State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Updates on the Climate School Student Government

Saxon Stahl, a master’s candidate in the Climate and Society program, founded the Columbia Climate Graduate Council, which is the official student government of the Columbia Climate School. They helped to write a constitution and bylaws that will empower students and promote representation and equity across the Climate School and university campus. 

In the Q&A below, Stahl shares more about the Climate School student government, projects and initiatives the organization has been working on, and plans for expansion in the fall 2023 semester.

What is the Columbia Climate Graduate Council?
It’s a centralized source of civic governance for the Climate School. Each school has some form of governing entity for its student body. With the Climate School’s launch in 2020, there hadn’t been an opportunity for one to be developed. This past year, I took the reins on that and worked on writing a constitution and bylaws, and it has been developing ever since. 

What are its goals?
The primary goal is to represent and be an advocate for the Climate School student body. We also aim to connect the Climate School to the overall campus community. The reason I wanted to have a student government in the first place was because a lot of my colleagues in the cohort felt disconnected from the overall campus community. The student government serves as a centralized source that we can rely on, and includes advocacy efforts, event planning, and funding for student activities.

What projects or initiatives have you started working on in coordination with the Climate School?
Several students have expressed interest in getting new student clubs started up. They have been able to talk with the administration regarding funding for specific events that match the club’s scope of work. I have also been working with the administration and our own university student senator, Benjamin Preneta, in order to make sure we structure the student government to align with how the university senate responds to the student community, and how they report back to us. This cross-communication is really important to have. 

How is the group expanding in the fall semester? How can students become involved?
There are going to be three different position types available: executive board members, board council representatives, and a university student senator. Applications for these positions and elections will happen in the beginning of the fall semester.

For the executive board, there are five positions that are open to all Climate School affiliated programs: a president, vice president of internal affairs, VP of external affairs, VP of finance, and VP of climate and equity (which is very much tailored to the advocacy efforts that go on here all the time at the school).

For the board council representatives, there are six positions. Students have the opportunity to sit in on a committee and are a department representative, where they have an official vote on the council. Their main responsibilities include representing students within the cohort and communicating information from meetings with them.

Each school at Columbia has a student seat on the university senate, and this year the Climate School elected its first senator. It is a university-wide legislature, representing all constituencies: faculty, students, administration, researchers, librarians, administrative staff and alumni. It makes policy on a range of issues that affect the entire university or more than one school. The Climate School senator will attend university senate meetings and will have the responsibility to report back to the council.

What will the student government expansion look like in future years?
As the Climate School develops, the constitution maps out what it will look like. In the case of an additional degree program, there is room for adjustments to the total number of council members designated for each program. This prepares the government to be ready for any future degree programs that the school has. Currently, with the upcoming 2023 to 2024 academic year, there will be six council representatives representing Climate and Society.

Anything else you would like to share?
This is going to be a great opportunity for the next cohort to determine how they want to set the mark on the student government. As a newly formed entity, it does not yet have a defining tone to it, so it is really what the cohort makes of it.  The Climate and Society program is only a year long and a lot can happen, but also a lot can be missed too. So we want to make sure that students are aware of this opportunity.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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