PawPrints: A Step in the Right Direction
by Shay McHale | published Sep. 2nd, 2019
PawPrints, RIT’s student petition site, has been the subject of many campus controversies. It allows students to bring up any issue they may have and, if it gets enough signatures, is then given an official response from Student Government (SG). From there, it can then be brought up with the administration.
PawPrints has brought up a variety of issues, from the argument this past winter about closing campus in relation to the polar vortex, to the therapy and transgender support at the Student Health Center (SHC).
Serious Or ... Not so Much
Some of these petitions tend to be more serious than others.
“It's fun for students to make humorous petitions. It can help blow off steam,” Vivian Trettenbach, a fourth year Fine Arts Studio and Humanities major, said. “I made a petition asking for more murals on campus to make the campus look less like monotonous brick, but I never reached 200 signatures [the minimum needed to guarantee an official response].”
The effect of humor on PawPrints is a force that can be positive, but Ian Stroszeck — third year Computing Security major and former Student Affairs Committee Chair — also expressed issues with the volume of such petitions.
"When there are so many humorous petitions, it can make it more difficult to sort out the ones that are actually legitimate," he said.
"Sometimes, talking to a wall can feel more productive than talking to the administration."
One subject that prompted multiple petitions was the high winds and freezing temperatures that ended up briefly closing campus this winter.
The petition to close campus by Julia Hotaling was signed by nearly five thousand students, currently the most-signed petition on the site. During the period in which it was created, it reached the threshold in about an hour and crashed the PawPrints server, according to Stroszeck. Other petitions, however, also got attention in that time. One was a
PawPrints, as much as it is a petition site, is also a place for RIT students to bicker about issues like this in a less serious way. This can be back and forth, or through humorous suggestions like the one to “Make Matt the RA Play Minecraft With Us,” or the one to build a big glass dome over campus or even the one that called for RIT to close PawPrints due to the polar vortex. A wide variety of petitions are available for students to support, for all their genuine or humorous needs.
"My personal opinion is there is no such thing as bad press," Stroszeck said, regarding the effect of humorous petitions. "When students are using the platform, it brings awareness that such a platform exists."
Additionally, this enables SG to more accurately represent the student body. It provides concrete numerical evidence that these issues are issues, and brings out the ability to joke about less serious issues. Stroszeck mentioned that he or other committee chairs may sometimes create petitions themselves to judge how many students care about given issues, as well as to provide this evidence to administrators.
PawPrints and Administration
While PawPrints can be a fun place to meme about RIT, it is also important to look more seriously at what the platform has done for students. The petition with the second-highest number of signatures focused on the issue of mental health. This is a more somber topic than many petitions on PawPrints, but it was one that got even more attention and support after the student suicide on campus on Halloween 2018.
The response to said petition came first from a Facebook post from President Munson, who spent the second paragraph of the response discussing RIT’s mental health support in terms like: “[in] recent years, RIT has put additional resources into mental health services,” and stating that we had an above-average ratio of counselors to students.
The public image of RIT has been the focus of many of these responses, which of course is something the university always needs to keep in mind. But students tend to take issue when the support of RIT's public image comes at the cost of sincerity.
“Sometimes it feels like the administration can be more worried about the image they present to the world rather than actually taking the proper steps to help and support students,” Trettenbach said on the responses RIT gives to some petitions that make it past SG. “Sometimes, talking to a wall can feel more productive than talking to the administration.”
"A lot of the big things that we’ve been able to accomplish in Student Government originally started out as PawPrints petitions."
Stroszeck, on the other hand, urged for understanding on this topic.
"Change, especially in an organization as big as RIT is, is always going to be a little bit slower than you might expect," he said. "A lot of the big things that we’ve been able to accomplish in Student Government originally started out as PawPrints petitions."
Trettenbach also expressed sentiment toward the ways that PawPrints alone cannot be as effective.
“Don't just sign a petition," Trettenbach said. "If you want to be fully involved, [you should] discuss petitions, attend open forums and go to meetings for organizations designed to help students. Loudly complaining online won't change much unless you actually take the steps in real life to make a change.”
Stroszeck shared this sentiment. He urged those who are interested in the issues to attend SG senate meetings or to get involved in their various committee meetings, which take place weekly starting around the second week of classes.
Stroszeck explained, "PawPrints is inherently just one piece of a much larger puzzle."