It Just Might Work: A student voice

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by Eric Ginsburg

I am not convinced that summer ever started this year. The last few months have felt like a prolonged spring, but somehow families and individuals across the Triad are already preparing to go back to school. Hell, one friend in med school just told me she’s already taken an exam.

Students are everywhere, filling up once vacant halls and bustling to and from school. The return of out of town college students may be the most obvious, as certain neighborhoods that experience relative summer calm flood with an increase of bodies. But despite the pervasiveness of students of all ages, what kind of say do they actually have in our cities?

Sure, it’s easy to list the impact students have on a city, but do they actually have a voice?

There are several existing government entities that address and/or seek the input of students. There’s a student-relations committee as part of the Winston-Salem Human Relations Commission, and a well respected student human relations commission in High Point. In Greensboro, the young Councilman Jamal Fox wants to pull together a student commission made up of college students.

“It’s still coming together,” city spokesperson Donnie Turlington said. “Basically the idea exists in space more than anything else right now. The grand scheme of things is Jamal wanted to get representatives from each of the colleges in town to better connect them with things that are going on in the city government.”

The parks and recreation department has already started talking to colleges to get buy in, support and feedback, he said.

“I think the idea is that sometime this fall they’ll have their first commission meeting,” Turlington said. “Jamal’s [goal] is that by January 1st it will be really up and running. I think it’s a pretty cool thing but it is still loose right now.”

It remains to be seen what exactly the commission will look like, and what influence, if any, it will give students in important decisions. Regardless, it is clear that students deserve not just a seat at the table, but to be taken seriously.

Instead of rhetoric about “young professionals,” we need to find ways to lift up students’ voices directly.

There are many forms this could take. One 2014 Guilford County Schools graduate suggested there be student representation directly on the school board. It isn’t that wild of an idea — some colleges allow students representation on the board of trustees — and makes tremendous practical sense.

Examples of individual students who made their way into the power structure abound, from Fox to Winston-Salem Councilman Derwin Montgomery. But I’m talking about something broader and more inclusive.

Rather than dictate what exactly that should look like, the job of non-students like me should be to invite feedback and be receptive to what comes. As a publication we do have student feedback from our intern, UNCG senior Kelly Fahey, but we welcome more. Other organizations, including the schools themselves, should do the same.