D.C. Students Speak has admirably sought a greater voice for college students in city government. But for the organization to reach its potential, both in terms of legitimacy and effectiveness, D.C. Students Speak must first take the time to listen.

The group is correct to note that the 85,000 college students in the District — 15 percent of the city’s population — are underrepresented and underappreciated in local politics. But while it is important for students to be properly represented in city government, D.C. Students Speak must ensure that its own makeup meets democratic standards. To truly serve as ambassadors for the students of the District’s many universities, D.C. Students Speak cannot simply act under the judgment of a limited number of volunteers.

It bears repeating how much we appreciate the ambitions and commitment of D.C. Students Speak participants, but when few students on the Hilltop are even aware of the organization, we question whether it can really claim to speak on the behalf of students.

D.C. Students Speak would benefit from a greater internal democracy and more outside student involvement. Whereas members of the Georgetown University Student Association, for example, can point to a democratic process as validation of their authority, it’s dubious to suggest that members of D.C. Students Speak can serve as delegates for an entire student body.

Similarly, the group should make more of an effort to gauge the opinions of students at different universities. Implementing an easy and effective online means of communication such as IdeaScale to solicit student opinions would likely bolster the organization’s legitimacy and recognition.

When a group without elections or public feedback attempts to represent students, it can advocate only for policies that are intuitively in students’ interests, such as greater government representation or financial aid. Surely non-student legislators could anticipate these requests — it’s up to groups like D.C. Students Speak to be a voice for student needs that aren’t so predictable.

Lobbying groups on Capitol Hill wield influence through membership, money and public visibility. If D.C. Students Speak lacks all of these things, its appeals to city government are likely to fall on deaf ears.

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