When Sujith Cherukumilli moved across the country to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, he knew he wanted to get involved with student government for three main reasons:
“I’ve always been interested in public service, and I felt like that was a good way to get my feet wet. I felt a little homesick coming on campus, so I was looking for a community that would help me connect better to the campus and make me feel more at home. And third, I noticed some things that campus was lacking and I wanted to help out in any way that I could, and actually make my time at UCLA worthwhile,” said Cherukumilli.
While students who aren’t involved in student government aren’t usually aware of the impact student representatives have, the student government system is not only influential on college campuses, but psychologically benefits and connects students who are involved.
Unsurprisingly, “students who form relationships with administrators and interact with the governing boards feel more empowered,” according a study reported on by Inside Higher Ed.
So, how do you get involved with student government? Cherukumilli as well as his classmate, Noah Schwartz Casey, recalled initially getting involved with student government by way of another student group they were already members of–Greek Life.
“I got involved my freshman year. One of the people in my fraternity was running for president of the student body. I’m very involved with politics and I wanted to help him on the campaign,” said Schwartz Casey. “I enjoyed seeing what the student government could do and realized how much decision making power they had.”
Similarly, Cherukumilli’s fraternity brother was running for a student government position, so he attended one of the open meetings of the UCLA political party, Bruins United.
“I went out to his meeting and I liked a lot of the people that I met, and ended up getting involved through Bruins United,” said Cherukumilli.
While many schools, especially smaller schools, do not have student political parties, a large school like UCLA utilizes parties, called slates, like Bruins United to organize student government politics.
The Daily Bruin, a student newspaper, explains the slate system:
“Much like the Democratic or Republican party, different candidates for different offices can band together in slates in order to present a unified platform or vision for USAC [the Undergraduate Students Association Council] and unify their resources and efforts in getting their candidates elected.”
While getting involved with certain government groups through mutual connections is a common way for students to get involved with student government, Cherukumilli emphasized that there are many other ways to do this. He recalled many opportunities during freshman orientation for students to get to know the system and groups, and decide if and how they wanted to get involved.
“If you reach out to anyone in any of the [student government] offices, they’re more than happy to talk to you and tell you about what they do, what you can do, and how you can get involved,” said Schwartz Casey.
Most student government organizations have a page on the school’s website, or a seperate website where you can find contact information.
As for benefits of student government beyond college, Cherukumilli and Schwartz Casey have different perspectives, as Cherukumilli has graduated from UCLA and is working in a teaching position, while Schwartz Casey is in his final year of college. Cherukumilli, who worked in various student government positions, sees the benefits of his work with student government in his current work.
“One of the big things that I learned would be communicating effectively and articulately, and identifying a goal that I want to accomplish and figuring out the mechanisms to do that,” said Cherukumilli.
Cherukumilli also gained experience working in a bureaucratic system, which he said helped him navigate the public school bureaucracy where he now works. He also recalled learning how to work with people with opinions that were different from his own when he was running for office his junior year.
“When I was running for office, [I had] to communicate and engage with different interests on campus, oftentimes with people who didn’t necessarily align with the party that I was running with. That taught me a lot because it showed me, in a very concrete sense, that there are a lot of different perspectives to take into account when you pursue a leadership position and its important to not leave people out the picture. At the end of the day, we were all students at UCLA and we all wanted what was best for campus, and it was my job as an aspiring leader to take those things into account,” said Cherukumilli.
Schwartz Casey, who worked on a student representative candidate’s campaign, identified more general experience gained that translates to workplace skills. He talked about the connections he made in student government both with peers and the outside community.
“I gained a lot of experience running the campaign. Meeting with the officers, working on committees to plan events, and working with different companies and restaurants in and around Westwood was a really great opportunity. I built connections with people at UCLA that I still am in contact with because of my time in student government which has been really great,” said Schwartz Casey.
As Schwartz Casey touched on, he was also able to get more connected to campus through student government, which is a major draw for students–especially new students.
Aside from the experience, Cherukumilli also discussed tangible changes he was able to make on-campus. He identified a common problem students faced in terms of technology accessibility. Students would be at the library or elsewhere on campus studying, but would forget a charger and would have to return to dorms or apartments, interrupting their studying. To solve this problem, Cherukumilli’s team placed chargers in the library and in other common studying areas around campus.
“It was a pretty small project, but it was a practical thing that we noticed was lacking, and it saved a little bit of inconvenience. We just wanted to improve accessibility to something that students might need,” said Cherukumilli.
Student government involvement provides students with community, a tremendous amount of transferable experience and learned skills, and a sense of empowerment. Talk with someone involved in student government at your school to see what involvement looks like, and if there’s a role that would suit your availability and interests.