Last spring, a highly competitive and eye-catching election for student body president drew more attention to a lesser-known organization within the University. A three-way race, which eventually saw Christian Walth elected student body president along with Alex Duerr, elected student body vice president, brought not only awareness but also excitement.
“A lot of people, I would say, last year, didn’t know about student government, but after a huge election of three really competitive and great tickets, it raised a lot of awareness for our organization,” said Christian. “It also showed a lot of students that we have a student government that wants to help and support them, and that wasn’t something that happened in the past.”
Reflecting on the student governments as a whole last fall, Christian sees visibility as their most significant accomplishment. “We have really branched out and built a lot of bridges to other organizations and really showed a lot of people we are here to support them,” Chrisitian said.
Last fall, three priorities were voted on by the student government for the 2022-2023 school year, “an increase in behavioral health funding across the state, support and advocacy for the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, and supporting free speech on campus,” said Christian.
For himself, Christian is most proud of his effort of “raising student involvement and increasing behavior health funding for the North Dakota university system.” However, the process has not been as smooth as he envisioned.
”I didn’t realize how much of an obstacle that [working with the state legislature] was.” At least, “I feel like we have been really good proponents for being advocates to behavior health across the system… and we have really represented ourselves in the legislator so far.”
Working with the state legislator in this new semester is taking much of Christian’s time. Unlike most states, the North Dakota legislature is only in session from January through April every other year. Currently, it is in session. Compared to the rest of the student government, a large part of the student president’s responsibility is representing NDSU in the state legislature. Naturally, this condensed schedule shapes how he represents.
“In a legislative year, something I didn’t realize, the majoring of my time is spent reading bills and being in meetings with legislators and policymakers. I didn’t expect that.” Christian added, “I wish I could spend a majority of my time supporting our students.”
On top of all the usual legislative priorities, for this year’s session, there is heated debate surrounding the anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ+ bills. “It takes away a lot of time from doing good things. A lot of NDSU student government this year is mitigating damage rather than creating positive change.”
Christian added, “quite honestly, it’s been overwhelming, it’s been annoying, and it’s been aggravating because we want to see legislators represent our students. Of course, we make up a very small proportion of North Dakota, but a large majority of NDSU students disagree with these social bills that are being presented.”
“We decided as a student government that regardless of your political beliefs, all of these bills negatively impact higher education across the state. If all of these passed, North Dakota would make headlines for being an incredibly transphobic state, and eventually, we would get to further anti-LGBTQ+ bills.”
For budgeting progress, “It’s complicated” is how he describes it. Emphasising that “House Bill 1003 is going to support the North Dakota university system by providing money to institutions, by helping our tuition, and our retention loss.” He continued, “there are other bills that will help behavioral health and other bills that will support new infrastructure changes on campus, new bills that will support faculty and staff.”
Christian estimates that “the transgender bills have been about a fourth of the total time. Three-fourths have been about budgeting, appropriations, judicial decisions, and other issues.” Highlighting other issues such as guns on campus and the divisive concepts bill.
The outcomes of this legislative cycle are still yet to be determined. Therefore, it is unknown exactly what change will be put in place.
“We are getting change, we are seeking those things. I mean, we are trying, but we are seeing great things happen. We are just hoping that they will vote in our favor, to support NDSU, to support mental health, to support suicide prevention programs,” said Christian. “Going forward, [we are] waiting to see what happens. We are very optimistic. We are waiting to see, and we won’t know for another 60 days.”