Council for Youth in Government: An Idea for Higher Levels of Civic Engagement:
by Vishaal Kuruvanka
January 10th, 2022
Given that our experiment here in Houston was mildly successful, I think that the structure we set in place could be widened to other cities across the US. This piece outlines what MSLA is, a project we undertook here in Houston, and how this model could be implemented in cities across the US.
Mayor Student Leadership Alliance (MSLA) is a body of student leaders from undergraduate and graduate institutions with the intention of being involved in city affairs and help chartering a path for the city for the near future. Over the last two years, students were able to interface with the city council members and hear about the vision they had for Houston and learn what leadership looks like. We were able to hear from department heads like Mrs. Juliet Stipeche (Office of Education), Dr. David Persse (Houston’s Public Health Authority) and Police Chief Troy Finner. These experiences definitely widened our understanding of where Houston stands and pushes to think deeper about the issues we currently face. Giving these types of experiences to young and energetic students only serves to bolster our city’s defense against inaction and ineptitude.
With very little resources needed to be given by the City (except for time), there is a high return on investment. Here in Houston we had 14 undergraduate and graduate institutions from which we selected student leaders. These students then selected committees (Education, Workforce Development, Civic Engagement, Social Justice) that they were interested in serving on. These committees then handled correspondence within their divisions and also brainstormed ideas to take action on. Seeing the brutal killing of Houston native George Floyd, we quickly discussed how we could offer a solution to this broad problem. Ultimately, a town hall was decided upon, with the attendance of HPD Chief Troy Finner and police chiefs from our respective universities to discuss policing in Houston.
This project forced us to plan, organize and communicate on a larger scale. Although there were rocky moments throughout the planning process and the event, all students on MSLA could heartily feel that they had helped Houston move in the right direction. Creating this structure for students to be involved, even on small scale projects, changes the way students think and feel about themselves and unlocks sparks of leadership.
Seeing this experiment in empowerment unfold positively, I began to think of how we could get other students across the nation involved in something similar. The structure of MSLA is not complicated but does require the guidance and blessing of city officials to be successful. Council for Youth in Government is a theoretical network of MSLAs across the nation all working to better understand the state of affairs within the city and implement ideas to uplift the city. Yearly conferences will occur where these leaders can present upon projects they have undertaken and successfully implemented in their cities. Innovation is the key to continued success here in America and I believe that we must continue to experiment to build a more just and equitable society.
I have attached a video of the town hall we implemented for anyone interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q39xCIpuqOw&t=154s&ab_channel=MSLAHouston