All those who volunteer to be involved in Clemson University Student Government as the voice of the student body give their time freely and extensively to help their fellow students. Yet, that shouldn’t mean they aren’t open to ideas as to how they might more effectively serve as that voice.
Many of the students who attend Clemson love college life exactly the way that it is. They revel in a wealth of course credits, join a host of student organizations, play sports on Bowman and gather with friends late into the night, repeating the process day after night after day.
However, there are also many who find the experience totally overwhelming. This is the first time they’ve been away from the safe structure of home and school, where regimen and contribution were designed by others. They may not be good at organizing their academics or making friends or surviving the competition of peer pressure and dorm life. They become invisible and reluctant to ask for help, not wishing to see themselves or to have others see them as failures.
Student government has a duty to find a balance between serving the needs of those who want support for a lifestyle with which they are happily comfortable and reaching out to those who need their difficulties recognized. It is not merely the job of university administration to find the latter and help them; it is the task also of student government.
The undertaking required for the former is not difficult to envision. It takes time, and that time should be found, but the complexities arise in attempting to find ways to engage with the invisible, particularly because they become so adept at remaining invisible – and possibly at risk.
Much has been written about what colleges can do to make life easier for students who feel under stress. Most of it involves those students finding time to attend sessions of counseling and tutoring, and volunteering themselves to do the same. Yet time is a commodity the overwhelmed do not have and stepping forward is the very antithesis of the invisibility with which the students in question already feel quite safe.
In the first instance, student government must find the means, the will and the time to be the ones to do the outreach. This can be as facile as student government members taking it upon themselves to wear T-shirts indicating who they are and offering to speak to anyone. It can involve student government members manning tables in obvious places around campus offering to answer questions or just have a chat.
It is not enough for student government to place items on their meeting agendas allowing students to address them. If we are already dealing with students who shy away from the limelight, the last thing they’re going to do is stand in front of thirty or more confident student government members and air their difficulties.
Ways can be found to allow the invisible, even the already highly visible, to talk confidently among themselves, in a fashion that can be picked up by student government. One way is to have a dedicated student forum. Reddit is a pleasant location to while away late-night fantasies. But for a student forum to be viable, it should be one ideally provided for Clemson students alone. The invisible do not become more visible by losing themselves among the millions on Reddit, and there is no reason why student government members should have to trawl through those millions looking for the voices crying out for help.
None of this is terribly original. Most of it is quite inexpensive. All it really requires is the will to want to help the invisible at Clemson and the time to translate that will into assistance for all students. Everyone at Clemson is entitled to share in the Clemson spirit, and everyone includes both those who find the spirit easily willing and those who have no clue how to go about designing their own contribution to that spirit.