As part of the Quest’s ASM coverage, Adrian Stein will write a column on community issues and how student government evolves at our university. This first piece is an open letter to all students, particularly those in 2019 and 2020 who have already elected representatives. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Minerva Quest.

SEOUL – Why is there a student government? What does it do for me and the student community? If you do not ask yourself these questions, then student government will not succeed.

Not just representatives and those who proactively tackle the myriad of small and large problems of life at a four-year-old university; every student should ask themselves this. If you do not, your voice will not be heard. Your opinions will not matter. If you feel like you are not being heard, if your opinions are swept under the rug as the dual machinery of data-based learning improvements and weekly assignment stress buries your ideas, dig them back out, now!

“Only five students showed up to the first town hall last week.”

The new ASM (Associated Students of Minerva) leadership believes communication channels at Minerva are broken. They may well be. In everyday discussions, over breakfast, lunch and dinner, between classes and over studies, students complain but also flesh out new ideas for their Minerva lives. They may dismiss their own concerns as insignificant, oblivious to the fact that many of their peers may feel the same way. Most thoughts stay lingering in space, in cafes and kimbap places, in the rooms and halls of our residence. They do not make it into the only locales that spark discussion in our system: Facebook posts; emails that provoke an administrative response.

Facebook. Increasingly around me, people are deleting the app, trying to get off the addiction to focus on what matters. But they are also giving up what has been until now the only real space for large debates in this community. Our rough first week here in Seoul is the most recent example. The problem is that Facebook encourages those who are loud to speak even more, comment and tag each other on the crucial threads, and has no incentive to ever come to compromise. So if there are suppressed views, where would they come out? This is what the ASM will experiment with this semester.

What is at stake is the notion that the creativity of this student body to procure a better institution for themselves is not silent, but being silenced. The new representatives’ focus on this issue generates an opportunity to put forth ideas. If you have thoughts, which you keep for yourself or bring up in conversation, hold on to them and bring them to the forums where you feel comfortable sharing. That means looking out for for channels to engage. If you do not see any, propose new ones directly to the ASM.

“The ASM may be our best shot at empowering every student voice.”

Only five students showed up to the first town hall last week, apart from the representatives. Applause to those who made it. If that is not your format, find another. It has to be possible for people to engage. Most students probably do not go because there are too many other things on their minds, too much to do in the constant rollercoaster of Minerva life, but is it really too much to ask to go to one input session to share ideas?

You may think that the problems you have are not large enough for this institutional business. You can solve things in a few emails with professors or a quick Facebook post in the community. If you are in a bad place, you can talk to your friends or your RA (Resident Advisor). This is right and important. But, the common issues, our shared struggles, stay hidden in the dark as one individual falls into the same holes from which another has just emerged.

Of course, at the end of the year, you can give feedback to the administration with the surveys, and if you have a suggestion you can post on UserVoice, our reddit-style improvement idea forum. Some people might even check it out and upvote. Then, maybe, something might happen. Or not. As of October 19, 2017, there are no ideas on that platform which have support of more than a fifth of all students, or more than a third of the classes of 2019 and 2020. Only two ideas have more than 50 upvotes.  Why should any of that be taken seriously?

“Currently, informality reigns supreme. It means we have little leverage, and do not see the bigger picture of worries forgotten, not uttered, and ignored.”

One of the reasons the ASM emerged is that staff asked for a central contact point to discuss student opinions. Data-based thinking is at the core of much here at Minerva, and if we cannot show the numbers, there is little to convince the administration in favor of proposed changes. Currently, informality reigns supreme. It means we have little leverage, and do not see the bigger picture of worries forgotten, not uttered, and ignored.

The ASM may be our best shot at empowering every student voice. If we, as a community, can make it work and more of us engage, we will be taken more seriously, and we will have power to show our indignation if we are not. So let us fix our communications to voice what you feel is wrong, and not be powerless when the next big issue arrives. We all have this opportunity to use the ASM structure we formally created at the start of the year to effect change. If we do not take it, we do not deserve it.

Here’s how to act:

  • Go to ASM Seoul Office Hours on Thursdays from 14:00 to 15:00 (2 – 3pm) KST
  • Check The Morning and The Week for updates.
  • Go to town halls.
  • Engage in working groups when they relaunch.
  • When you talk to your friends, and they have an idea for a solution, tell them to write to the ASM or do so yourself.
  • If you feel insecure about giving your opinions, the ASM and Quest websites have anonymous submit features. You can also ask a trusted friend to speak up for you.