The Student Voice

The Sum

Blake Senet

Editor-in-Chief

Two years ago, I listened to some bright young juniors, then a year older than me, voice the opportunities of their new student union group, which they named the SUM.  Speaking through microphones from the top of a wall, they advocated for alternate student leadership that would better satisfy the needs of the students. At the time, I thought it was humorous. Standing in the Milken quad with a heavy book bag, I couldn’t envision myself as a hard hat mine worker in need of labor representation or a czarist peasant readying for a coup d’état.

I began to see signs about the SUM posted in the bathroom and hanging near some lockers, but my understanding was incomplete.  Later, I learned that the SUM was meant to implement a student voice in school rulemaking and discussions.  The idea of a student union is not completely original. In fact, in 1964 and 1965 at Berkeley, a large student coalition banded together during the free speech crisis, challenging authority for the right to advocate for political and social action.  Still, at a private institution it seemed awkward and unfitting to promote dissension and new student leadership.

As with many new groups, the SUM failed to do anything. Ironically, the school had no bearing in their failure. Actually, the SUM was given freedom.  The SUM was able to meet, and even used the school paper and Wildcat weekly to reach a student audience.  The failure of the SUM was due to the lack of any follow through from the members and an intrinsically flawed purpose.

First of all, SUM members were hypocritical in much of their criticism of student government. They often spoke about how elected leaders did not care much about their peers and were really only interested in boosting their college accomplishment sheets.  Most student government members will honestly admit that an aspect of their position is for their resume, but they will also say that they genuinely enjoy holding a leadership role at their school. On the other hand, SUM members trumpeted their lack of affiliation and complete altruism in initiating their group. Nevertheless, the SUM’s undermining of student government was unnecessary because they did not address the needs of the students.  Instead, it merely disbanded after some initial fervor.

Another immediate problem of the SUM was that it could not fairly represent the needs of the students.  Like any other student organization, the SUM had leaders who could in no way accommodate the needs of each individual student. The SUM would really only be able to bring to the fore a few pointed issues, many of which were already being addressed by other student leaders. Among those two were cell phone and dress code reform, which were passed at the end of the year as part of a project that dated back for two years.

Students have a lot of positive energy and are often willing to commit to a cause. However, in the case of the SUM, students became caught up in a cause without forethought or follow through.  They ended up offending a group of existing student leaders without making a meaningful contribution to the community. Although many of the members behind the SUM were extremely bright and exceptional academic students, their organization was not indicative of good judgment or positive leadership.

Our recent initiation of the Roar online made me think about constructive uses of freedom of speech.  One of the goals of the online Roar is to provide students with a voice in their community.  The Roar will allow students to express meaningful opinions and share their views how our school community can be improved.  Please feel free to send in articles that reflect your voice and goals for our school. All submissions will be considered for publishing.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The author of this passage makes one fatal assumption that essentially invalidates large parts of this argument. The SUM, while given a faculty advisor, the right to assemble, and the right to speak to students (Just as any club is given at Milken) it was not given the right to go through with some sort of protest action. It was made abundantly clear that the administration would not stand for this. The SUM effectively had no power over school policy besides providing a focus for student discontent. The image of a loudspeaker chosen by the author of the passage is therefore very relevant and appropriate when referencing the SUM. In light of this, the SUM did in fact achieve its goal of providing a collaborative student voice. I would say that there was not one student in Milken that agreed with the past school cell phone and dress code policies, and even though there were official groups changing those rules, the mass student voice was underrepresented. This goes into the issue of student government. The SUM wasn’t against student government because it was concerned that the members were only interested in promoting themselves, but rather, because it is undeniable that every social group is not equally represented in student government. In addition, the SUM today is not active because of a lack of direction on the part of leadership, but rather, because of a lack of direction in terms of a general student body. There is no issue that the student body nearly unanimously disagrees with. The SUM was suspended because there was no need to rally the students for a cause that did not exist. Of course, it is inevitable that issues will rise again. The laptop and facebook issues are prime examples of topics that the SUM would deal with if the administration decided to pass some sort of legislation that the students did not agree with. As an active member and leader of the SUM in its closing days before suspension, I guarantee that if, for example, facebook is banned from the servers, the SUM will be putting their posters right back up and will be holding meetings once again.

  2. I completely agree with Ryan, there was a lot of talk about how SUM was trying to undermine the student government or “anti-student government.” I won’t say that things were not said and I know that some of the members of the SUM were against student government, but when the SUM met officially it was for the sole purpose of focusing the obvious complaints of the vast majority of the student body into a group that had a presence on campus. Furthermore I believe that SUM did have something to do with the change in dress code and cell phone policy and to call the SUM a failure is naive because the only reason the SUM isn’t currently active is because everything on the agenda was achieved extremely quickly. To what degree the SUM was responsible for the changes in policy is, however, a different discussion, the point is that the SUM was not trying to oust the authority of the student government, rather it was trying to provide a forum for the students to voice their personal concerns, an area in which student government does not excel. Both student government and the SUM have a valid position at the school and they can coexist easily. Describing the SUM as it has been in this article expresses a lack of understanding of what the group stood for.

  3. I would have to say that I respectfully disagree with the Delijanis on this sensitive issue. Student empowerment appears on the surface to be a positive value to hold in a school and indeed Milken provides numerous venues for students to express their opinions. Student government, which is comprised of students as elected by other students, and principal’s advisory are both organizations dedicated to allowing the voice of the student to be heard and for events to take place that will be approved of by the majority of the student body. On a side note, I as a member of Principal’s Advisory have never been approached to consult Dr. Fuller on an issue but have found instead that rather than go through the existing mediums and officials, students choose to create their own organizations in which they, conveniently, are in charge. It could perhaps be a lack of research into the available opportunities to affect student life or even somehow a belief that such mediums are not “effective” enough without having attempted them. In addition, if these organizations are considered futile by SUM how much more futile was SUM itself? Granted none of the administrative influence, little though it may be, that Student Government and Principal’s Advisory has, its ability to shift Milken policy would be even more slim if it attempted any serious protest. It may just be that sometimes the desire to be counter-establishment outweighs the desire to make serious change.

  4. I would have to disagree with Mr. Senet on certain aspects of his argument. As a founding member of SUM, our main goal was to combat student apathy so that students would take themselves and their issues seriously, since in order for the administration to take student democracy seriously, the students themselves must rise from their apathetic stupor. This did not happen, and while we were instrumental in changing the dress code and cell phone policies raising awareness of crucial issues, the SUM overall served to help me reach a conclusion which Mr. Senet approaches but does not take to the next step.
    As I reached at the end of my freshman year, as the SUM was folding and I chose, along with other leaders in my grade, not to continue it. The reason was simply that student democracy doesn’t work in an apathetic environment, such as Milken, unfortunately, is. In our case, we need, and have, a fairly effective oligarchical “rule of the few” who are motivated and talented. Student government is not a dictatorship, since anyone can be elected, yet it is focused, small, and powerful enough that things can get accomplished. At moment, this is the best way, since we don’t want to relive the Russian Revolution, where a progressive political system was forced on a body of people for who it doesn’t work. Set aside your ideals, people, and face the reality.

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