Petitions for change give students a greater voice

RIT PawPrints program launched in September and shared with other colleges




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RIT Student Government officers, from left, Director of Services Nathan Castle, President Ashley Carrington, Vice President Tyler Pierce, and Webmaster Pete Mikitsh.

Scheduling a late bus to the RIT Inn on weekends, keeping the Wallace Center library open 24 hours a day and the arrival of Zipcars on campus this summer are some of the changes brought from an online petition program known as PawPrints, created by RIT Student Government.

Launched in September, more than a third of the students at Rochester Institute of Technology have signed on to the program, where petitions are reviewed and addressed by Student Government and RIT officials.

Sometimes a suggestion isn’t practical to adopt—such as replacing the Ritchie tiger mascot with Ricky the Brick, which would involve rebranding and probably alienate thousands of alumni.

But nearly 40 percent of the petitions received so far have had 200 signatures in support, the threshold to advance the petition to a Student Government committee that will study the proposal and give a response with the assistance of the college administration. Common issues include parking, closing school during severe weather, and getting a break from classes in October, said Student Government’s Director of Student Relations Nick Giordano.

“Petitions involving changing schedules are tougher because the academic calendar is set two years ahead,” Giordano said. “But I think it’s still important we work on them.”

Previously, Student Government hosted events where students could come to share concerns. “It wasn’t ever super effective,” he said. “Occasionally, we’d get a suggestion. Now, we receive more input in a month than we did in an entire year.”

Petitions are posted to the PawPrints website at https://pawprints.rit.edu.

Committees have been formed to address topics including housing, transportation, dining services, student affairs, technology, academics and deaf advocacy. Petitioners have asked for more bicycle racks, laundry areas and elevator upgrades.

Students asked for, and received, a change in dress code policy at the RIT pools.

More than 350 petitions have been submitted, with 6,649 users, 36,198 signatures and 347,000 page views in the first eight months of PawPrints.

PawPrints began when RIT Student Government President Ashley Carrington and Vice President Tyler Pierce were looking at the “We the People” petition website started by President Obama’s administration. “We thought something like that would be perfect for our campus,” Carrington said.

Using an open source software program, allowing the same technology that can be used by other universities, RIT’s Student Government worked with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students who also wanted a student-run petition program on campus.

Other colleges have expressed interest in the petition program as well.

“This has revolutionized how colleges and universities function across the nation,” Carrington said. “Previously there was no sharing, and people at each college were basically reinventing the wheel.”

RPI students made suggestions that were incorporated in PawPrints, Carrington said. “It’s kind of cool to work with two different schools with similar demographics of students.”

Sharing the information among colleges helps everyone, “because sometimes things pop up on their site we don’t think of,” Giordano said. “The more schools the better.”

Carrington agrees.

“We in Student Government are very excited to see how students in different college communities can have similar goals and work together to enhance student voice on campus communities.”

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RIT Student Government officers, from left, Director of Services Nathan Castle, President Ashley Carrington, Vice President Tyler Pierce, and Webmaster Pete Mikitsh.