Who is the Student Government? Understanding freshman engagement with the AUSG.
Who is the Student Government? For second years, third years or ASP students at Ashoka, this will likely not be a difficult question to answer. It is a known fact that the Student Government (SG) has a Constitution, House of Representatives and Cabinet along with a Vice President and President. However, how clear are these details for a first year? In response to The Edict asking freshmen what they knew about the current SG, ; a student said, “I think it's just a body we sometimes get emails from…I can't name a single actual member of the government.”
This conception of the Student Government as a higher, unreachable authority is common among first years. With the bulk of interaction being via forwarded emails, it is hard to think of the SG as anything other than a “mysterious entity” as another UG'27 said.
UG’27s first encounter with student politics began with the “First night for Ashoka.” Members of the Student Government and associated volunteers updated first years about the ongoing academic freedom crisis at Ashoka University and the question of student engagement and dissent. The SG hoped this crucial meeting would set the tone for how students, especially the newest batch, should participate in matters pertaining to them.
However, there has been little to no interaction between the Student Government and first years exclusively following the semester’s early days. How can students access the SG and for what issues? What resources does it offer? Who is in the SG? This basic information regarding procedure and functioning enables freshmen to access their fundamental rights at the university. During The Edict’s conversations with the first-year students, none seemed acquainted with resources such as the Right to Information form and the Public Information drive.
What do first-year students think the Student Government does? “Pass on messages,'' said one UG27. “Maybe not actively solve the problem themselves, but at least bring awareness about it amongst the student body and solve problems about things like inclusivity.”
Noor Sabharwal, a UG’27, says, “I think the only point of contact I would be aware of for the Student Government is that general Student Government email, which doesn't exactly feel like the place to go if you have a genuine personal complaint. If that was the case, I would not reach out to the Student Government. I would find another alley to seek perspective.”
Accessibility and familiarity are both key issues first year students face. ,“It feels very, very intimidating to interact with them. If they weren't, I would definitely bring up even small concerns with them,” explained another UG'27.
Remaining uninformed about a representative body’s structure, processes and resources runs the risk of perpetuating an unfortunate culture of isolation. Engaging with the Student Government benefits first year students individually too. One UG’27 explained, “Right now, already I feel like I'm lost in the university. I don't know much about how it functions, how it is structured, how the students play a role and bring about change. If I was able to interact with them, I would at least have a better idea of this, and maybe I would also be able to engage and interact, and that anxiety would go down.”
The SG, in a comment to The Edict admitted they have not been able to interact with the newest batch as much as they would have liked to.
“The Student Government has constantly been working on emergency situations since entering office. These issues required every member’s support and therefore, our attention has been focused on them entirely.”
As these crises gradually recede, the SG hopes to soon restart engagement with the first year student body including “setting up a dialogue with freshmen that includes not only the First Years’ Committee, but a more direct conversation with elected representatives of the SG.”
The First Year Committee aims to give the freshmen batch a voice in the SG. However, details remain fuzzy on finer points and the members of this committee have not been announced as of 14th October, 2023.
How can the Student Government then make itself more accessible to first year students? UG’27s answered requesting more open meetings like the one held during orientation week. Here students can ask questions directly to the SG and familiarize themselves with who the persons in office are.
The SG in their statement told The Edict that they will soon be organizing Question Hours and Open Meetings, which are mandated to be held twice a semester, along with a ‘Meet the SG’ event to “facilitate introductions which will allow, not just freshmen but the entire student body to meet and speak with us.”