To Increase Student Engagement, Move Forums Online

The whole purpose of the town halls is to gain student input — a useless feat if only a fraction of students show up.

Admittedly, since A.S. President Meggie Le announced two weeks ago the postponement of any changes until we discuss alternatives, we won’t necessarily be having such town halls for the transportation issues again. Instead, the administration will seek to establish a committee for deliberating on how to solve the crisis. That committee might then hold town halls or just accumulate student input through a survey, but that remains to be seen.

Regardless, town halls aren’t just for transportation. On Feb. 19, for example, council and the Well-being Cluster Student Advisory Board held a town hall meeting about the growing UC Student Health Insurance Program deficit. Only around 20 students attended, even though the UC SHIP deficit problem will affect every student who uses the campus insurance policy.

Now, we can go on and on about how important it is that student outrage is followed up with action and how people should participate in ongoing discussions if they hope to see the changes they want. But that won’t do us any good. The kind of physical engagement involved in attending something like a town hall clearly doesn’t work for our campus. It’s hard enough getting people to come to a party let alone a meeting. When classes are over we go home and sit on our computers and proceed to fume about university issues, so the Internet is where we should focus on engagement.

The Student Organized Voter Access Committee’s new Organized Voter Access Link program is a great medium for such scattered action. OVAL is an online tool for giving students access to campus issues, allowing students to login with their UCSD account information and vote (anonymously) on resolutions that A.S. Council will be reviewing. It’s a great way of engaging with the students who would never step foot in a town hall, let alone a council meeting.

Perhaps we could curb the poor town hall turnout by streaming the events online and accepting questions through mediums like OVAL or even Facebook and Twitter. While there’s still no substitute for the impact a large group of students can make, we must get student input in the most efficient, encouraging way possible.