Currently operating three members short of full council, Student Council (StuCo) is working on initiatives that include reforming student government, discussing the college’s recent policy changes, and deliberating student access to Philadelphia. In addition, StuCo plans to hold emergency elections to fill vacant positions on the council.
In response to the announcement of a revised party policy and new interim sexual assault and harassment policies, StuCo plans to hold two separate forums to address student concerns and questions with regards to policy changes. The first forum, which is tentatively scheduled the week before fall break, will address the new party policy and may include appearances from both Michael Elias, the new student activities coordinator ,and Michael Hill, the director of Public Safety.
There are also plans to hold an information session before the second forum on the new interim sexual assault and harassment policy to ensure that students fully understand the manner in which the policy will be implemented. Following any informational session, an opportunity for students to express their views on the policy will be available.
StuCo President Gabriella Capone ’14 is excited for the work ahead. She is hoping to have a portion where StuCo will moderate a discussion where people can express their thoughts and concerns where they feel comfortable.
“We’re hoping that this will be educational — so, where appropriate, having faculty and staff speak about the current policies — but at the same time, providing a student-only space where students can really communicate their thoughts to us and then we can liaise between students and the administration,” she said.
One major item on the agenda for Student Council is the planned reintroduction of the Student Senate, which had its first trial run in the spring 2013 semester.
“We’re going to try and restructure all of student government essentially,” Capone said. “So this is in the works and still requires talking to a lot of people but ideally by next semester, student government would be running in a more cohesive structure, in that it will basically be more centralized.”
The motivation behind a restructured Student Senate is simple: greater student involvement and a more accurately representative student government.
In the past, students have raised concerns about the insular nature of student government at the college. “I feel like it’s the same ten people who do everything, I don’t even know how that happens,” said Amelia Kucic ’15.
A three-year member of Student Council, Capone agrees that this is a valid concern.
“The real hope with a restructured student government is that we are going to get new students,” she said. “It’s too large for the same people to keep doing it and more people flowing through the system means more people are well versed in what student government is at Swarthmore.”
In an effort to better capture the diversity of student opinion and provide effective representation, the council plans to change the format of the Student Senate.
“We’re still trying to hammer out a final structure for Student Senate because last semester was a pilot semester and some things worked and some things didn’t,” Student Outreach Coordinator Aya Ibrahim ’15 said.
Included in the plans for this final structure are class and dorm representatives. Instead of having a representative from each of the 31 standing committees and ten elected students, the body wants to bring about representation by dorm, granting a senator to every 150 or so students, and by class, with two senators elected from each class year. Ibrahim hopes that these changes will allow for a “truer and more broad representation of the student body.”
Part of the plan for the new Student Senate includes the introduction of freshmen senators for the upcoming fall semester. StuCo anticipates that concerns will be raised about the prudence of involving freshmen, who have not yet had the chance to fully understand how to navigate the college and its policies, in student government. Ibrahim, who served as a member of StuCo during her freshman year, understands why students may be opposed to freshmen representatives.
“You have a lot of frantic energy and you’re really excited but you don’t know anything about how things on campus work,” she said.
Because of these concerns, StuCo is considering allowing freshmen to hold slightly modified positions on the Senate. For example, limitations could be put in place on what freshmen senators would be allowed to vote on and what they could propose, at least for the fall semester. This would allow first years some time to learn about the workings of student government.
Ibrahim said, “For example, if [freshmen senators] put forth a solution that doesn’t work but they don’t know that, then it’s not necessarily a problem or a waste of time because it won’t be voted on.”
Members of StuCo believe that it is important to give freshmen a chance to get involved in student government and to let their opinions be heard.
“We want to know: what are freshmen thinking? So they’ll still have that voice and they’ll still be a part of conversation,” Ibrahim said.
Beyond the larger work of changing the foundations of student government at the college, Student Council will also explore ways to grant students greater access to Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. As announced in a campus-wide email at the start of the year, Public Safety has discontinued the Philly shuttle, which ran weekly in past years, in the immediate short term. This has spurred Student Council to seriously consider other transportation options, including an expansion of last semester’s highly popular Philadelphia Access Program.
The Philly Access Program provided 40 free round-trip SEPTA tickets every week to students, with recipients determined by a lottery. Capone explained that in reforming the program, the Council will consider “breadth versus cost.” For the coming academic year, StuCo will deliberate between offering tickets at a discounted price — and thereby providing greater availability — and continuing to offer a limited number of free tickets, to be given out by lottery.
Last semester saw the introduction of a referendum on opening the balcony on the third floor of McCabe Library. Ibrahim explained that the decision to open the balcony is ultimately in the hands of Facilities Management.
“It’s up to facilities and to the administration if they think it might be a matter of safety, then it’s really beyond us,” said Ibrahim.
Adriana Obiols ’16 echoes the thoughts of other students when she admitted that she did not know much about the work of StuCo.
“For me, they’re a very abstract group of people and I don’t really know who they are,” she said. “I don’t know how much power they have over things, like what kind of decision-making can they carry out.”
In addressing these concerns, StuCo members point to the need for students to make a concentrated effort to pay attention or become involved in campus affairs.
“There’s been this loss of faith in what StuCo is capable of doing — I think StuCo is capable of doing a lot of things, it’s just dependent on having a lot of people who want to push for those changes,” said Educational Policy Representative Marian Firke ’14. “Making Swarthmore the place we applied to is about applying ourselves right now and making it that place.”
In light of this, both Ibrahim and Capone encourage students to run in the upcoming emergency elections for the Fall 2013 semester. The elections will fill three vacant spots on the council: Campus Life Representative, Student Groups Advisor, and Financial Policy Representative.
“Being a part of Student Council enables you to have conversations and to participate in conversations that you might not be aware of otherwise,” Ibrahim said.