Few experiences as a student can compare to the responsibility and privilege of serving on the student “government,” or as we more appropriately term it at Brandeis, the Student Union. Participation in the Student Union in any capacity, elected or appointed, puts you in contact with vivacious and energetic people across the spectrum of the campus community. Students from across the world, of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, genders, religions and Hogwarts houses come together to work for the greater good of the Brandeis community. Some people want to make change in the world. Some want to pursue higher office when they graduate. Many want both. One cannot make light of the experience.
The politics of the Union have almost always been civil. I appreciate that nearly everyone agrees on the importance of the well-being of the student body and that we spend our resources combatting administrative influence and advocating for students, rather than descending into the partisan infighting that many student governments at other schools struggle with.
In my time on the Union, I have served as a member of the Allocations Board, which oversees the fair and equitable distribution of funds to clubs from the Student Activity Fees that all Brandeis students pay. A few times during the year, we hold marathons where clubs come to us with proposals for events or projects, and as a group we decide which of these projects are cost-effective, beneficial for Brandeis and help clubs fulfill their purpose. In my time on the A-Board, I learned a lot about Brandeis and the amazing community we have, but also a lot about human nature and some of the not-so-nice side of our beloved campus.
Once I joined the board, I learned very quickly that greed can cause great suffering. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income,” reads Ecclesiastes 5:10. Many people who I dealt with while on A-Board were exceptionally greedy, and this greed corrupted them. They would demand money for very inessential or unauthorized items and take extreme measures when they were not given what they demanded.
One year, when money was exceptionally tight, a student involved in Springfest planning asked for a personal meeting, as he was quite upset that he had “only” received $130,000 for Springfest. During the meeting he asked for tens of thousands in additional funding. When I told him resources were scarce, he complained that “the Asian clubs” get whatever they ask for, and that Springfest was a more deserving cause. I was a bit taken aback not only at such overt racism, but also the level of entitlement he felt. $130,000 is a large sum of money, but even that was not enough for him, and this greed made him envious of other clubs’ resources.
But such greed was not limited just to one club. In a particularly rude request, one group asked for $2,000 for airfare, hotel stays and two VIP passes to South by Southwest, a film festival in Texas. The request was ridiculous and would have been an abhorrent abuse of student funds. When we rejected it, the president of the club was so angry he wrote an email to a number of senior administration officials demanding our decision be overturned. I already felt remorse that a student would attempt to defraud the Union for personal gain but was even more pained when he tried to curb our independence and weaken students’ rights just to get free tickets.
The allocations process is serious. We pay for the livelihoods of several instructors in dance, music and martial arts. We provide the funds necessary for many major campus traditions and events: Messiah Sing, Springfest, Midnight Buffet, Codestellation and APAHM, among others. If we do not manage our money properly, these events cannot happen, and many students will miss out on extremely meaningful opportunities.
One of my greatest disappointments has been our dealings with the administration. Perhaps it is my New Englander background, but I have always respected authority and assumed those in power work for the greater good. However, a number of my interactions with administrators from the office of Students and Enrollment have hurt this trust. While many people there are very nice and open to student participation, some do not believe A-Board uses resources efficiently, and would prefer more centralized (i.e., not student-led) event planning. This past semester, this mistrust culminated in the new CAB (Campus Activities Board), which strong-armed $400,000 from A-Board (nearly 25 percent of our budget). When we protested, we were threatened not to intervene. During the meetings where we debated this maneuver, an administrator was in the room reporting back our discussions. Such actions violate the trust I feel is necessary for students and administrators to work towards our common goal of student well-being.
Some experiences were a little more exciting than they needed to be. At one point, I encountered a slightly inebriated student who was a tad peeved that we had not given certain clubs as many resources as he wanted us to. He then left for a brief moment to retrieve a switchblade from his dorm room, and it took a great deal of reassurance on my part to ensure he left my entrails fully intact. But such are the hazards of student service.
My second semester on the board, just as the funding marathons were beginning, the chairwoman began studying for the LSATs and could not be reached by email, phone, text, Facebook, WhatsApp or anything for several weeks. After it became clear she would not be able to fulfill her duties, I stepped in to fill the role temporarily, and with great assistance from other union members, especially then-President Nyah Macklin ’16 and Senator Kate Kesselman ’19, we were able to get meetings together and set everything straight. In response to the near-crisis, the Union proposed and passed by referendum a constitutional amendment to increase the size and scope of the board. Since then, A-Board has had an influx of motivated and capable people. The current team, led by Emma Russell ’19 and until recently Alex Feldman ’19, has done an amazing job making the funding process more transparent and reaching out to clubs individually. We have started new programs, like CEEF for major capital projects and BEEP grants for experimental events.
Serving on the Allocations Board has always been a privilege and a joy. There were moments when the time commitment was daunting, and nail-biting elections are always a stressor, but overall the experience has been immensely positive.
Of course, the Allocations Board is always need of new faces. I am graduating, and other members are studying abroad, so there will be a need for new candidates to run for the position. If you feel called to serve the student body, take your responsibilities seriously, and are interested in making an impact on campus, you should run for a seat on A-Board next fall.