Student leaders express the need for change is now

Marc Ramirez, edge editor

The Western Illinois University Student Government Association held a Special Session and hosted the annual State of the Student Address on Monday in the University Union Heritage Room.

The purpose of the State of the Student Address was originally founded during the time of the budget impasse by the, then SGA President Wil Gradle, to address concerns and share the viewpoints that many students on campus were facing.

The theme of this year’s State of the Student Address was “The Time is Today.” Every year, SGA student leaders sit down to develop a theme which they feel accurately describes the current environment of the University.

SGA Vice President Madison Lynn was the first to take the podium and give her speech. Lynn spoke about how in the current state the University sits in, it’s time to become realists and adjust our sails, and the time to do so is today.

“My goal today is to share with you an honest reflection of the student experience, our concerns and the direction we’d like to see the University move in,” Lynn said. She proceeded to talk about her time as vice president and all the goals she set and the success of seeing them all out. Whether it was the Superhero Blue Light Fun Run/Walk to coordinating the Mayor’s Student Roundtables. Everything Lynn focused on addressing at the University, transparency, safety, morale and our relationship with the City, weren’t the only things that the Student Government Association needed to work on. But it is something that she believed needed to be worked on, on a University wide scale.

In turbulent times, plagued by an insufficient budget, layoffs and declining enrollment, we cannot afford to breed distrust,” Lynn said. “A former student trustee once told me, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” I believe that couldn’t be truer in our current state. WIU has had more than its share of publicity. Now that it’s out in the air, it’s time to disinfect.”

Lynn continued on to say that we all must be forthcoming with information and give every party its due process in decision making because uncertainty and distrust is what will cause poor morale across the board. “Now more than ever, we need a team of people fiercely advocating for WIU’s best interests,” Lynn said.

Next to speak was Student Member to the Board of Trustees, Justin Brown. He opened his speech by stating that he is a proud student who wants nothing more than to see Western grow, prosper and adapt in this unique time of change.

“It would be remiss of me to not start by thanking countless individuals and organizations all across the institution that have had an impact on not only the student, but also the person I am today, and who also serve as the driving force for countless others,” Brown said.

He added how students like Reed constantly pushed him to venture outside of his comfort zone and get involved. Without this push, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to serve his second term on the Board. Staff like Nick Katz who does so much for the University does not get as much recognition for pushing students to reach their full potential as student leaders, and faculty like Janice Gates, who go above and beyond in the classroom and in every organization she helps advise.

“These are just a few of the countless individuals that make Western a place I am proud to call home,” Brown said. “Individuals like these remind me of a poem by Will Allen Dromgoole titled, ‘The Bridge Builder.’”

The poem speaks of promoting the idea of building a bridge for those who will come after you. That it is necessary to do what you need to do in order to make it easier for the person coming after you, to pass the torch on to the younger generation.

“As we stand at a crossroads as a University, the meaning of this poem is magnified,” Brown said. “Whether you feel like you play a large role in this institution or not, we are all standing at the very same crossroad, we have all reached the same chasm.”

Brown stressed that it is imperative to the success of our institution that we band together and move forward as a united community. He continued to say that if we don’t do it for ourselves or the people sitting around us, we should at least do it for all the students who will become a part of ourLeatherneck family.

“We are standing on the shoulders of those who preceded us, and future generations will need our shoulders to be strong enough to support them,” Brown said. “It is easy to fall into the trap of “the Western way, thinking that everything can and should be done the same way, but that is no way to think when higher education as a whole is changing and adapting all around us.”

Brown stated that we need to be at the forefront of innovation, opportunity and student success. He referenced back to the poem and said that we need to do things that will benefit future generations because being complacent won’t buildany bridges.

“Every single one of us in this room has the ability to be a ‘bridge builder’ for every student who will be here in a semester from now, year from now or 119 more years from now,” Brown said. “It is our duty as Leathernecks to ensure that everyone who follows in our footsteps to discover their home here at Western, that same home my father found 30 years before me, has the opportunity to do so.”

According to Brown, Western is a place where leaders are cultivated, where tradition is fostered and where countless memories have been made.

“It is our responsibility to set in motion the changes that will set this university on a positive, enduring path,” Brown said. “Thank you all for not only listening to me speak today, but also for your commitment to this place that I, and so many before me, have the privilege tocall home.”

Next to the podium to speak was Reed. He began his speech by recognizing his executive cabinet, the legislative body and advisor Michelle Janisz. Reed then began to explain that he could use his opportunity on stage to air every grievance, complaint and criticism that he has with the state of the University, but that it wouldn’t doany good.

“Maybe it would be cathartic, maybe each of you are thinking similar things, but would it inspire any action, or move any of you a little closer towards believing that our University is still worth fighting for,” Reed asked. “Probably not.”

Reed continued to say that this academic school year, student governance is celebrating 100 years at Western. It symbolizes a historic commitment to the shared vision of all students, faculty, staff and administrators. However, Reed explains that as humans we naturally separate ourselves into groups. Groups that make us betray our shared vision.

“Once we begin to villainize one side over another, for the sake of glorifying our own cause, we have lost all hope of ever seeing other’s perspective and truly understanding where they come from,” Reed said. “This cannot be allowed to continue. To move forward, we have to put aside agendas, differences, and anger. Power and decision making must be shared amongst all individuals at all levels, not just in statute or written word, but in practice and action.”

He later brought up that many people are willing to criticize from the outside and complain to those who are trying to make change. He described these people as people in “the cheap seats” and “people who are to not enter the arena” and explained that sometimes we do find ourselves there. Reed then challenged faculty, staff, students and administrators to get into the arena.

“As a University, we have sat in the seats for far too long, Reed said. “Today is the day to embrace a bias for action, work together, and step into the arena.”