The Argus sat down with Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President-elect and Vice President-elect Micah Feiring ’11 and Ben Firke ’12 to discuss open containers, meal plans, and their goals for next year.
Argus: What are your major goals for next year?
Ben Firke: Right now we’re working on two big projects concurrently. One of them is preventing the administration’s ban on open containers of alcohol. The other thing we’re working on is a task force, which is going to look at sexual assault policy on campus and submit some recommendations to President Roth as to how we can improve the response to sexual assault. These are basically the two biggest issues on campus and we want to get working on them immediately.
Micah Feiring: With both policies, especially with the sexual assault policy, it’s been framed in the past as, ‘What can the administration afford?’ and I think what we want to focus on is ‘What can we not afford?’ and what we cannot afford is what’s going on right now. With regards to the open container policy, that’s really scary because it could potentially ban alcohol even in the backyards of senior woodframe houses and on Foss Hill. Those are our two big projects that are starting right now and are going to continue into next year.
BF: These are the sort of issues where even after you address them, you still need to keep addressing them.
MF: I think Firke and I agree that with something like sexual assault you don’t just hand five recommendations to President Roth and call it a day. You make sure that next year those recommendations are followed through on and continually monitor to make sure the problems are getting solved.
A: What other issues are you addressing?
BF: One of the big things we’re doing next year right off the bat is continuing to work on fixing the meal plan. So far, the WSA managed to get additional points for students next year, but that’s more of a Band-Aid.
MF: The meal plan still needs to be reformed. It was nice of the administration to give us a piece of the pie, but I think we’re going for the whole cake.
BF: We’ve already identified the problems in the meal plan this year in terms of how students are forced to buy hundreds of dollars of meals that they’ll never eat. So next year, right off the bat we’re going to be working on possible solutions to these. Whether it’s making students buy fewer meals, whether it’s making meal equivalencies in places like Pi and Weshop.
MF: The overarching theme is going to be flexibility. Right now the meal plan is inflexible to the point where students are losing hundreds of dollars and that’s unacceptable. Whether it’s shifting from meals to points or whether it’s things like meal equivalencies, we need to give students the flexibility that they’re demanding.
What’s really interesting is that the same thing that’s wrong with the meal plan is also wrong with our academics at Wesleyan—we’re going to look to make academics more flexible next year. The first issue is that Wesleyan does not have minors, so we’re going to be looking at minors, but we’re also going to be expanding the certificate program. We’re going to consider a University certificate, which will be similar to the University major, but will allow students to choose their own particular area of study. It may not be as comprehensive as a major but it will qualify for a certificate.
BF: People need to get recognition after graduation that they’ve completed this course of study in this area that doesn’t necessarily give them a major credit but is still something of note. It is basically something that will allow people to tell future employers, ‘Not only did I major in this but I have another area of expertise.”
A: What do you want to see change from the past two years of WSA leadership?
MF: I think in the past two years, the WSA has been heavily policy-oriented. Mike Pernick has done a great job with regards to policy, and I think with respect to involving student groups more and engaging the student body on issues other than policy, there’s a lot of work to be done. One of our goals for next year is to incorporate student groups and to get people much more excited about the WSA than they have been in the past. We have several ideas for how to do this—one is creating more coordinator positions. In terms of group involvement, we’ve had great success with creating the environmental coordinator position this year; there’s no reason we couldn’t involve students more with coordinator positions—a coordinator for community service, a coordinator to deal with sexual assault, a coordinator for working with Middletown-Wesleyan relations.
BF: If we were to create a coordinator for community service or for Middletown-Wesleyan relations, that person would be able to not only work with the WSA and the administration through their title, but would also be empowered to reach out to community service organizations on campus with which they would hopefully already be pretty familiar. We want to harness the energy and great ideas that student groups have and use that to help develop new policies that we can then advocate for.
A: What concerns and worries do you have about next year?
MF: Immediately, my largest worry is that the administration is going to move forward with an open container policy without any student support and without consulting the student body first. In the past, the administration has really been great about listening to and incorporating student concerns, especially with things like budget cuts, and I’m hopeful that they’ll do that with the open container policy, too. I’m really concerned that we may not have the necessary student voice on that.
BF: I don’t want to say that this is my biggest concern or that I’m losing sleep over this, but I think that this election for many people was tiresome and that a lot more people are cynical towards the WSA because of this really competitive election we just had. I really want to make sure that the student body knows that the WSA is something they can go to really about anything—any student life concerns on campus. I think it’s going to be important after this election to move on from grandstanding and more into working with the student body to communicate on what issues are most important to students and to advocate for them.
A: What do you think will be your greatest challenges?
BF: I think our biggest challenge next year is going to be very much a balancing act because we’re going to continue our momentum on policy and expand that, but also to get involved in working with student groups to improve life at Wesleyan, to get involved with Middletown more. Basically, continuing the work that the WSA has been doing for the past two years, but also branching out into these other fields we haven’t been focusing on as much.
MF: Our biggest challenge is also our biggest goal: incorporating the voice of every single student in the student body and really bringing student groups together and having students be a part of the WSA and making sure we’re representing so many diverse groups and so many diverse people.
A: Any words of wisdom for the Wesleyan student body?
BF: I don’t want to give words of wisdom to the student body because on one hand as WSA President and Vice President we’re ostensibly meant to represent the student body, but we really want words of wisdom from the student body. I think that’s what’s most important now. We already know what some of the main issues on campus are, but we encourage anyone who has any ideas, or even just something that bugs them, to be vocal and get in touch with us.
MF: We wish that everyone has a fantastic summer because we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they have a fantastic year when they get back.