An Insider’s Take on Holding the WSA Accountable
If the administration is going to take the student body seriously, we need to start taking ourselves seriously. Recent allegations of questionable conduct by past Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) administrations suggest that we need increased oversight, accountability, and more direct lines of communication between the WSA and the student body. The fact that such misconduct occurred is symptomatic of an overarching trend on campus: a failed commitment to the inclusive values we praise, which in turn enabled an exclusive few to confer unacceptable privileges upon themselves.
As President Roth recently wrote on his blog, “We aspire to be a community committed to boldness as well as to rigor, to idealism as well as to effectiveness.” It’s time to evaluate that mission as applied to our student government, and whether the WSA actually qualifies as a governance unit. As much as my fellow colleagues in the WSA prefer not to admit it, the WSA is seen as a joke, even though it does have power. We have a large financial budget, significant influence in the dissemination of information, and consistent dialogue with the administration. If the WSA “has no power” where it really matters, then do students here at Wesleyan have any power, or has Wesleyan transformed into just another paternalistic boarding school?
At Wesleyan, we have no student unions, and as a member of the WSA, I can say with honesty that we lack sufficient mechanisms to collectively bargain with the administration over decisions that impact our community. Our representative student legislative and deliberative body rarely legislates or passes resolutions with any teeth. The WSA simply maintains the status quo, because we worry more about maintaining working relationships with the administration and fear the consequences of making a genuine demand. Institutionally, we are ingrained with inefficient bureaucratic, hierarchical, and procedural obstacles; we are far too insular and aloof from genuine community concerns; and transparency and accountability have yet to become hallmarks of WSA operations. We are neither as democratically accountable nor as open as we should be, and worst of all, we probably have a lower approval rating than the dysfunctional U.S. Congress. If we want Wesleyan to be more open, inclusive, and representative of our community, the WSA must be too.
At Wesleyan, we encourage students to think big, to embrace the notion that people working together can and should make the world a better place. However, neither our community at large nor the WSA truly embraces the risky challenge to examine problems that hit closer to home.
Tuition continues to skyrocket above the rate of inflation. Student debt has become the largest form of debt in the United States. Wesleyan’s rapidly consolidating austerity budget means abandoning need-blind admissions and making serious sacrifices. We are not just students; we are adults, and we deserve to be treated as such. Why can’t we challenge policies that we don’t agree with or that don’t work? Why can’t we have an open discussion that weighs our options regarding the future of financial aid? Why can’t we demand social responsibility in our endowment investments? Why can’t we participate in debates about whether chalking should be a violation, or whether the SJB should utilize clear and convincing evidence to adjudicate alleged infractions of the code of non-academic conduct? These aren’t simply petty matters that are inconsequential; they reflect student demands to make Wesleyan a genuinely open community. It’s not enough to have empowering rhetoric; we need an open and honest debate about our options in the context of our limitations.
Regardless of intention, the way many decisions are made on this campus violates Wesleyan’s mantra of “Making Excellence Inclusive.” If that mantra is anything more than a trite slogan for PR purposes, the WSA needs to work harder at empowering students and being more open and accountable. Representatives ought to start acting as student advocates that aggressively and effectively lobby on behalf of their constituents, and Roth’s administration needs to be more transparent and open to participation from our entire community, both students and workers.
It’s time to think critically about whether Wesleyan’s alleged values are represented in practice, both individually and institutionally. As a community, we face a number of difficult challenges. We have all chosen Wesleyan for our own reasons; now we must recognize that we are irrevocably linked to one another, and that our collective challenges can and should be met with collective resolve. Perhaps we should trust our fellow community members a bit more, but maybe we also need to build and earn that trust.