When James Hill was elected the first president of the UW-La Crosse Student Association in 1975, it was a tumultuous time. Students had been drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and anti-war protests were occurring across the country, including the bombing of UW-Madison’s Sterling Hall in August 1970.
“I’m not the bomb throwing type,” says Hill, now director of The La Crosse Area Development Corporation and chairman of the UW-L Foundation Board. “Instead, I wanted to get involved on campus and organize by working inside the system.”
At the time student leaders struggled to be taken seriously — as more than a “glorified, pop machine committee,” notes Hill. A new law granting students authority to assist in making decisions about how student fees were spent helped prove their legitimacy. Hill was elected president and led efforts to lower student fees. He was involved in voting down the construction of a hockey arena on campus.
Decisions like these have helped shape what campus is today.
“Looking back at where we’ve come from, our predecessors have done a great job of setting up the foundation for us,” says Madisson Heinze, current president of the UW-L Student Association.
Today UW-L’s student leaders still witness major political events in their backyard — such as the massive protests for collective bargaining rights at the state capitol. Like Hill, today’s student leaders continue to organize from inside. They do get-out-to vote campaigns and educate fellow classmates on issues such as how state budget cuts to the UW-System will affect students.
Like Hill, they’ve watched campus grow. Hill saw North Hall (now Wimberly Hall) go up. He recalls when Cowley and Mitchell halls and the planetarium were relatively new. Similarly, Jason Krug, vice president of the student association, notes construction cranes have been on the UW-L campus since he arrived. He’s seen UW-L open doors to the Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex, Eagle Hall and Centennial Hall.
Student leaders continue to work with administrators to make sure student needs are met whether deciding on the best dining service or renovations to Cartwright Center.
“Sometimes it gets tiring and taxing,” admits Krug. “At the end of the day, we are students. We still have finals and late-night cramming sessions studying for that Heim (Political Science Professor Joe Heim) test.”
As to whether they’ve made a difference yet, Heinze says maybe when they’re finished they’ll have time to step back and evaluate that. Right now they are “slowly chipping away at 10,000 things.”
“Every now and then you chip and see a little beam of light,” notes Krug. “It’s a bit rejuvenating.”
For Hill, it’s rejuvenating to see today’s students step into the roles of leaders each spring. In the 1970s students wanted to create an association that would endure. The new leaders and the work they do confirms that it has.
Get out to vote
Vote in the special election for a representative to Assembly District 95 on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Candidates Jill Billings, a Democrat, and Dave Drewes, a Republican, are running for the seat formerly held by State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.
Find more voting information here.