Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
StuCo is on the upswing. It is attracting involved and passionate students and gaining momentum through a host of pertinent accomplishments. This fall, we have extended coffee bar hours with the intention of further additions next semester, reformed our bike share program, submitted a proposal to offer free Septa tokens for co-curricular trips into Philadelphia, and laid the foundation for a host of other initiatives. My goal is to effectively harness this momentum and to build upon it.
The Pitch: Student Senate
I am seeking re-election because of a conversation I had last year with Student Groups Advisor Lanie Schlessinger ’15. We talked about finding a way to make StuCo bigger and about the limits of a 10-person council. This is where the Student Senate comes in; it is my platform and my challenge to StuCo. The Student Senate is a mechanism to increase the size, scope, capacity, and involvement of student governance at Swat. I will argue for why we should test this new student governance system and how I envision implementing it. I believe that I am one of the best people to oversee testing a new student governance model. I am among the most experienced StuCo members: I served as Co-President for the past year and prior to that I served as Appointments Chair, giving me ample insight into the 35+ committees at Swat and their functions. I know how StuCo and the related student life channels work and I have helped StuCo to increase its effectiveness and relevance since I began serving. This knowledge and experience, StuCo’s burgeoning capacity and momentum in my terms, and the excellent work being done by student life leaders, should all be combined to create a more comprehensive, collaborative, and efficient student governance system.
The Why: Why should we test a Student Senate?
Swat is decentralized in every sense of the word. Think about it. Think about all of the redundant e-mails you get, the number of e-mails you have to send to find the person you want to talk to, the number of happenings and events you hear about, by sheer chance, through word-of-mouth. The system discourages collaboration and communication between committees, organizations, organizing bodies (StuCo, SAC, SBC), and students instead of encouraging them. Dissemination of endeavors and information happens on an informal basis. Hundreds of students are involved in this system but rarely work together or know what others are doing.
Then there’s StuCo, or, 10 incredibly involved but incredibly busy students who are supposed to oversee everything. StuCo will eventually reach a threshold of effectiveness because of its limited manpower. And the current student life structure, or lack thereof, is ineffective because it isn’t harnessing the manpower it already contains. Let us reconcile these issues.
Now is the time to push forward and test a restructured system because we can and because we have nothing to lose. Improved student governance will improve student life. And from an administrative standpoint, when discussing this idea with President Chopp and Dean Braun, both instantly agreed that their offices would consult with such a body frequently and on substantive policy matters. A Student Senate encourages collaboration and collective action, effectively disseminates information, can handle larger initiatives, increases student advocacy capacity, pools more knowledge and insight from more students who are working together in the same room, solves the little problems and has a much better shot at solving the elusive big ones too. We need to try something new because there is little proof this system is the best system, so why not try for a better system?
The How: Okay, I’ve actually read this far… Now how would you do it?
Assuming the world doesn’t end in a few weeks, testing the Student Senate model would take place next spring. It would meet 1-2 times a month in a space like Sci 101, and would be moderated by StuCo. The agenda would be established and publicized prior to the meeting. Preliminarily, the Senate would draw students from the following arenas: students serving on committees, a representative from chartered and active student groups, StuCo-affiliated bodies (e.g. SAC and SBC), as well as from organizations across campus including: the Lang Center, RAs, ITS representatives, athletics, student life coordinators, Greek life, the WRC, etc. The initial goal is to get people in a room together in an organized manner so that they can collaborate and communicate, and collectively undertake new initiatives and visions for student life at Swarthmore.
This platform is a single idea, yet it sounds like a lot because it is a lot. But I have the experience, capacity and enthusiasm to oversee this process. I’m putting all of my eggs in one basket and I’m confident that a better system will prove better results. When we challenge ourselves to solve this structural issue, we will in turn solve many other things along the way.
Dreaming big doesn’t always follow starting small. But in this case, maybe it does: the stars are aligned for us to tap into the capable and knowledgeable student leaders that we have, to try something new, and to see what sticks.
If this idea and its sentiments resonate with you, then I encourage you to support them by voting for me and participating in the elections. As always, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns please e-mail me (gcapone1).