By Grant Hensley
“When my friends ask why I am dressed up from head to toe in a business suit 2 days out of the week, I always let them know that I am providing them with a better campus, so be happy,” former senator, Kristina Johnson said with a slight laugh. The professional look is one of the many responsibilities one was to hold the title of a University of South Carolina senator.
From the early years of the University of South Carolina, students have been involved in representing the whole student body. It was not until recent years that an organization like the student Senate has been run so clean and orderly. With a total of 50 members delegated from 13 different colleges from the University of South Carolina, the student Senate accurately represents its constituents. After this elite group of students are chosen by the student body, each senator is placed on a committee to cover a range of student concerns. These include committees put in place for safety and transportation, the finance committee, an athletic committee, multi-cultural affairs committee, and many more.
However, what the student senate is capable of is not always known. When fellow student alumni, Sam Ulmer, was asked what this organization does he said, “I really don’t. Personally, I feel like those guys just sit up in that random Russell House room and get free food and drinks all the time.”
When former University of South Carolina Student Body President, Michael Parks, was asked to comment about student senate he said, “This organization is put in charge of so many tasks around campus and even has the power to delegate over $100,000 to students.” Yes, you heard that right. The university gives these 50 students power to give over $100,000 to student organizations and operations around campus.
You wonder what all this money could go to. Maybe a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich day or free t-shirts for a game comes to mind. But the previously mentioned options are only a few of the things that this organization deals with. All types of organizations, like the Comic Book Club, Multi-Cultural Affairs Club, and many more can apply for this money. The Senate has the power to allocate such groups money to send these groups all over the country. Just recently, the Comic Book Club had the chance to travel to Las Vegas to experience the world-famous Comic Con getting a total of $5,206. Although not a huge amount was given to this particular event, the Senate has the power to allocate a total of $200,000, so every little bit counts.
While this sounds easy to allocate money left and right, senators have to do battle once a week in the Senate Chambers. With 50 strong minded students in one room with equal say, these Senate meetings can last over 2 hours each week.
Sitting in on a session was very intriguing to see how orderly the Senate was. To start off, the vice president will preside over the senators and make sure things do not get too out of hand. With each committee leader quickly going over what happened in their respective weekly meetings so everyone is on the same page. “Once the committee meetings give their weekly update, things get interesting. We move on to future bills that will come on the next reading calendar. This means we will just basically go over the bill and ask any questions regarding what the legislation covers,” said Johnson.
Johnson also talked about how things get heated and had this to say, “I was about to get to that. Once we are voting on bills trying to be pushed through this week. Sometimes people will literally walk out they are so mad.” Seeing this in person is truly an interesting to watch. A sponsor for the particular bill will make their way up to the podium at the front of the chambers. From there they will take any and all questions that senators have on the bill. One particular bill was discussed for over 30 minutes and eventually the senator declined to answer any more questions. This bill was over a Greene Street moped sign and voted on shortly after. It passed by unanimous decision, but still served as a strong example of how much each bill means to these students.
The whole process of passing a bill seems like a lot of work, but I wanted to learn more about the everyday routine of a senator. Katherine Farrell is a freshman and first time student senator. When asked if it ever becomes too much work she said, “It is always something you have to plan your schedule around, but it is never too much. I enjoy keeping my mind occupied all the time and that’s exactly what happens. There is always something interesting being a senator.”
As leader of the Safety and Transportation Committee, her job is even more strenuous than most senators. She has to thoroughly go through each bill and outline it for each committee meeting once a week. She has to write new bills that may come from the committee. Once she completed her role as a committee leader, she will get in touch with her delegation committee. This is the group of students representing each of their colleges. These meetings are once every two weeks and each delegation tries to pass a bill every month that will contribute to their college. Last month, Farrell said they made a snapchat geotag for her college.
Farrell shared Johnsons’ same enthusiasm for their commitment to student senate, “Although it is a lot of work, I have learned so much through it all. From the people you meet and the opportunities that are given, I wouldn’t change a thing.” The hard work and leadership that these elite students undergo are a testament to the silent work of the Senate. Not many know the duties of the Senate, but their work will help the University of South Carolina and the whole student body for the future to come.
Hensley is a public relations senior