Last week on April 2nd, the Student Government Organization held an open meeting with Dean Braun and other members of the staff to update students on the visioning process and to listen to students’ opinions and concerns. Although students did have a chance to voice their concerns and the administration and staff were present as these concerns were articulated, we at the Phoenix feel that the student concerns were far from addressed. Instead, the SGO meeting space was ineffective for helping students feel validated or for creating any actual change on campus.
We at the Phoenix believe that the current structure of SGO meetings, even those with administration present, is not conducive to an actual space where students are truly heard and treated as agents of change on campus. Instead, much of the topics that are brought up do not allow for a diversity of thought and when students do express actual concerns, these concerns are lost in the administrative process. There is a real problem with the structure in that the SGO process does not seem conducive to a collaborative community since the process seems disconnected from the actual process of enacting changing and student voices disappear instead of actually being seen as real issues that need to be addressed on campus.
It’s important to note that many staff members care for the student body and that they truly want to do what’s best for their students. A facilities member at the SGO meeting discussed how they attempted to redesign one of the lounges in PPR with a minimal budget, and how they played a role in redesigning Essie’s to meet student needs. Dean Braun discussed how Mephisto’s was designed with the needs of the students in mind and how the administration was happy when students were proud to use the space. We at the Phoenix appreciate all the effort the school puts into making Swarthmore a comfortable community.
However, we at the Phoenix also feel the need to stress that the current system of hearing student voices through the SGO meetings is not effective. The administration at the meeting is too prepared to defend themselves than to actually listen to the advice and desires of the students. When one student brought up the strong desire for an outdoor study space, they were quickly shrugged off with a comment about how studying outdoors may not be the best option for wellness or how studying outdoors is not a part of the current project to make Danawell a more desirable space. First, if the administration were to listen to students main concerns on campus, they would know that Danawell is hardly the biggest priority for change on Swarthmore’s campus. Students would much rather have their concerns addressed for a student union, a renovated McCabe Library, or a bigger dining hall and smaller coffee bar lines before fixing one of the newest spaces on campus. Second, if the administration and SGO listened to student concerns, they would be willing to shift their priorities and initiatives to honor the voices of students rather than firmly abiding to their own preordained vision.
The SGO environment also fails to provide a space for active change. If students do bring up concerns and the administration at the meeting responds, they respond by directing students to other administrations in an endless circle of people to contact. At the meeting, at student brought up concerns about creating more party spaces that are not strictly wet or dry, and admin responded simply by stating that this was a good conversation, but more appropriate to address in front of Josh Ellow, the alcohol and other drugs coordinator. While we at the Phoenix support the inclusion of multiple staff members confronting an issue and recognize that jobs are delegated throughout campus, it is almost impossible for any real change to occur through SGO if students are always being directed elsewhere instead of hearing real solutions to their concerns.