Senate Calls for Student-Rep Task Force
Upon entering the Wright Laboratory of Physics hallway, trustees appeared stunned at the sight of over 150 students silently protesting the Board of Trustees’ initial rejection of Student Senate’s request for student representation on the board. Most trustees declined to comment upon entering the meeting with Student Senate last night, but many other administrators and staff in attendance said they were impressed with the protest organized by Students Building Community Power — a recently created student activist organization.
The trustees, who visit campus twice a semester to discuss institutional developments, tried something new by holding a trustee-Senate retreat, as opposed to forums that have previously been open to all students.
Leaving the meeting, Student Senate Liaison Thobeka Mnisi, College junior, said she felt optimistic about the possibility of reopening conversations regarding the addition of a student representative.
“I went in feeling very skeptical and thinking it would be a waste of time, but we had a really productive discussion about the role of the board in decision making, and the processes by which they decide once a challenge has been presented,” Mnisi said. “We didn’t talk about student representatives directly, but used the case studies to demonstrate why student input is necessary in the decision-making rooms.”
The case studies Mnisi references are various hypotheticals for the College’s future, drawn up by Student Senate and the board to demonstrate policy changes that might be favorable for the community.
Student Senate sent a revised proposal to the board Wednesday night, requesting the creation of a taskforce of students, faculty, administrators and trustees to investigate adding student representation. Although the proposal requests that trustees respond by noon today, Mnisi said she expects a response by 8 p.m. since they will have collectively convened by that time.
Protestors doubled down on this request, and upon arriving at the Science Center, College sophomore and SBCP member Roman Broszkowski told students to be “silently intimidating” as the trustees entered the meeting room. Many held signs with slogans such as, “This is a school, not a business,” and “Let us hold you accountable.”
Prior to the protest, SBCP held a teach-in in the King Building, where Broszkowski and College junior Andrés González explained to roughly 80 students how they would protest and why they believed it would ensure trustees hear students’ message.
“I’m really upset about the way the board has been treating us,” Broszkowski said. “Their idea is that we’re children and that we can’t possibly understand complex issues. Someone pointed out, ‘Who are they accountable to?’ And the answer is no one.”
After senators and trustees settled into their meeting, most of the protesters moved to Craig Lecture Hall to discuss how to best gain trustees’ attention and lead activist movements. Harkness and Pyle co-ops provided large amounts of cooked potatoes and chickpeas for the event.
Although the Senate-trustee retreat took place behind closed doors, Student Senator and College junior Jesse Docter said the group was united in using the time to advocate for student representatives on the board.
“They force us to keep reiterating why we want student representatives, and we believe the case is made loud and clear in the letter we sent them in May,” Docter said. “We are conscious of the fact that their refusal to give us a hard ‘no’ is an evasion tactic so that they do not have to explain their rationale for limiting student input in the governance of this school.”
The delayed response to Senate’s letter last year underscores larger qualms both the student body and Student Senate have regarding communication with trustees. Despite six phone conferences between Senate and the board, Docter said he was upset that most of the conversations were spent planning the retreat, as opposed to considering their demand for student representatives.
At a dinner before the meeting, Trustee, actor and comedian Ed Helms, OC ’96, told the Review that the board takes these concerns seriously.
“Personally, I understand all the concerns that I hear, and I think there’s a lot of effort to really understand what the right path forward is,” Helms said.
Recently appointed Safety and Security Director Michael Martinsen, who attended the protest in case the situation escalated, seemed moved by the student turnout.
“I think this is incredible, it’s part of the college experience, and I’m proud of you guys,” Martinsen said to the Review while standing in front of the hallway of protestors. “I came here from Ohio University. They had some pretty elaborate protests, but none of them were as well organized as this. I’m really impressed.”
Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo said she was also impressed by the protest, which led to trustees passing with puzzled looks as they entered the three-hour meeting.
“It’s really good to have accountability like this, and it’s really heartwarming to see all these people come together for it,” said College first-year Thomas Rice, who attended the protest. “I think when they walk up the stairs and see us, they’re going to get it.”
Before closing the doors to the public, Mnisi reiterated to trustees that Senate’s main intent was to focus on the request for student representatives and the creation of a task force.
“Because of the mounting pressure that we have from the people who have elected us as student senators, we have to address the topic we have been trying to for the past while, and that’s getting student reps on the board,” Mnisi said.