I hope this column finds you well. I hope everyone had a restful Spring Break and got some time to recharge. As we head into April – the busiest month of the Spring Semester – I hope everyone manages to find time to take care of yourselves and also one another!
I hope to address in this column an impression that has emerged this semester amongst some members of the Wellesley community that College Government has not done sufficient outreach regarding our policies and are making decisions that are not representative of student body opinion. This was brought forward most recently with the referendum.
I understand where this is coming from – if there’s anything this year has taught me it has been that some of my closest friends still do not know the work I do, and they question me about it all the time. I take these criticisms as a sign that there is still a lot of work that College Government needs to do in order to better engage with students.
College Government is still learning what formats of engagement work and what formats do not. This year, College Government experimented with many different engagement formats: Forming ad-hoc student committees, sending out Google forms, making Facebook events, being consistent with emailing Senate minutes, having listening sessions, doing consultations with particular student groups, supporting administrative committees in hosting fireside chats, writing up handouts for Senators to bring back to your constituencies – you name it, we’ve probably tried it. We’ve really committed to being a lot more relational and consultative this year, and I hope that some of our efforts can be seen.
Key to making student governance work is to have an engaged student community. Governance is a relationship and a duty: it is our duty as student leaders to inform and to have an active dialogue with our peers, but it is also the responsibility of students to read and be informed. This is the only way in which we can have a productive dialogue that is built on accurate information, and the only way in which we can make better decisions moving forward. Importantly, as students and as participating members of a college community, being heard does not mean having things your way. I think that is a crucial distinction – that our sharing of opinions should not breed a sense of entitlement where it’s our way or the highway. No elected governing body can ever please everyone; I don’t think we should either.
I would also add that our problems are not different from governments everywhere; at the core of it are questions about decision-making and trust. Do students trust us to represent them? Have we done things to breached that trust? How can we earn it back? My hope is that we have done enough this year as College Government to keep ourselves as trustworthy as we can be, and to have reached out as much as we possibly can – the ball is now in the court of the student body to respond and be engaged.
As Senate this year has, under Cabinet’s leadership, become an incredibly active decision-making body, the central question of what exactly the role of an elected student representative is and should be has also been brought to the forefront. What decisions can I make unilaterally in my position as President? What decisions must I make through Senate? What decisions need to go through the student body? There are no easy answers to these questions, and I do think that how each President, Cabinet and College Government answers these questions determine the nature of their leadership and their tenure. There is still much constitutional work that also needs to be done to strengthen decision-making processes, and in the day-to-day decisions we make in College Government, it’s a never-ending journey of learning from experience.
I would also like to encourage students who are interested in working with College Government to improve how we do things to reach out to us more; we would love to hear feedback and constructive suggestions for how to do things better, especially with the incoming Cabinet. As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Kimberly Chia Yan Min
College Government President 2018-2019