I attended the town hall last week and reported on the proceedings, and it’s blindingly clear that the problems at Wellesley are more than plentiful and each is more dire than the last. Housing issues, manifested most recently in the displacement of students earlier this semester, have become a catalyst for conversations related to dining staff, tuition, student life and more—all topics woven together with the same fiscal thread that is threatening to pull the cloth apart at the seams. The individual issues are troubling and it is a great injustice that the College has not worked harder and with greater urgency to protect the general welfare of its students. That said, it is critical to address a separate issue of which the events of the last month have reminded me: the issue of student voice on this campus.
First, as much as the town hall and the events leading up to it have shown overwhelmingly what’s wrong with the College, it is undeniable that it also reveals exactly what is right at Wellesley. The Student Coalition, a group of concerned advocates on campus, must be commended for its leadership and indelible mark left on campus. Students, faculty, union members and more are reaching out to each other in solidarity. More so than any other year that I have been a student at Wellesley, the will to change the College for the better is palpable.
Students are speaking up and the community is actively listening. The institutional avenues of conversation and change remain the same — that is, they remain stagnant even in the face of great disruption. For a college, Wellesley does afford students many positions to sit, listen and advocate. There are designated seats for students on Academic Council, the Board of Trustees, committees, councils, etc. In addition to other responsibilities, students are encouraged to sit in on these decision-making bodies and provide the ‘student voice’ to the issue.
Yet every representative body faces the same question: who is filling these roles? It could be argued that only a certain type of person is able to take on the role of a student representative in a deliberative campus body. A considerable number of qualified students that the Wellesley community would want to represent the student body are unable to take the jobs because of time commitments and expectations. The barriers for entry are also incredibly low — often a three-question application and a ten-minute interview — and the positions are not necessarily competitive. Committees face the risk of losing potential applicants in the search of more qualified candidates if they increase competitiveness.
Then, it must be asked: how well do our peers represent us? The mysterious Board of Trustees’ student representative could be in line behind us at a dining hall and likely, most of us would be none the wiser. Having worked on The Wellesley News for three years, I can say that I have considerable understanding of many campus functions and procedures. But if someone were to ask me who best represents students on the Academic Council, I would not know what to say.
Finally, and this is the question that always ends conversations in an impasse, how do we make it better? We can, as this College tends to do, make another ad-hoc committee on the issue.. We can make the applications harder and the interviews longer. We can even just scrap the bureaucratic system altogether and live in a state of anarchy. None of these options appear attractive, and to be honest, I can’t give an answer that would be well-regarded by everyone on this campus.
Our campus is fractured and insular, and conversations halt mid-sentence at signs of disagreement or discord. But the student voice is stronger when it raises in volume together, and it can only happen when we are all well-informed. As students of the College, we should expect the upper administration to keep us in the loop when it comes to important information, especially regarding financial anxieties that the College is facing. The College’s senior staff has shown, however, that they are not interested in sharing even the most pertinent information with the community — unless it can be packaged in a way that shrouds the announcement’s true implications.
The avenues of communication between administration and students are insufficient and in need of repair beyond the student body’s means. The burden, once again, falls upon tired, busy students to inform fellow tired, busy students. Unfair? Yes. Necessary? Unfortunately, also yes.
We must, especially these days, listen to the students that are speaking and representing us in pertinent College bodies. And to the students on these bodies who feel like their voices are getting lost in the din: talk to us, The Wellesley News. We will amplify you.
The issues that have rendered such a town hall necessary paints a difficult and ugly picture in Wellesley College’s history. Our university years are supposed to irrevocably change us as people, but I can safely say that none of us expected this level of burden when we signed away four years of our lives to Wellesley. Even so, the conversations now — in town halls and dorms, in passing and not — will move us forward. But we must be informed, and the only way to do that is to be well-represented.