What We Do
The UA has five roles:
- we lobby for tangible change at Penn based on student needs,
- we represent students to administrators and outsiders,
- we bring students from different groups and identities together,
- we provide services to improve student’s quality of life,
- we fund the other branches of student government and by extension all student groups on campus.
Taking each one of these in turn:
Lobbying for Tangible Change
Most members (both representatives and associate members) spend their time on particular projects aimed at improving student life by changing some aspect of University policy. Project ideas come from everywhere – from member’s own experience, or from a Steering group, or often just from an email sent from a student.
Members have lots of tools available to them to make change. They could meet with administrators under the aegis of the UA; they could propose a resolution in our General Body and so stamp their project with the legitimacy of a democratic vote; they can issue surveys using our all-school listserv to better understand student preferences.
We’ve made changes from universal keys in the Quad to adding Diwali to the University Holiday Policy to extending the Spring move-out deadline. Take a look at any of our projects from the past year to get an idea of what projects UA members pursue – we dabble in almost everything!
Penn makes lots of decisions on its own initiative, and students are usually there when they make them. The UA represents students at every level of University decision-making!
Eight members of the UA sit on the University Council and members of the UA sit on Trustee Committees, UC Committees, UC Steering, the Public Safety Advisory Board, the Social Responsibility Advisory Committee, and many others. The UA Chair has sat on all Provost and President search committees since the position’s creation.
Also, UA representatives meet with President Gutmann and Provost Price frequently, as well as most University Vice-Presidents and the Vice-Provost for University Life. The UA is often consulted in crises to advise administrators on student reactions. In this way, we can ensure that student voices are heard not only proactively to fulfill unmet needs but reactively as Penn pursues its own objectives.
In addition, the UA works closely with our fellow student governments in the Ivy League and the local area to lobby governments that make policies immediately tangible and relevant to Penn students. For example, the UA has passed resolutions on city-wide bike sharing to push the city towards developing this immensely beneficial service for Philadelphians.
Bringing Undergraduates Together
It’s a trusim that Penn is a decentralized place. This holds true of the undergraduate student body as well – there’s very little that every Penn student has in common, save that they are a Penn student. Here at Penn we are diverse in every sense of the word: ethnically, racially, religiously, ideologically, intellectually, even residentially. Therefore, one of the most important roles of the UA is to bring our disparate student community together.
We do this through facilitating UA Steering, a broad deliberative assembly of students from all walks of life. Steering groups play a large role in setting our agenda and priorities, and Steering and the UA work together on projects that help both the discrete students represented by each Steering group and students in general.
One of the newest parts of the UA’s work is the provision of services to improve student life. These have often been the most visible things the UA does – since they aren’t dependent on administrators or external forces – and are the fastest growing sector of our project work. To this end the UA runs shuttles to the Philadelphia Airport, provides free legal services, funds student events as a fund of last resort, provides free copies of the New York Times, and has published a guide to navigating the Byzantine world of funding sources at Penn. We’re providing many more as the year advances – watch this website for news!
Funding Student Government
The UA is given close to $2 million to fund a bewildering number of events at Penn – from Hey Day to Spring Fling to White Papers on Education to everything inbetweeen, as the ultimate fiduciary authority for all of student government. The UA also gives a block grant to SAC, the umbrella funding source for most student groups, and so to all student groups at Penn. This is a huge task, and so the UA elects a special Budget Committee of two members and a Treasurer to handle it. The Budget Committee is also responsible for vetting requests for Contingency Funding throughout the year.
But we’re not “the Student Government” at Penn.
The UA fulfils many of the traditional functions of student government: we lobby, we fund, we represent. That being said, we’re only one of six branches of the Penn Student Government (although we like to think we’re the most attractive!). Each of the branches has a different function and mission and all branches are independent of each other and the UA, except where funding is concerned. So, if you’re interested in:
- Running elections and nominating people to University committees, check out the NEC,
- Planning huge social events like Spring Fling, major speakers like Madeline Albright, or just excuses for lots of free food like Winterfest, consider SPEC,
- Working behind the scenes to take control of your education from a think-tank perspective, try SCUE,
- Funding over 200 student groups from the ACLU to the Zoroastrians, take a look at SAC,
- Putting on traditional school events and fostering class unity, run for the Class Boards!
Although the UA is the only group that represents all undergraduates, many other groups represent specific constituencies. All of these groups come together in UA Steering, our “upper house” that brings together all undergraduate leaders.
Finally, the UA only represents undergraduates in the College, Wharton, Engineering, and Nursing Schools. The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) is the student government for all graduate and professional students at Penn.