Student voice and RIT have always been at odds with each other. Student government (SG) is the main mediator between the two, trying to find a middle ground between student needs and restrictions set by the Institute. While SG is generally OK at performing their duty, many students who want to have their voices heard could previously only do so by going to SG meetings or contacting specific members directly. Enter PawPrints, a petition site that just launched a few weeks ago. While some have decried the initiative as being pointless, I feel they are quick to judge the untapped potential of this new student platform.

PawPrints is a new site that's trying to solve a longstanding problem: communicating the direct needs of RIT students to RIT's administration. The fledgling petition site has really sparked discussion at RIT on a variety of issues, from the typical complaints related to SIS to serious concerns like revising RIT's Swim Dress Code to be less gender specific. Students can create petitions, sign them and receive an official response from SG if it reaches 200 signatures. While parallels between PawPrints and the White House's "We The People" can be made, I feel PawPrints will be more successful because it isn't targeted towards an administration that only signs legislation into law, but towards RIT's main student representative body, which I think is akin more to Congress in importance. 

For it to continue to succeed, there a few things SG must do to maintain PawPrints down the road. Transparency must be kept in check. While moderation cuts down on the clutter of horribly written petitions, serious or critical petitions made in the future should not be undercut through the use of moderation. Just because they might expose certain flaws or problems with how organizations at RIT are handling certain issues does not mean erasing a petition will remove the problem itself. I would be in favor of a petition log being created in which petitions that have been approved or not are listed, and the reasons why are given for each. 

Many of the responses given by SG from certain petitions so far have shown a lot of care and research. Often, they call upon the major players involved at RIT to give a full fledged response. Even the petition for stocking bathrooms on campus with better TP received a fairly detailed response and a promise to look into the matter in the future. This is where PawPrints may lose its efficacy; if the promises being made from each petition do not result in anything more than a response, the site will be basically ineffectual. This is why "We The People" and other online petition sites are seen as counter-productive, trivializing the call for change.

In short, don't undersell PawPrints this early in its life. It's a nascent approach to a serious communication issue RIT has had to grapple with these past few years. We should only be concerned if we fast-forward to the end of the year and nothing of note has improved for the better.