Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Profiles in optimism

They leave their high school student governments eager to effect real change on the college level, and their bright faces make up the majority of those in the Associated Student Government Senate.

Although history has shown that many freshmen leave ASG after their first year, they come in ready to work, despite the criticisms they’ve heard from upperclassmen. For first-time upperclassmen senators, however, they’ve seen the good and the bad of the organization, and they think they can do better.

After the first ASG meeting of the year Wednesday, The Daily chatted with three of these first timers — two freshmen and a junior — to understand their motivations and learn their goals.

Michael Blake

Medill freshman and 1835 Hinman senator

Like many ASG members, 1835 Hinman Sen. Michael Blake served on his high school student council all four years and became president his senior year. But not all student councils oversee the programming and funding for 4,500 students at the second-largest high school in New York City.

It’s no surprise that Blake, a Medill freshman, has big expectations for his college’s student government, but he’s also aware of the criticisms ASG has faced in the past.

“If ASG did more publicizing of what they can do and have their students behind them, there’s no limit to what they can do,” Blake said. “I don’t think there could be any stronger organization on this campus.”

Blake’s goals for ASG range from the immediate, such as cutting printing fees and creating more campus parking, to the visionary, such as improving student/faculty relationships and the minority voice in the student government.

The lack of minorities was the first disappointment to hit Blake at his first ASG meeting Wednesday.

“When you look around the room and you strain your eyes to see people that look like you, it hurts sometimes,” Blake said. “It’s impossible to know what the minorities are thinking unless the minorities are there themselves.”

But overall, his impression of ASG in his first month at NU has been positive, not at all like the label of lazy, résumé-building jokers he had heard from older students.

When asked about the criticism that some members of ASG take themselves too seriously, Blake didn’t understand the question.

“I don’t see how you can say someone takes their life too seriously. Northwestern is our life,” he said.

Mark Salierno

Weinberg freshman and Willard Residential College senator

Willard Sen. Mark Salierno had quite a different experience from Blake in high school student government.

“Student council was more like a popularity contest where people just get elected because people like them,” said Salierno, a Weinberg freshman.

Although his first meeting was only an introduction, hearing ASG leaders list their accomplishments — from improving the shuttle and escort services to creating the HereAndNow Web site — encouraged him.

“In college, things get done,” Salierno said. “The formal procedures are similar to what you’d see in the real world, as opposed to high school when it’s just meetings about petty issues like Homecoming.”

Although he’s heard that ASG isn’t all-powerful, Salierno said he still believes the student government plays an important role on campus, communicating between students and administrators.

Salierno said his experiences with volunteer groups and the National Honor Society taught him more about organizing and working with administrators than did his position as student council treasurer. But his experiences, and the political ambitions in the back of his mind, kept him interested in student government.

“Service is very important. You have to give back to the community that supports you,” Salierno said. “I don’t know how that works in Evanston because I haven’t been here very long.”

Candace Unnerstall

Weinberg junior and sorority senator

Weinberg junior Candace Unnerstall has spent two years at NU hearing the criticisms against ASG — that it’s inefficient and a waste of time to attend the meetings — yet with more time in her schedule this year she decided to become a sorority senator.

And even after spending about two-and-a-half hours at Wednesday’s meeting and voting on only one bill, Unnerstall was encouraged by the first night’s action.

“I was impressed by the first meeting,” Unnerstall said. “I feel like we’re going to get a lot done this year.”

ASG has tried over the last year to improve its image on campus by passing bills relevant to students instead of internal legislation important to only the organization.

Still, Unnerstall was more realistic than some freshmen about what ASG can accomplish. Compromising with Information Technology about the printing fees might take until the end of the year, Unnerstall said, and some efforts undertaken by ASG are doomed to fail from the start.

“After being here two years and watching how long things take to happen, we just have to wait and see and work our hardest to get things done,” Unnerstall said. “As basic as this government is, I think it’ll be good experience.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Profiles in optimism