From its first class, Southern Methodist University students have elected their peers to represent them to the faculty and administration. The Senate has operated under multiple constitutions and several names, including: Student Council, Student Caucus, Council of the Student's Association, and finally the SMU Student Senate.
The Student Council began shortly after SMU opened its doors in 1915. The first president was Umphrey Lee, who later was elected the fourth President of SMU. In the early days, students voted for the usual positions of president, secretary and representatives, but they also voted for cheerleaders (until the 1970s) and editor of the student newspaper and Rotunda (until the 1960s).
During the Depression, the Student Council twice voted to lower student activity fees and also used its voice to try to change policies to allow student dances to be held on campus. SMU held its first on-campus dance in 1940. During World War II, the Student Council raised $6,900 for War Bonds.
The most notable changes to student governance and, in fact, all campus governance took place in 1970 with the creation of the University Assembly with faculty, student and administrative representatives. The University Assembly recommended student activity fees, planned university convocations, and established safety and security rules. During the 1970s, the Student Senate fought for continued "shared governance" through various petitions to the University President and Board of Trustees—especially concerning the forced resignation of University President Hardin in 1974.
From the 1980s until 2007, the Student Senate has
• Created a standing committee for Faculty evaluations
• Established the student Senate Scholarship Endowment Fund
• Voted to fund campus-wide call boxes and established a fund for taxi service
• Established a formal liaison between the Student Senate and the board of Governors
• Debated fervently over the recognition of GLSSO (Gay/Lesbian Student Support Organization) and after several years voted to give recognition to this group
• Established recycling programs
• Proposed and funded "Three Weeks for Relief" campaign assisting students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.