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.
“What’s going on within StuCo?” is a recurrent question among students, faculty, and staff. While I may anticipate comments such as “Nothing much” and “I don’t know”, I know that StuCo members are scrutinizing over the constitution and trying to improve campus life. Contrary to popular belief, StuCo has great authority and works in nearly all aspects of student life; I’m just lucky to be a part of it. From chartering groups to talking to Administrators to StuCo and SBC meetings, I have experienced a wide scope of StuCo matters the past year as former Student Groups Advisor and current Chair of Internal Affairs. Over the 500 hours I have spent with StuCo over the past year, I have had my shares of peaks and troughs, valuable experiences that aided my perspective on the nature of Student Government. While Student Government and bureaucracy can be frustrating and disheartening, I would like to share with you my perspective, an optimistic one, in hopes that there can be more patience and empathy within the student body. For months now, I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences, recognizing issues, and envisioning a better StuCo.
Currently, I’ve affiliated with StuCo for almost a year now since joining as Student Groups Advisor last September when I was working through chartering and budgeting. I can’t say my time with StuCo this past year was fun, but there were some highlights to my work that lasted 15-20 hours per week. One of my favorite parts of the job was talking to Swatties about their insightful, interesting ideas for creating new student activities through group chartering. With over 20 groups chartered last year, I was at the forefront of discovering how new activities were going to affect our campus. With the chartering of water polo, graphic design, and kickboxing clubs, I couldn’t wait to see how the people I talked to during chartering were going to contribute to student activities at Swarthmore.
While working with these groups gave me great optimism, there was definitely another side to the story. Working with Student Government, I learned, brings both opportunity and limitations. Optimally, some groups were chartered and funded well, propelling them onto the stage of Swarthmore’s student activities. However, though its budget seems enormous, SBC only had a limited supply of funds, forcing me to say some difficult things as I soon realized that my work within current systems cannot accommodate the needs of all the groups I wanted to help. Even though I sped up the chartering process as much as I could and was able to assist many students, it still took weeks sometimes to charter clubs, and often, I found myself in the onerous and difficult position of facing failure with those I wanted to help. How do you support a group that hosts activities and operates similar to that of a non-profit organization or professional business? Chartering and budgeting was difficult with these groups, and I can’t shake the feeling that I could have helped them more.
While I wanted to help everyone who went through chartering a new student group, it is difficult for me to accept that StuCo couldn’t help everyone. Throughout the last semester, I found varying issues and problems with StuCo. I saw problems with the constitution and how the lack of guidelines was causing major problems within StuCo. If we students were going to work with power and authority, we need a pre-arranged contract, written or verbal, that won’t be subject to major changes in order to give us a stable foundation on which to work from. There were many external issues as well. StuCo had problems collaborating with its subordinate committees and representative personnel, such as with appointments to college committees and SBC. Also, a lack of transparent communications diminished even the small presence StuCo did have. Additionally, I saw fellow StuCo members overworked from their commitment to improving student life in vast StuCo projects – and really sympathized with them. There were simply too many projects and too few people working with too little organized support on them.
How do you resolve the issue of trying to tackle large projects with a skeleton crew above? I think StuCo can try its best, but it simply needs to prioritize: the plethora of problems and the shortage of attention and resources imply that every StuCo administration will need to focus on the most salient issues, whatever it chooses. For those of us who would like StuCo to give students the accessibility to influence the decisions of our administrators through more than conversation, SBC to give us the money we need for our activities, or generally, Swarthmore to provide us with the means to improve student life on campus, I simply am suggesting we must have the patience and empathy to work with, push, and encourage StuCo to work to these ends. Though I heard Barry Schwartz state “the key to happiness is low expectations”, we, as the student body directly influenced by StuCo and the electorate, must do our utmost to push these “low expectations” higher, to turn them into the standards for student life we all crave. In fact, let’s not settle just for happiness alone but strive to create standards that empower the ideas we came to Swarthmore seeking. Today, StuCo may fall short more times than not, but with the right ideas, attitude, and actions from all parties involved, it can turn into an empowering force for anyone on campus, regardless of identity or issue.
Ideals are good, and I hope to empower these thoughts with action. Through my continuing work with StuCo, there remains today and what we can do now. I realize that the amount of progress that StuCo needs to achieve to satisfy everyone on campus this semester may be a long shot, but I remain hopeful that StuCo can become an effective platform for advancing student life. Historically, StuCo’s large initiatives move slowly because it should find relevant, effective, and responsible ways to solve the multitude of problems, and I’m suggesting that we give it a sense of empathy and patience. My limitations on how much I could do for the student groups I chartered made me realize the scope of difficulties of the job, with all of its systematic and random restraints. However, StuCo is not hopeless; we have plenty of inspiring people, meticulous workers, and thoughtful leaders trying to make a difference on our campus. StuCo’s legacy for this year is only starting, and I definitely want to make a difference.
In fact, StuCo can really become a way for everyone to get their way, just a little bit. If students feel oppressed, StuCo could centralize and organize the voices on campus to become a powerful force for student suggestion and advocacy. If students have suggestions to improve student life, StuCo could channel these messages or direct the student suggestions to relevant staff and faculty. If we students want things our way, StuCo could be a potential conduit for these needs. Talking to my friends on other campuses about their vibrant student governments proves that this is a viable goal for StuCo. Ultimately, StuCo’s mission to represent and serve the student body, and its influence can be broad and effective, if we students have the patience and empathy to see it through.
Nonetheless, we should keep in mind that hopes and wishes today do little to change defunct systems and improve the situation on the salient issues today. Despite my vision and ideals, I remain cautiously optimistic. Though ideas and substantial solution abound, it will take every drop of sweat, every tear, and every ounce of patience to make student life into something every student, faculty, and staff member can enjoy. Maybe I will be completely wrong and areas of concern and complaint can indeed be satisfactorily resolved this semester. Then again, maybe not. Whatever happens, I remain optimistic that StuCo can overcome its challenges for the sake of Swarthmore.