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SG lobbies for student attention

Before the year began, Stavros Papandreou made some changes he thought would get more students to pay attention to USF’s Student Government senate.

Papandreou, SG senate president, moved senate meetings to the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom, began posting upcoming bills on the SG senate Web site before the meeting at which they are voted on and put extra effort into advertising the senate’s general assembly meetings.

Now, nearly three months into the year, Papandreou is not sure of the new approach’s effectiveness.

“I definitely don’t think students pay as much attention to (the senate) as they should,” he said. “I know our meetings are kind of long sometimes, but I think really it’s the same problem as with the federal government. When there’s someone else up there making decisions for you, it’s easy to just sit back and not care or get involved.”

At 6 tonight, the senate will hold its annual meet and greet with presidents of the campus’ student organizations at the Top of the Palms restaurant on the fourth floor of the Marshall Center. Papandreou said last year’s meet and greet was attended by just “14 or 15” presidents out of more than 300 student organizations, more than 120 of which are funded by the Activities and Services fees distributed annually by Student Government.

Papandreou said students’ tendency to sit back while SG tries its best to represent them makes senators’ jobs more difficult.

“It definitely does make our jobs harder, because we always have to go out there and talk to people and solicit feedback rather than having people come to us,” he said. “We don’t mind going out to see the students, but it’s not a good way to get accurate feedback.

“A lot of students don’t want to put forth the effort. They just sit there … and complain like little kids. Senators are volunteers, but we’re still here working hard to represent these people. It definitely makes our jobs harder, because people come to us looking for answers or complaining when something they don’t agree with happens instead of coming to tell us what they think beforehand.”

Student body President Bijal Chhadva admits apathy is always a problem for SG officials, but says students have gradually been getting more involved in recent months.

“This year, I think a lot of things have gotten better. A lot more people know we exist and know that we are here for the students,” Chhadva said. “We’ve seen a great improvement in reaching out. A lot of it goes all the way back to last year’s election, when the voter turnout was doubled from the year before.”

In April, 4,133 students voted to name Chhadva president. Since then, Chhadva said he had been committed to getting as many students as possible to vote in the Nov. 2 U.S. general elections. Now, with Election Day gone, Chhadva said he turns his sights to a recent proposal made by Florida’s Board of Governors.

On Oct. 21, the board, which oversees higher education in Florida, voted to recommend six tuition proposals to Gov. Jeb Bush, including implementing block tuition in the 11 state universities.

“When the spring session opens, our main goal is going to be to lobby the state legislature against the six proposals passed by the BOG,” Chhadva said.

Another mission Chhadva outlined involves working with the provost’s office to guarantee students seats in classes they need to graduate.

Chhadva said the increased activity has made many students aware of SG’s role on the campus, estimating that “about 80 percent” of students he sees on campus each day recognize him as student body president.

However, Papandreou said many students are still not taking advantage of all the resources SG makes available to them. In addition to the bill-tracking feature added to the Web site, he listed three SG agencies that go particularly unnoticed.

One is the student resource agency, which Papandreou said makes several lawyers available to students to offer free legal advice. He also said many students fail to make use of a notary service and off-campus housing advising.

“I think it’s important for people to know that these services are available to them. I mean, it’s their money and we’re here trying to help them,” Papandreou said.

“I can’t expect 40,000 students to get involved in Student Government, and that’s not what we want. But we do want people to know we are here to help them and we’re doing our best to offer as wide a variety of resources as possible.”