Volume 72, Issue 25
April 13, 2001

More student representation possible through working with active alumni

With the onset of springtime showers, SGA elections, and typical student grievances, thoughts of renewal and repetition come to mind. Around us, the natural world restores itself, as does the college. And students are not consulted in either matter.

In the last few years, decisions have been made with which students have disagreed. Protests have been undertaken; editorials have been written in The Elm; and petitions have been signed. Just last year, a petition was signed by just under 700 students in less than 24 hours declaring dissatisfaction with the enforcement of social policy. The petition was then presented to the Board of Visitors and Governors.

But what results emerged from the situation? Eight thousand dollars and no change in policy or enforcement.

The issue has already faded from most students' minds. And when the issue fades away, it no longer requires any attention from the administration and board. But will the board and school contribute $8,000 every year to make up for policies that students find distasteful? Probably not.

The board and administration's response was merely a short-term fix to appease an aroused student body. This case goes a long way towards highlighting the reason students do not have more control over the school they attend.

This spring, the students' governing body will have its head chopped off. Every year, the SGA loses a class of leaders, and so does the student body as a whole. This means that most student concerns are continually forgotten.

The student body has a four-year memory - if that.

Because of this, students have become pawns in a game of appeasement played by the administration, a group of people who will be here longer than the average student will. Concerns can be addressed perfunctorily or pushed aside by this longer-minded group until the next class comes along.

The waiting game has been honed to perfection.

Students should have more say at this college. Professors are restricted, especially at a college with an admitted low professor turnover rate. At best, the most empowered - those with tenure - can merely stay and voice their opinions, not help make decisions. Therefore, students are the only potentially autonomous force on campus besides the administration.

The reason students are not in command at this school is the administration's treatment of WC primarily as a business. Thus, students must address administrators in the same manner. And in business, money matters. Students have the option of taking their business elsewhere.

But because students live here and have social ties, they lose the power of the customer to just up and leave, and thus, lose a say in how the business they patronize is run. Many schools are not stripped down to bare elements like this because they function as communities. Since this college is run like a corporation, however, it must be dealt with as such.

If students wish to have the power to shape the school instead of whining on the sidelines, two things must be done. First, the SGA is an organization with great potential, but it must have a collective memory component. Otherwise, short-term solutions will always be swallowed, and the administration will rule without a checking power. We must organize a past and future group within the SGA, made up of past SGA leaders, to look at past issues and see if they have been remedied. Once SGA alumni and current leaders unite, they will have a continuity of memory that will permit student power.

Second, once the SGA has a memory, it must take its rightful place as not only a consolatory body within the school community but a governing one. Student empowerment can occur, and this college can act as a community.

But first, students must remember who they are.

This country was founded as a democracy with various checks and balances worked into the system. For a college named after the nation's founding father, perhaps we should start emulating the system in which he believed.