Student Senate starts switching systems

Student Senate has been changing how it operates by creating a more formal senate.

In almost every case, students have very little influence over what happens at school. They don’t decide schedules, homework or breaks. That is, for almost every case except Student Senate. Besides planning activities like the Fall Fest and Homecoming, Student Senate handles a variety of other school issues, many of which are unknown to the general student body.

The 52 member Student Senate is set up much like most other forms of student government. It’s made up of two overlapping groups: the executive board and the full Senate. Twelve members make up the executive board, including the president, Jillian Baker ‘19 and the vice president, Jessica Moonjely ‘20. The full Senate has 40 members, and they do a variety of different tasks, often delegated by the executive board.

Because the executive board has more responsibilities than the rest of Student Senate, they meet at 8:15 in room 239 once a week, alternating Mondays and Wednesdays. Full Senate, including the executive board, meets one to two times a month during the school day.

Social studies teachers Travis Henderson and Megan Johnson are the faculty advisers of Student Senate. As coordinators, they give the Student Senate a place to meet and set up schedules.

“[We] just provide oversight, but we really try to make sure that the executive board in the Student Senate is really doing the bulk of the work,” Henderson said.

Henderson has been one of the Student Senate coordinators for two years now, after taking over for Liberty social studies teacher Brady Shutt.

“I really like helping students develop their leadership skills, and I like helping them reflect on how to be effective leaders. I think that’s my favorite part of it,” Henderson said.

While Student Senate plans events, they also start projects like Voices of West High and the Listening Post, both initiatives to get the student body more involved.

I really like helping students develop their leadership skills, and I like helping them reflect on how to be effective leaders.

— Travis Henderson

“A lot of people get the notion that all we do is plan events and nothing else, but we are starting initiatives such as Voices of West High and the Listening Posts, so we also hear the voices from people in the student body,” said Diversity Chair Sanya Sami ‘19.

The coordinators make sure that Student Senate works on things that the student body is passionate about, including things that affect them personally.

“One of the big things that we do is try to help shape policy in the building,” Henderson said. “[We’re working on] shaping how the school is run, [especially] what kinds of things affect students directly.”

For the past few years, Student Senate has been making internal reforms by restructuring how it operates.

“We’ve been trying to create a constitution, trying to more formalize what it is we do and how we do it,” Henderson said. “We’ve kind of been focused inward for a couple years on rebuilding and restructuring.”

The group’s constitution, like many other constitutions, details how the different parts of the organization are run. This is the first year Student Senate has had a constitution and it only affects students in the Senate. The constitution explains what positions are available, how elections work, expectations and what happens if someone fails to fulfill their duties.

Graphic by Sidney Kiersch

Another way they’ve made changes is by downsizing the full Senate. Last year, Student Senate had around 70 members, but it became difficult to have everyone meet at the same time so they made the switch to 52 members.

A new executive position this year is the Diversity Chair, currently filled by Sami. Her job is to make sure that the Student Senate is being mindful of the different minorities at West.

“[The Diversity Chair] attends meetings for student organizations like COLORS, Truth Squad and SSIKED to get information and feedback from those organizations on ways to make the culture of the school better for students from underrepresented backgrounds,” Henderson said.

Because the position is so new, Sami hasn’t had the chance to exercise her power as Diversity Chairperson yet.

“We were primarily focused on our beginning of the year events, so I can’t say too much about what it’s like to be the diversity chair. However, I will get to do more as the year progresses, so that will be exciting,” Sami said.

Despite adding a new position, executive board elections have stayed the same. All Student Senate positions for the upcoming year are decided in the spring by that year’s Student Senate. The president and vice president are elected by the student body and they appoint people for most of the other positions.

“Aspiring executive board members fill out an application,” Sami said. “After the president and vice president were elected for this year, [they], plus Mr. Henderson and Ms. Johnson, had an application viewing session. There was a selective process to decide who would be on the executive board and what role the selected students will have, based on the merit of the application.”

Then, the full Senate votes on whether or not to ratify the executive board members. There are also a few at-large positions that rotate throughout the school year.

“The [at-large positions are] two to three month rotating positions on executive board, and those people are selected by the president and vice president,” Henderson said. “The full Senate is selected by the executive board the year before based on applications.”

Applications are filled out by any student that is interested. The applications include basic information and the applicant’s vision for Student Senate.

“[Applicants] are selected on the basis of both the quality of their application and also if they fit in the sense [of] do we have enough freshman representation? Do we have enough sophomore representation?” Henderson said.

Once students are selected to become a part of Student Senate, they have the opportunity to gain leadership skills and make a difference at school.

“I like being able to be a big part of changing the school for the better, and overall having many opportunities to make my voice heard,” Sami said.