For months, our inboxes have been flooded with emails about Swarthmore’s master plan. From surveys to announcements to open meetings, there has been no shortage of opportunities to participate in the process of forming the college’s future. And yet these have been met by a general dearth of interest among the student body in the master plan. At most, a dozen or so students will show up at a meeting, while the data collected by the surveys is incomplete at best. If things proceed as they have, the campus master plan will end up receiving very little input from the students.
The current trend towards underrepresentation is understandable. The meetings, while fairly frequent, are long, generally two hours each, and hardly scintillating. Among all the things one might do in a day at Swarthmore, a master plan meeting seems easy to skip. Those who end up at the meetings tend to be blocs of students fiercely devoted to a single issue, and even these blocs only show up sometimes, resulting in unrepresentative and inconsistent information being passed on to the committee.
It is a sad state of affairs that the student body has, on the whole, opted out of involvement. It is easy to see the master plan as a long-term plan that won’t even come to fruition by the time any of us graduate, but it is not in Swarthmore’s culture to turn a blind eye to issues that will not affect us directly. What Swarthmore will be in the future should be important to us, as we are a part of the college, and the students who will come here years from now have no voice to represent them but ours. It is the hallmark of a Swarthmore student that they get riled up by important issues, that they wish to hear their voice heard. Here is a chance to do just that.
That being said, the administration should be doing more to elicit student opinions on the master plan. There is simply no centralized way that the administration can get a representative set of viewpoints, no matter how many prolonged meetings and web surveys are conducted, nor would any single large-scale event involving the entire student body be feasible. Instead, we recommend that the administration involve RAs so that students could more easily learn about the plan and offer their input. Hold a sort of training session for the RAs, give them all the necessary information about the master plan, and have them hold brief sessions on the hall to communicate that information and solicit opinions. Instead of asking students to come and see the master plan, bring the master plan to them.
The master planning process is critical for Swarthmore; it will define the college is for years to come. There are few opportunities to have such an impact on the college and the community as is being offered right now; it would be a shame for the student body to pass this up, or for the administration to allow for the student body to go so pitifully underrepresented. The administration must be more effective in involving the student body, by bringing the issues directly to them, by making a greater effort to ensure that students are adequately representing. This will only have any effect, however, if students actively want to have their voice heard, if they make a real effort to effect change on the future of the college. The administration should fully commit to involving students, but students must also get involved themselves.