In the eyes of Student Senate Speaker Nicholas LaCourse, a senior political science and economics dual major at the University of New Hampshire, last year’s 40th session of the Student Senate was the “revitalization” it had been seeking for years.
“I really believe that last year was a stepping stone for greater sessions to come, so I’m really hoping that the improvements we made last session with our increases in membership and the policies we were able to tackle on behalf of students will carry on into this session,” he told The New Hampshire on Aug. 15.
To prove his point, LaCourse pointed to, among other things, last semester’s Student Body Presidential Elections, which featured the highest student voter turnout for a student election – 29.6 percent of eligible Durham undergraduates (or 3,648 out of 12,311 eligible voters) – since the body began recording such numbers in 2012.
The two-term speaker, who has also served as an Alexander Hall senator and the Director of Public Relations, credited the historic turnout to both the candidates and the universal appeal of the issues they tackled, ranging from administrative transparency, student diversity and inclusivity, to funding for programs such as the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) and concerns over fraternity and sorority life on campus.
“The candidates were great, we touched every single faucet of the university,” LaCourse said. “…I’m excited to be working with them; obviously, I think the passion they displayed on the campaign was translated very well to their positions now, so they’ve been very active over the summer.”
But as members of the Student Senate return to their respective offices to resume unfinished work or begin new projects, freshmen students, and even some older students, are bound to inevitably ask: why?
“…the objective for Student Senate is to give voice to the students, to make sure that we have participation in the goings on of the university, to make sure that students are at the table, [and] that our concerns are being heard,” LaCourse explained. “…Our angle is always to make sure that what we’re doing represents the best interests of students at all times, you know, when we’re out…talking to those administrators, talking about those policies at the Durham Town Council meetings, the board of trustees, things like that…our number one goal is to make sure that we aren’t just left by the wayside.”
Part of that process involves weekly meetings in Room 205 of Hamilton Smith Hall, where senators representing each residence hall on campus, as well as non-resident students, gather alongside Student Body President Allison MacPhee, Student Body Vice President Kelsey Crowley, Student Trustee Cailee Griffin, Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Liaison Kiarra Austin, Speaker LaCourse and various officers. Together, they debate and vote on policies and resolutions often urging UNH administration to act on issues such as parking, sustainability, student diversity and inclusivity, as well as ones that deal with funding for certain student organizations, among many other topics. From time to time, the meetings will also feature guest speakers from across the university to touch upon a specific topic or recent event.
The meetings are open for any UNH student to attend and even submit their own issues online for the Senate to deliberate on.
While the Sunday meetings are a staple of the Senate’s efforts to represent students, the Senate uses all week to encourage students to submit their issues, run to be a senator of their residence hall (if the positions are available) and participate in Senate-backed events like student elections or the Student Body Presidential Election Debates in the spring. Students can also volunteer to serve on one of many committees covering subjects like academics, community development and health & wellness.
Above all, Speaker LaCourse stresses that the best way for students to get to know the Student Senate and what it stands for is to get involved, even if a senator position is unavailable.
“…there’s not just one way to get involved,” he said. “There’s many, many different ways to make sure that you have your voice heard.”
The officer corps includes Parliamentarian/Deputy Speaker David Cerullo, Executive Officer Annah Santarosa, Director of Public Relations Jonathan Goldberg, Business Manager Jonathan Merheb, Historian Nicholas Crosby, Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) Chair Gareth Jones, and SAF Chief Financial Officers Ethan McClanahan and Delilah DiMambro.
The heads of various councils within the Senate include Academic Affairs Council Head Jennifer Hargenrader, Campus Structure Council Head Logan Stevens, Community Development Council Head Eliza Brechbuhl, External Affairs Council Head Julianna Phillips, Health and Wellness Council Head Alyssa Dean and Judicial Affairs Council Head Maria Koch.
The first meeting will take place in Room 205 at Hamilton Smith Hall on Sunday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m.; the deadline to sign up for senator elections is Sept. 10.