When senior and then-Student Union (SU) President Paul Lee won the general election last June, he promised a breath of fresh air in the SU. He promised that students who were initially outside observers would be given top positions to inject the student government with innovative ideas. One year later, at the end of his term, several members admitted that they had done nothing.
“It was sort of unclear what we were trying to do in the beginning of the year,” senior and then-School Leadership Team representative Briana Last said. “We didn’t really set out many goals, which may have been the problem to begin with.”
Among the achievements that last year’s SU made was the continuation of Stuyvesant Advantage Cards, Student Open Forums (though attendance was low), merchandise sales during school events like college night, a Winter Carnival, a revived Soph-Frosh Semi-Formal and, of course, SING!. By selling old SING! and SU shirts, the SU was able to raise money for student activities, and the junior caucus sold Klean Kanteens to raise money for junior activities. In addition, the senior caucus was able to bring down the price of prom tickets at the Waldorf-Astoria.
“With the rules that we had to follow, such as no bake sales, no candy sales, no selling food in the building until after six o’clock, [...] we did everything we possibly could.” junior and then-SU Vice President Keiji Drysdale said.
However, there is disappointment among SU members that even considering the additional difficulties faced last year, their efforts fell far from their full potential. After a productive spurt of budget meetings in the beginning of the year to distribute money to needy clubs and publications, meetings stopped being organized and the organization’s vivacity dwindled.
“Last year, at least, there were meetings that were scheduled and the dedicated 10 or 15 members would come to every meeting,” Last said at the end of her term. “Whereas this year, there actually weren’t any meetings scheduled. It was sort of like top-down apathy.”
Some students said that scheduling difficulties arose due to the unavailability of Coordinator of Student Affairs (COSA) Lisa Weinwurm.
“For a while, it was difficult to schedule meetings because of Ms.Weinwurm’s schedule,” Last said. “But the students are definitely responsible for the lack of action this year.”
Members’ willingness to take the initiative waned when even their best efforts to create solidarity amongst the student body were rebuffed early on in the year. Junior and then-SU Communications Assistant Oren Bukspan said the Winter Dance held in January “was ready to be our best dance yet, which shows a lot of commitment from the members at that time.” However, the turnout was disappointingly low at 20 students.
Following these initial difficulties, internal communication amongst SU members fell short. After the last Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, November 4, and one more budget meeting on Thursday, November 12, SU members attempted to get organized through e-mail correspondence, but even this eventually dissolved.
“There was always a conflict of dates,” Weinwurm said. “But people didn’t respond to emails.” The last e-mail sent out to the entire SU was on Thursday, March 25.
According to numerous SU members, over the year the organization lost the drive to initiate change in the face of staunch student apathy, severe budget cuts and increased resistance from the administration, with whom they have no leverage. Bukspan characterized the SU last year as an organization whose role was “to wait until something happen[ed],” he said.
“People still read The Spectator and know what is going on in the school in terms of what is being done, but it tends to be somewhat retroactively as opposed to proactively,” Last said. “Students make a big huff about it, but [by then] it is kind of too late.”
In addition, she said that students no longer trust the SU to effectively oppose unfair policies, adding to the growing problem of apathy. “The Student Union has proved in the past—and I’m talking about ‘90s, early 2000—that if they make a huge deal, if they have protests and sit-ins, they have been able to win over the administration,” Last said. “In the last couple of years that hasn’t been the case. I don’t think we effectuate a lot of change.”
Having seen the passing of four graduating classes as COSA, Weinwurm believes that the success of the SU each year is up to the students that run it, explaining that she is only there to advise them and offer her own input.
“Some students are just go-getters,” Weinwurm said. “Some will try to push and make things happen.”
In their election platform, Lee and Drysdale promised to unlock the SU’s doors (both literally and figuratively) to improve communication with the student body. They wanted to put computers inside the SU for student use, ask Big Sibs to give the tours of the SU to Little Sibs and hold ARISTA tutoring inside the SU rather than in classrooms. However, the SU’s doors are locked for most of the day, and are typically only open during 10th period and afterschool. Weinwurm explained that this was in response to student vandalism. In one incident, a couch was taken out of the SU and was later found on the 10th floor.
“The students said they had permission from the faculty advisor to use it for a play, but he said they never asked him,” Weinwurm said. “And I was never informed either.”
Like members of the SU, Weinwurm attributes the lack of events this year to new bureaucratic and budgetary restrictions, but also believes the logistics required to run large-scale events like SING! prevented the SU from planning other smaller events.
“Time caught up with us and things got chaotic,” Weinwurm said.
After the SU ran out of money in February, budget meetings stopped. Funding to clubs and publications halted, as did funding for special events, which require overtime pay for security.
“It’s just a big vicious cycle,” then-Communications Director Anna Menkova said. “We need money, but to get money we have to have money.”
However, members are still hopeful that the SU will manage to overcome its budgetary constraints in the upcoming year.
“A lot of the things we can do don’t cost that much money,” Last said. “The idea of getting students to participate in the Stuyvesant community as a whole is something I can’t foresee costing us a lot of money.” She suggested attempting to start, or reviving, small projects such as Waffle Day, an event held in 2008 in which SU members distributed free drinks and freshly made waffles to students, or the Design-A-Clock competition, a previously abandoned project in which students submitted designs for the faces of clocks around the school. She hopes such projects will generate solidarity amongst students, give them a feeling that the school is in their hands and make them more familiar with SU members.
Weinwurm believes that involving more underclassmen in the SU will generate more participation and dedication when they become eligible to run for higher positions. She recalled the SU of George Zisiadis (’07), who encouraged class presidents to maintain active grade advisory councils that helped plan events such as comedy nights and candy cane sales.
SU members agree that their commitment to the school and the organization can be used to accomplish much under the right leadership. “Maybe we’re not as active, but we still all care. We’re still all really dedicated people. If you go to anyone on the SU and ask them, ‘Do you love the SU?’ we might have some issues with the way it is run, but we all love it,” Menkova said.