This story was reported as part of our UTA Unfolded initiative, which we launched spring 2019. Our reader-led initiative focuses on answering and unfolding any questions you may have about campus.
Architecture freshman Tony Pham is finishing up his first semester as the student senate’s student affairs committee chair at UTA. While he feels that he did a lot of meaningful work this semester, Pham was interested to learn more about student government, its history and its functions.
Pham submitted this question to The Shorthorn: What is the history of Student Government and its structures at UTA?UTA Unfolded investigated.
Student Government is the representative arm for students to participate in the policy making at UTA, affecting education and campus experiences, according to its website.
“The goal of Student Government is to help advocate for that student voice and to help articulate it to administrators and to our campus community,” said Seth Ressl, senior director for involvement and engagement.
While origins for UTA’s student led government can be traced back to the 1920s, the history of student led representation on university campuses in the U.S. goes back to the 1700s, according to a dissertation written by Jennifer Fox Taylor, former Student Governance assistant director, in 2017.
In those days, student-run literary societies gave students the opportunity to express their needs and frustrations regarding curriculum, extracurricular activities and the lack of authority over their own lives at college, according to the dissertation.
As other student organizations such as sports, fraternities and clubs emerged, literary societies were replaced by student assemblies as the governing body of the student population. The small number of students attending universities at the time made it possible for the entire school to assemble at once.
Student councils replaced assemblies in the late 1800s to early 1900s, which gave students representation from elected officers. UTA established its own student council in 1922, Ressl said.
By the 1960s, Student Government influence had expanded and become a larger part of the institutional decision-making process, according to Fox’s dissertation.
Gerald D. Saxon’s book titled Transitions: A Centennial History of The University of Texas at Arlington, 1895-1995, gives insight into the iterations of Student Government.
UTA, then known as Arlington State College, transitioned from the A&M System to the UT System in 1965 and the Student Government held a referendum to gauge student support for a theme change at the college, according to the book.
At the time, the college’s theme and mascot was a Rebel. The topic was hotly debated as many students felt that the recently integrated university needed to move away from a “Rebel-Dixie” motif, according to the book.
Saxon wrote that the student congress proposed and debated on a resolution to change the rebel theme, citing that it divided the student body. The resolution was passed on April 30, 1968 and a student wide vote was held. The Maverick was selected as the new mascot in March 1970.
According to documents from UTA’s Special Collections archives, the student council became known as student congress in 1968 and in 1969, the congressional body drafted “The Constitution for the Student Community of the University of Texas at Arlington.” When the constitution was approved by the student body in 1971, it established principal organizations for the government.
Among those established were the constituent councils, a student activities board, student representation on university committees and the student judicial board.
Through the appointment of these committees within the student council, members sought to improve campus communication between organizations, beautify the campus grounds and increase services to a growing student population, according to Saxon’s book.
By the end of the 1960s, Student Government had a greater influence in policy formation on campus, according to Saxon.
In the 1990s, UTA’s Student Government was structured as a singular body, Ressl said.
UTA’s current iteration of Student Government took shape in August of 2017 by establishing a three-part system of government, the judicial, legislative and executive branches.
A lot of other institutions had already made the switch to a three-branch system, Ressl said.
“It created a lot more opportunities for students to be a part of the Student Government system and the Student Government process,” he said.
With each branch serving separate functions, students involved can develop different skill sets within the governmental system.
Here’s a look at the structures of the government:
The legislative branch includes the student senate, where they write, research and vote on resolutions to influence change at UTA.
Resolutions are documents requesting change or expressing an opinion. Any student can write a resolution but it must be sponsored by a senator or a graduate student senate voting member.
Made up of elected representatives from each college/school and its four distinct committees, the branch passes legislation, which affects current and future students.
Some resolutions that have passed this semester include ‘Hydration To Go’ and ‘HDMI—No You Didn’t!.’ Following the research and approval of resolutions, if they pass the voting process, they are then passed to the executive branch for implementation.
Comprising the student body president, vice president and the chief of staff as well as another three committees and the assembly of college councils, the executive branch is responsible for the day-to-day operations of student government.
Some of the ways the executive branch connects with students is the Maverick Discount Program, which gives students discounts at participating vendor locations, and the President’s Roundtable.
Student Body President Blaize LaFleur said her days are filled with meetings, often being the only student voice represented. Her role in the executive branch is an important one as she said her job as a student representative is contingent upon her relationship with the administration.
“My role is to be the face of the student body and advocate for the student body in spaces where students may typically not be invited,” LaFleur said.
She said she has accomplished a lot in this semester but is most proud of being the fifth African American president and the third female African American president at UTA.
“That means a lot,” she said. “The last Black student body president was 34 years ago, and that’s a long time.”
She said she has been able to rectify or ease some problems that came up this semester for students.
The judicial branch is made up of the chief justice, the supreme court and the election supervisory board. The branches’ responsibilities include settling disputes amongst the other branches, managing the program assistance fund and coordinating campus elections.
The program assistance fund is allocated to Student Government yearly to distribute to student organizations on an application basis, Chief Justice Akram Abbadi said. The fund totals around $30,000, and the branch oversees the entire allocation process.
The branch also handles the management, supervision and facilitation of campus elections. Abbadi said the branch gets candidates to file for elections, hosts candidate workshops and settles any election disputes.
The supreme court is made up of seven justices including the chief justice, but he said they are looking to add two judicial clerks next semester.
Abbadi said his interest in Student Government comes from wanting to make an impact on campus, and his time in government has been a beneficial experience.
He added that there are an immense amount of possibilities to get involved. Student government is accepting applications for all majors and classifications until Jan. 8.
“There’s a place for everyone in Student Government,” LaFleur said.