The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) unanimously voted against a controversial amendment to the resolution that seeks to open the position of student commencement speaker to all seniors through an application process. The defeated amendment sought to make the resolution’s proposed changes effective this year. As a result, last Sunday’s decision will allow current Senior Class President, Ravid Chowdhury ’09, to speak at graduation. The complete resolution will be voted upon at this Sunday’s WSA meeting.
If the current resolution is passed, the proposed changes to the selection process will come into effect for the 2009-2010 academic year. Though his own speaking slot is now secure, Chowdhury still maintains that the tradition of the class president speaking at commencement should be upheld for future generations and not compromised for what he categorizes as public relations.
“Graduation and commencement is for the senior class and alumni,” Chowdhury said. “Specifically, graduation is for the alumni who come back to Wesleyan and commencement is for the seniors. The Senior Class President should speak at graduation. Graduation and commencement have always been in the domain of the senior class officers. Now, it looks as if this tradition will die because Wesleyan has to impose a good image.”
After an in-depth discussion of the resolution and amendments at last Sunday’s meeting, support for the resolution amongst WSA members appears to be high. According to Benedict Bernstein ’09, chair of the WSA’s Academic Affairs committee, a straw poll of the WSA members suggested strong support for the resolution. This rough consensus, however, came after painstaking and detailed conversation amongst members.
“Virtually every aspect of the resolution was debated,” Bernstein said. “Discussion was productive, if at times heated. On important issues like this it is important and good that we spend the necessary time on thinking through every line of the resolution.”
WSA Vice President Saul Carlin ’09 stressed that the assembly also took numerous and unprecedented measures to increase student involvement in the discussion of the proposal, which initially caused a stir amongst some students. WSA members posted the resolution online, e-mailed students so they could provide information on the proposal and went door-to-door to senior houses to collect feedback. Students were also encouraged to voice their opinions on the issue.
Bernstein categorizes these efforts to include a multiplicity of student opinions as largely successful, adding that he was also pleased to see students attend and provide input at last week’s meeting.
“Now that we have been able to have a campus-wide discussion on the issue and gotten as many students as possible involved in the decision-making process, I think people understand what is going on and support the resolution,” Bernstein said.
Paul Boulat ’09 attended the meeting to increase his involvement in this decision. He said that he would like to see more student involvement in both this issue and in other future WSA proposals, and stressed that such involvement would be helpful in solving these types of issues.
“I was adamantly against taking away Ravid’s opportunity to speak, because I voted for a senior class president knowing, or at least assuming, that ze would speak at commencement,” Boulat said. “After listening to the discussion, however, I don’t completely disagree with the notion that the best possible speaker should address the graduating class, as long as students are aware of the policies when they elected their class officers…I would strongly support any move towards including as many people as possible in the process.”
Boulat also mentioned that he believes higher levels of student attendance at WSA meetings would be essential to solidifying a system of checks and balances between the WSA and the student body.
According to WSA President Mike Pernick ’10, the proposed resolution would make the process of choosing the student commencement speaker more democratic, giving every senior the opportunity to speak. He also stressed that this year’s WSA has been more responsive than ever in the past to the needs of the students.
“We have made fighting for students and being a voice for the student body a priority,” Pernick said. “This claim that the WSA isn’t representative is not true. Whenever students have policy they would like to be changed, we do whatever we can to make it happen. The commencement speaker is a perfect example of this. The fact is that when students want to see change, it’s the WSA they go to to get things done.”