Photo: Adam Orfinger / The Daily Gamecock

Student Government reps hope to unite students at 19-school summit

South Carolina's varying student voices will come together Saturday at a unique summit for student government officials from universities and colleges around the state.

The first South Carolina Student Body Presidents' Summit is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at the USC Alumni Center on Senate Street. As of Tuesday, the itinerary names representatives from 17 schools, with representatives from Columbia College and USC Lancaster to also attend as "last-minute additions."

The summit's central agenda is outlined on a two-page proclamation sectioned five ways: general and student-specific provisions, and advocacy in local, state and federal government.

Locally, student body president Lordo says he believes a "firm and established relationship" is lacking between student government and Columbia city leaders. But with help from at least one notable former USC student government official, he hopes to forge that relationship during his time in office.

"You have such an integration of our student life and our student experience in the city of Columbia that we need to further build the relationship of our students at the local level," Lordo said, "because that's where students are going and interacting on a daily basis."

While an undergraduate, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was elected USC student body president in 1990.

The section concerning state government advocacy quickly acknowledges South Carolina's considerable decreases in university spending that have placed the state 47th in the nation in higher education investment. Also noted are efforts made by neighboring states to issue bonds for higher education funding and the necessity to "engage the South Carolina Statehouse."

"When you look at the population of over 100,000 students in South Carolina, that is a population that the state government has to acknowledge and respond to just as much as any population of that size," Lordo said. 

"When you look at higher education in the state, if you say that you care about South Carolina as a legislator, then you care about the future of the state," added USC's deputy of government relations Taylor Bradley. "And the tough reality is, when you think about the future, you look at your colleges, and that's where it is."

Student-specific provisions place emphasis on fighting substance abuse and sexual assault on campus. The proclamation calls on representatives "recognize the positive impact of" the It's On Us campaign, which founded its USC chapter in 2014.

Greek Life will also be on the agenda shortly after one state university found itself in the news for a hazing-related incident.

Last week Clemson University settled a lawsuit in the case of Tucker Hipps, a fraternity pledge who was found dead in Lake Hartwell in September 2014. Though no criminal charges were ever filed over Hipps' death, the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act, a state law requiring greater transparency from Greek life organizations, was signed by former Gov. Nikki Haley 21 months later.

While highlighting the necessity to battle hazing, the proclamation calls on representatives to promote Greek organizations' "philanthropic, professional, and social goals."

Of the summit's importance to student bodies, Lordo said he hopes it will bring to the surface the diverse issues felt on campuses from Greenville to Beaufort.

"I think it's more important than ever to advocate on behalf of the entire state and really bring the leadership together to fix our priorities at the highest level and what we ask for at the highest level and work towards bettering the future of higher education in South Carolina," Lordo said.

Aside from Lordo and Bradley, USC will be represented Saturday by chief of staff Kathryn Stoudemire, chief implementation officer Melissa Byars and director of legislative action network Jay Selesky.

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