Student Government: Auditioning for Office
Many extracurricular activities at both the high school and college level are modeled after government structures: from Model United Nations, to Mock Trial, to Youth and Government and, most notably, Student Government. AU’s student government has three branches—student media even mimics the traditional role of media as “watchdog.”
Without a doubt, the skills students gain in AUSG and similar organizations are valuable for “real world” politics. Student Government can prepare individuals to be leaders and have meaningful discourse on controversial issues.
These skills are applicable to most workplace environments rather than to specific public service careers. Employers in many fields seek staff members that have developed skills like leadership, public communication and interpersonal interaction, all of which Student Government positions hone. Along with these marketable and valuable skills, participating in Student Government campaigns can foster more unexpected talents like managing one’s public image, which can prove useful across the job market
“I’d say Student Government helps kids to be leaders and that benefits their future regardless of their career,” Class of 2015 President Conor Siegel said.
Generally, students seem to be more interested in these broad skills and how Student Government makes them appear to employers, rather than whether it prepares them for a career in public service. As the workforce becomes more and more competitive, young people are feeling pressure to set themselves apart from the rest of the application pool. Any activity in organizations beyond the classroom can help provide that edge.
American University history professor Allan Lichtman says he believes the key is not the activity an individual is involved in, but the position they hold within that structure. According to Lichtman leadership is one of the key qualities employers are looking for.
“Any time you take a leadership position, that puts you out there,” Lichtman said.
However, being in Student Government and being captain of the swim team both show leadership. Students can demonstrate they have taken initiative, worked with a group and been responsible for others in many more venues than just Student Government, although Student Government is, without a doubt, a great place to do those things.
“I think SG helps prepare people to be members of local, state, or national governments, non-profits, businesses, you name it,” AU Student Government President Tim McBride said.
AU has already demonstrated its ability to help prepare an individual from Student Government to break into “big kid” politics. Sophomore Deon Jones served in his high school Student Government, then the Undergraduate Senate his freshman year at AU, and then went on to run for DC Neighborhood Advisory Commission, where he won a seat.
Certainly there are issues that Student Government does not address, both in campaigning and holding an elected office.
On Sunday, October 23, the Undergraduate Senate spent several minutes of the session debating policy related to the door of the Senate office being open. While the debate may not be worthwhile, it is eerily reminiscient to our current Congress.
But in all fairness, Student Government just does not cover all of the issues faced in traditional politics. AUSG does not debate the debt ceiling, national marriage legislation, social security or abortion. Additionally students running for Undergraduate Senate do not have to worry about justifying large campaign donations, polling or phone banking.
“At the end of the day, we aren’t a government, we’re a programming and advocacy organization.”
It seems Student Government is not meant to perfectly approximate the wider government. They have different goals, different functions and a completely different constituency than any local or national governing body and are as unique in their organization as the schools and students they serve.
“When you’re campaigning for a high school or college campaign it is primarily directed toward students who share your views,” said Youth and Government President Jonathan McCreary. “You do not have to worry about broad policy.”
Student Government clearly does not mirror broader politics; rather it uses the components and structures of politics to complete both political and non-political goals within the AU community.
“At the end of the day, we aren’t a government, we’re a programming and advocacy organization,” McBride said.