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A Prospective Look Into Student Representation in the UPR

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

The structure of student participation is one of the University of Puerto Rico’s greatest attributes. They provide students the power to directly change and influence the policies that compose the UPR system. Nonetheless, through time, the general perception of student councils and the dynamics within them have become polarized, leading to a misunderstanding of the potential they have, and what student councils are capable of when this potential is directed effectively.

It’s necessary to recognize that circumstances for students have changed; and, in turn, the dynamics of student representation have as well. Natural disasters, poor public services, and now a pandemic have plagued the college experience, under the context of a continuously growing tuition cost, lower academic and professional opportunities and services brought by the Financial Oversight Board and administrative complacency. The UPR is no longer perceived as a personally formative institution; but rather, it has been demoted as a burden the government seems to want to get rid of as fast as possible due to the big interests that seek to damage it.

These phenomena have influenced how students perceive their representatives and how said representatives go about their duties. It has created a sense of disconnection, whether recognized or not, because of the systemic measures that have purposefully been made to minimize student power. Rather than spiraling or inspiring a move towards a conservative style of student government, these events should serve as an impulse to innovate the ways these spaces work and optimize student participation towards the achievement of goals in favor of the campus community.

Assemblies and community meetings are a main way to organize and mobilize the student body. These shouldn’t be done solely in reaction to crises within the UPR. Rather, they should be celebrated routinely, accompanied by proper proposals to revise institutional policies for them to reflect the needs of students and the strategies to promote their approval. Assemblies offer the General Student Councils the opportunity to gain support in their efforts and organize the student body towards a common goal, noting that the student community composes the majority of the UPR.

For example, during the 2020-2021 Academic Year, Mayagüez’s and Aguadilla’s student councils advocated for more student representation in the Academic Senates and faculties, with the latter being able to successfully pass a petition for the Governing Board to review making student participation necessary to constitute quorum in senate meetings. Gaining community support and building a narrative for these causes is key for these revisions to have an impact and, ideally, be implemented.

Coalition-building with the other sectors of the campus community is another necessary effort. The polarization in the relationships between student and professor representatives is marked as antagonistic, but it shouldn’t be interpreted as such. There’s a need for the development of mutually beneficial relationships between these groups, wherein conversations can be had to promote a better understanding of each side’s points of view. This is particularly important since professor support is required to pass policies and certifications in favor of students.

The UPR is a complex institution composed of people with different ideologies about what the university is for Puerto Rico. Because of this, it’s disingenuous to say that there is a specific set solution for the issues that confront the campus community; in this case, particularly students. However, considering recent developments proposed for its budget, on top of the lasting damage left by previous gross austerity, it’s important and necessary that the student body embrace the tools and tactics in place for students to manifest the realities they want to see in our institution, while understanding the need for affirmative action against the enemies of the institution. Through consistent advocacy for policy reform and firmness in their demands, student mobilization, and coalition building with the sectors of the campus community, student representatives can achieve progress for their causes, truly and effectively representing the student body.

Political scientist with an affinity towards pop culture and media analysis, currently pursuing adventures in journalism.