Affairs Committee. She is working to ensure that on-campus organizations are credited with the longevity that they deserve.
“Our mission is to encourage new club leaders to develop themselves before they develop their clubs,” she said. “A problem in the past has been that some clubs had executive boards dominated by upperclassmen, which dissolved once they graduated. The passing-of the-torch process is more important now than ever.”
Drzymala said event-driven clubs that rely on meetings are struggling the most with this challenge at the moment.
Another goal for this semester is to make Lehigh an anti-racist institution, a task the Divertsity and Inclusion Committee is focusing on.
Beyond that, the Senate is striving to make sure students, especially first-years, know that the organization has their best interests in mind and that they are a reliable source of information and a mechanism for change.
“We are trying our best to stay on top of the COVID situation and make sure that voices are still heard in meetings where decisions are being made,” Freed said.
While the Senate is doing their best to stay on top of the situation, many decisions for the fall have already been made. That being said, they are already looking toward the end of the semester and beyond to the spring to make as much of an impact as possible.
For starters, one of Coster and his committee’s goals is to make sure that Le-Laf Rivalry festivities happen in some capacity.
“What that’ll look like is up in the air right now, but we have some great ideas,” he said. “But if student fatigue is bad now, it’ll be worse in November. That’s usually such a festive month on campus and the plan is not to deviate from that.”
As for the spring, the Student Outreach Committee is determined to uphold other more recent Lehigh traditions like “Dîner en Blanc.” This is usually a 500-person event, which will almost certainly require some changes.
“It doesn’t need to be in-person to be meaningful to the community in some way,” Coster said. “I think we have the willpower to get it done, and I know we can pull through this year.”
It’s difficult to create a sense of unity among undergraduates during this remote learning era, but Lehigh’s Student Senate is doing everything in their power to do just that.
“We’re Lehigh,” Coster said. “We can be creative.”
Lehigh community members can offer feedback or suggestions to the Student Senate by reaching out to Victoria Drzymala, Declan Coster, or Eve Freed. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.
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