May 2, 2013
This week’s meeting of Student Assembly was surprisingly well attended, but for those new attendees, also surprisingly unproductive. Students arrived expecting to give their input on the First Year Experience, but were told they were too late. The ripple around the room at this announcement was one of disbelief, confusion and anger—and I felt all of it.
Disregarding the Committee’s controversial proposal, they failed on a more basic level: they didn’t involve students.
Before any recommendations were created, I do not know what input the student body had—besides the two student members of the Committee. I do not actually have a problem with this, since I do not believe people would have responded to an abstract question of change. What they will respond to, however, are concrete changes, and those responses that were not gathered.
The night Associate Dean of Students Meredith Harper Bonham and Assistant Dean of Students Travis Hill first came to Student Assembly, they met a chorus of concerns about their recommendations (mostly involving the curricular changes). But the time given for students to read and react to the report for the meeting was limited to just three days. Also derailing this initial feedback was the infamous “Mad Dog, Vodka and the Jitney” incident. At no fault to the committee, their time to get opinions that night was co-opted by Dean Thompson’s presence to discuss that pertinent issue.
Even if the meeting had not been sidetracked, though, there was not enough out reach afterwards—or rather not enough concern for the response to their outreach. After the meeting the Committee held brown bag lunches for students to express their concerns after they published their recommendations. The problem is that the lunches were held four months after the recommendation was published, enough time for people to forget. By then few students remembered what the report was, and when responses were so limited, the Committee should have figured out a way to get a larger response.
With an issue this large, a lack of response shouldn’t have been ignored; a threshold of responses should have been met before the recommendations proceeded. Silence is not compliance, and when they were met with silence, I wish the Committee had come up with new ways to get responses. In an ironic twist, Committee member and Student Assembly President Anthony Jackson argued on Facebook earlier this month that students had their time to respond and missed it, but has also organized a town hall for students to express their concerns. Anthony seems to recognize the feelings of the student body —but too late. His efforts would have been better suited a few months ago.
Yet, this failure does not just fall on the Committee. As much as we would all enjoy to blame “the man,” this failure falls on others—Student Assembly and the student body.When offered a chance to comment on the Committee’s proposal last week, no student rep spoke up. I know student representatives who complained about these recommendations, yet they said nothing. People who were at the first meeting, and who heard the first concerns, also said nothing. What happened was a collective failure by all Hamilton students, but the student body’s elected officials should be held as responsible as the student body and the Committee. This apathy by Student Assembly is reprehensible and demonstrates a lack of leadership within our leadership.
Ignoring current feelings, I know Hamilton’s Administration is not evil. I have worked closely with the Dean of Students Office and Residential Life before, and I know they are all good, thoughtful people. I believe they have the school’s best intentions in mind. That does not, however, excuse this critical failure on their behalf. They can do better at communicating.
As can the student body who moaned about the recommendations for months without doing anything. As a government major, I know voter apathy is just part of the governing game, but on issues like this I can’t let that excuse our behavior. The students also failed. They did not connect to their reps or the Administration and share the blame for lack of input—it is their voices that went unheard.
Yet, I believe our student reps are the solution to this disconnect. While some remarkable and commendable reps did a fantastic job communicating student feelings, the majority did not. They registered reactions but did nothing to act on them. They didn’t mention any concerns last week when prompted, and did little to incite attendance or activity at this week’s meeting.
Only after the fact was a move made to garner student voices with President Jackson’s town hall. The idea was great, but came too late. Where was this thinking earlier? Why didn’t our elected peers take their jobs seriously, knowing that everyone’s experience was on the line? Voter apathy is one thing, but assembly apathy is another more disheartening one. For pete’s sake, the word “representative” is in their title. What happened?
I hope this incident inspires better communication by the Administration, better involvement by the student body and better work by Student Assembly. I love Hamilton deeply and know we will all weather this storm and get over it someday, but I hope it serves as a starting point for a more engaged community from top to bottom.