By Jonathan Miller
MSCSA Director of Communications
Most of you reading this are college students, unless you are my mother, who is not a college student, but does read everything I write because she is a very supporting and loving mother (Hi, mom!). We have established that most of you are college students, so you probably have either willingly or under duress signed up for some sort of social network. How do I know this about you? Because the Pew Internet Project’s August 2012 study shows that an astounding 73% of American adults with at least some college use social networks.
Maybe you signed up for a Facebook account because EVERYONE in your class has one and you found out that your classmates only responded when you wrote a string of emoticons on their wall. Maybe you signed up for a Twitter account because you wanted to read what Kanye West thinks about fur pillows (spoiler alert: he thinks they are hard to sleep on). Maybe you have gone as far as signing up for Pinterest because you need more and better cupcake recipes and you need to know how to make your hair more straight and/or curly. Those are fun, innocuous things to do online and we all use social networks for these reasons-that is the hook that gets you to sign up for an account. But you could be doing so much more with your online presence. You could be changing the world one Tweet or Like at a time.
You’re a student leader, right? If you have read this far, nod your head yes. It’s time for you to step up and start advocating for affordable and accessible higher education online NOW. My plan for you is simple. Get informed. Get interactive. Get involved.
Social media has sped up the news to the speed of Tweet. Baseball trades, pregnant Kardashians, fiscal cliff negotiations, Pell Grant funding–all this news breaks on Twitter first. I want you to sign up for a Twitter account right now. Next, follow things you like. Like deals on stuff? Follow @amazondeals. Like sports? Follow ESPN’s Bill Simmons @BillSimmons. Like celebrity gossip? Follow @PerezHilton. Whatever you are into, follow it because that will keep you logging in and interested.
Now, follow at least five higher education related Twitter accounts. Follow us @MSCSA (sorry for the shameless plug. On second thought, I’m not sorry.), follow the Chronicle of Higher Education (@chronicle) and Inside Higher Ed (@insidehighered) for national higher education news. And follow Minnesota’s main higher education reporters–Jenna Ross at the Star Tribune (@ByJenna) and Alex Friedrich at Minnesota Public Radio (@MPRAFriedrich). Google your State Senator and State Representative plus “twitter” and follow them. OK, that is seven people, but that is manageable. If you are looking for more higher ed people or organizations to follow, check out the resource page on the MSCSA website. Finally, you will need to practice starting sentences with “Hey guys, I just saw on Twitter that…” And, of course, you will have to practice withstanding eye rolls, groans, and threats of physical harm if you use that phrase too much.
The second step is to get interactive. Social media has changed the game for interacting with large entities and public figures. It has leveled the playing field, so you, the average citizen, can once again have a voice. One of my favorite parts about the recent movie Lincoln was its portrayal of how President Lincoln had office hours set up for actual people to come in and complain about toll roads, slavery, the war or whatever. It seemed so quaint and odd, but why? Shouldn’t it seem normal for the President to talk to citizens? But it isn’t. In the last two hundred years, access to the President has been removed, security has increased, and roadblocks have gone up to the point where talking to our President is unimaginable. But social media has torn many of those walls back down. You can tweet @BarackObama and there is good chance you will get a response.
That is why you need to get interactive online. It’s tough because it has become almost ingrained in most people that your voice doesn’t count, but now is the time to get over your fears. It’s so easy now to pull out your smart phone on your way to class and tweet a request “@” a higher education reporter that they do a story on making the Minnesota State Grant more equitable for part-time students. Or fire up your tablet while you are watching Family Guy reruns and write on your representative’s wall that you hope she or he supports Pell Grant funding. Interact with your fellow student leaders and see what they are doing on their campuses.
Finally, we need you to get involved. If you have ever attended a MSCSA Student Leadership Conference or Summit, you know the excitement they can create. But what happens after the remnants of the last taco bar have been digested and the handouts of the last workshop shoved into your desk at home? A huge let down, right? How can we keep that energy going? Online, that’s how. Tabling to get students to come to Rally Day or register to vote? Take a picture and Tweet it at us or post it on our Facebook wall. Did you read something in our weekly policy update that needs to be shared with other students? Retweet it or share the post on your Facebook wall. It is so easy and takes two extra seconds.
The old philosophical experiment of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” can be updated to “If a student leader does something cool on his or her campus and no one Tweets a picture of it, did it happen?” GONG! Time’s up! The answer is no, it didn’t.
These are simple, incredibly easy, not overwhelming things that you can do to be a better and more informed student advocate and citizen. Get informed. Get interactive. Get involved.