AS Student Senate members in a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 15. (From left) Joe Meyer, Lucas Bourne and Rachel Bowers. Photo by Daniel Berman/The AS Review.

Matt Crowley/The AS Review

While the members may not hold the power that is usually associated with the word “senate,” Western’s Student Senate is arguably one of the most important facets of Western’s student government, despite being relatively unknown.

Prior to 2001, a student government commission existed to provide the Associated Students Board of Directors advice on what students wanted out of their elected officials. That year, a general election referendum established the AS Student Senate, and since then the diverse group of students has been holding weekly meetings, discussing the issues that matter most to students.

While the senate does not have the power to make decisions that affect students (those are still left to the AS board), they provide a valuable service in informing the board what students want and why. Open meetings are held every week at 6 p.m. in Viking Union 567, where the senate hashes out issues and drafts resolutions. If the resolutions are passed, they are created into formal recommendations for the board and added to their agenda for further consideration. In the past, the senate has worked on resolutions that have significantly affected Western, including advising the university on separating the College of Arts and Sciences into two entities.

“As a senate, we’re essentially an advisory board for the board of directors so we’ve been helping them out on a couple of issues,” said Student Senate Chair Lucas Bourne. “For example, the legislative agenda when that was in here, the university strategic plan, and when there was a proposal to wrap the Western shuttles in a design, we took a look at that proposal.”

AS Vice President for Academic Affairs Ramon Rinonos-Diaz, who acts as an adviser to the senate from the AS board, says the senate is an invaluable liaison between the board and the student population.

“My position has so many meetings and so many things to do that it’s hard to contact and interact with students,” he said, adding that the board is not only good for discussing student interests, but the officers’ concerns as well.

The senate gathers student concerns and opinions either through tabling, where the senators provide a place for students to offer their thoughts in person, through the public forum section of the weekly senate meetings or by e-mailing the senators with issues.

“But then outside of that, a couple of our own projects we’ve been working on are a forum we did last quarter about safety in Bellingham, called ‘Is Bellingham Safe?’ where we cleared up some misconceptions about safety in Bellingham as well as letting the students voice their concerns,” said Bourne. “That’s one of our main goals, outreach to students on issues that are important to them.”

The senate also hosts an “issue of the month,” focusing on a specific issue that affects students, setting up tables in the VU lobby to gather student responses in the hope they will eventually be able to issue a formal recommendation to the AS Board. The issue for February, the new electronic waitlist system, is one that will likely draw plenty of student feedback, something the senators love to see.

To become a senator, one must simply be a Western student with a desire to represent student interests and enact change. Interested students can apply by visiting the board of directors’ office in VU 504.  Senators are appointed by the VP for Academic Affairs. Senators are required to not only attend the weekly meetings, but also to serve on at least two councils or committees with the AS or through Western.

For Student Senator Rachel Bowers, a lack of leadership experience in high school did not prevent her from joining the senate last year.

“I came to college wanting to get involved in student government because it’s in my major,” she said. “I think it’s really important to get students involved in the process of what goes on in the university.”

Bourne echoed her statements, saying, “I got involved in the senate because I have a real passion for the university and I basically wanted to lend that to helping make decisions that will impact students.”