Student Government

The University of Chicago

Our thoughts on annual awards for SG leadership

Tyler Kissinger9 Comments

I can easily say that the most defining aspect of my four years at the University of Chicago has been participating in Student Government. It's been rewarding beyond words to work to make UChicago a better place for all of its students. And we've accomplished a fair bit along the way, from the U-Pass and the SLRA program to unprecedented growth in participation of graduate students in SG and the passage of a budget that increases support for RSOs, academic teams, and resources for sexual assault awareness.

As a first-generation and largely self-supporting College student who is dependent on financial aid, every hour I spent on SG work came at the expense of my coursework and ability to work a campus job to support myself. Participating in SG is an all-consuming experience -- I'd estimate the average week has me spending 15-20 hours a week on SG-related work. Most of that work is behind-the-scenes, and enables us to allocate funding to RSOs, make sure students are represented on University committees, or participate in university hiring decisions. 

Looking back at my time at UChicago, I wouldn't trade the opportunity for serving in SG for anything. But at times, it made my life very hard. There were weeks when I was more worried about having the money to pay for bills or books than the next paper I had to write or project I needed to complete. I got dropped from classes a few times for missing bill deadlines. I've gone weeks without money in my bank account because I had hundreds of dollars of outstanding reimbursements for SG expenses. For much of my time at UChicago I was unable to engage in the classroom to the degree I wish I could have, and that came as a result of trying to work a campus job while prioritizing my work in SG above all else. While I'm immensely proud of the work that we've done in SG over my past two years as President, I know I could have done more if it weren't for this financial stress.

For a long time, all of this is something that was hard for me to talk about. There is a lot of shame associated with feelings of financial insecurity. But moving forward, as SG continues to grow as an institution capable of improving the experience of graduate and undergraduate students at UChicago, it is my view that these positions need be accessible to students of all backgrounds. Collectively, the three of us in Executive Slate work a total of six part-time jobs.  The amount of time it takes to do the work in these positions will only continue to grow as SG's impact on campus grows. That is why we are proposing for Executive Committee members to receive a small annual award -- essentially the equivalent of a part-time campus job. Many of our counterparts at peer universities see their tuition covered, or receive $10k+ annual salaries. This proposal is a more modest one that would help to guarantee that these positions will continue to be accessible to students of all backgrounds, and to help continue to grow the functions of Student Government.

I recognize that may not be a popular proposal -- it certainly wasn't when I proposed it (in a slightly different form) in Fall 2014. But I hope the past two years of work have shown the unique and important role SG can have in campus life, and I challenge anyone who has concerns about this program to come and talk with me. I'll be in Hallowed Grounds (second floor of the Reynold's Club) from 7-10pm this Sunday, as well as Monday 11am-noon and 3-5pm. I can also respond to emails at sg-president@uchicago.edu.

 

Tyler Kissinger, President

 

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For the most part, the points I have to make are already addressed in Tyler Kissinger's personal statement on the proposal for SG Leadership Awards (above). I write to contribute my personal story to the issue, because I believe it adds some dimension to the issue here, regarding accessibility of SG representation for all students.

To provide some context, I am a self-supporting international student on financial aid. I work a minimum of 14 hours each week across three jobs in order to support myself, and even so I can tell you that concerns regarding financial security are a constant in my life. As such, my biggest worry throughout my past year of service as Vice President for Administration has been a financial one. On weeks where Student Government responsibilities have demanded closer to 20 hours of work, hours spent on either class preparation or work for self-support have needed to give way. With the former, my class performance has suffered, and with the latter I have often gone hungry. (Tyler's account reflects the same.) And being an international student, when tax or visa issues have surfaced to place additional claims on the little available time, this financial insecurity has had me at my worst.

It is possible to do the work that we do without compensation. But for many students--including myself--it is excruciatingly difficult to put forth so much commitment in order to prioritise this responsibility when it functions directly to amplify their pervasive worry about basic sustenance. As a Slate, we stepped into our role with a promise to work toward the equality of campus opportunities for all students--and we have done much to this effect in the past year, among them our efforts to implement U-Pass in the College and SLRA. We hope to end the year on the same principle, by ensuring that elected SG positions are accessible to students of all backgrounds.

 

Alex Jung, Vice President for Administration