Advocacy for peers defines “student leaders”

As the Editor-in-Chief of the Technique this year, I’ve had the privilege of attending many meetings dealing with important campus issues and had the opportunity to voice my opinion on some, often with other so-called “student leaders.” I’ve always balked at that term, since I’ve never been comfortable labeling myself as such and I felt that it implied I was capable of doing something others were not.

I’ve tried to approach every one of those opportunities with an open mind and been unafraid to ask questions of people in important roles about issues that directly affect students. I’ve tried to do so in a manner that was both
challenging and courteous, but I’m sure that on more than one occasion I came off as being less than polite. To me, that is the best way to define a “student leader,” and every student on campus has the potential to live up to that definition.

If you’re a student who aspires to be or will be a “student leader” next year, I’d urge you to do the same, because it will be essential to tackling some of the biggest issues that you as a “student leader” should expect to face. With that said, as I complete my tenure as EIC, there are three challenges I see on the horizon for the next group of “student leaders.”

The first involves student culture on campus, and the extent to which the administration has gone to try and change it. From little things like renaming Skiles Walkway to Tech Walkway, Yellow Jacket Park to Tech Green, insisting on calling the CULC the Clough Commons, they were too involved in defining the minute details of student life. These may seem like small changes, but they can quickly add up.

The “Keep the ‘T’ in Tech” campaign was an example of a culture change that was forced on the student body by the administration. Instead of
directly coming up with a policy on how ‘T’ thefts would be dealt with, they mobilized a group of students to essentially do their work for them.

Let me be clear: I do not support the thefts of T’s on campus. It makes the campus look ugly and costs too much money to replace. However, students should have been driving that culture change, not the administration.

If students are expected to have a positive association with the Institute after graduation, they should be the ones who define the names and places that make up their Tech experience. In addition, it is important to make it clear to the administration that there exists a history and tradition here that is embraced by the student body, and to allow them to continue to shape it.

Another challenge for the next crop of “student leaders” is to advocate for the improvement of the quality of teaching at Tech. Too often at Tech the concept of academic rigor is confused with poor teaching. Students ought to be able to walk out of an exam feeling, at the very least, that it was fair.

A lot of students are getting out of Tech having made it through by simply riding the curve. If the average on a test is below 50 percent, it’s not because most of them didn’t study enough. It was probably because the test was not designed to measure what they had learned during the course.

It’s hard to buck the Tech mentality of slogging through a course with terrible test averages. However, students should be unafraid to group together to start a conversation with a professor of department chair when they feel as though they are not adequately learning the subject matter for the test or that a professor’s teaching ability is not up to par.

While there may be exceptions, I’ve never met a professor or department chair that wasn’t willing to listen to a student’s concerns, particularly if it came from a group of them.

A more challenging, but related problem at Tech is the issue of mental health. Many students at Tech express an almost disturbing level of dissatisfaction towards their college experience. Tech is hard, and not enough is being done to address the mental health issues that some students face during their time here.

If I went down my list of things that I felt I could have done better at the Technique this year, coverage of mental health issues would have been near the top of my list. It’s incumbent on students to start the conversation next year about how to improve mental health on campus.

While my time as EIC has come to an end, I’m hopeful that the next crop of “student leaders” will take on the
mantle of responsibility to their fellow students and continue to work hard on these issues to make Tech a better place for the future.