The work that the WSA does often is not glamorous. And because of that, it often flies under the radar of most Wesleyan students, including myself. I came to Wesleyan from a high school where the Student Council organized a dance and a blood drive a year and that was about it. When people mentioned student government at the beginning of the year, I laughed. As the year wore on, and particularly with the controversy surround the coeducation of fraternities, I became distinctly more aware of the WSA’s role on this campus.
One night towards the beginning of this year, I was studying in the CSS Lounge and listening to Rebecca Hutman ’17 practice a presentation proposing the institution of the new Intensive Semester she was going to give as head of the Academic Affairs Committee of the WSA. I remember thinking, “holy s***, this is so cool. The WSA does this???” Throughout the year I became more and more exposed to all the things the WSA does behind the scenes. They facilitated my appeal of an exorbitant charge from Fire Safety over paint chipping in my room last year due to its bad paint job. They quickly facilitated the recognition of a new student group I am a part of and showed me how to utilize OrgSync to set our group up for success. I watched them push for an expansion in CAPS staffing and an increased cognizance towards the costs of textbooks, two areas that have extraordinary importance to my life at Wesleyan.
And who is the “they” who did all these things? A group of extraordinarily committed individuals, dedicated to showing up every day and doing difficult, time-consuming work for which they often receive little to no recognition. Wesleyan students have fought for decades to increase the role of student government on this campus, to get student voting members on a whole host of administrative committees. Wesleyan students are lucky to have as much input as we do in how our school is run, as it is not a capacity given to many students at other universities. And the WSA has these opportunities to contribute because it is seen as legitimate, providing a balanced, long-term, hard-working approach to student issues on this campus.
That being said, it is certainly far from perfect. The fact that its work goes so unpublicized needs to change. Its exclusivity needs to change, by strengthening the connections between its members and the rest of the campus through one-on-one meetings and increased visibility. The proposed stipend for WSA members on financial aid, to facilitate participation from those who might otherwise be unable, needs to pass. A lot of the changes suggested by Kate Cullen ’16 and Aidan Martinez ’17 are great ideas: clarifying what legislation means on the assembly, having a group specifically dedicated to communication, having town-hall style meetings outside of legislative sessions where students can just be heard and specifically to provide consistent support in times of crisis and need.
However, what we do not need is revolution. This is a hard thing to say on Wesleyan’s campus, where frequently everything seen as “the system” and “the institution” is suspect. But the work the WSA does on this campus is vital. We have a fantastic community of activism on campus, and this too is vital. But they are separate. Activist groups are vital for loud advocacy by people who are passionate about their issues. The WSA is vital as both a space for these groups to advocate for their causes and take part in a constructive, balanced discussion with groups that might disagree with them, as well as an organization that takes care of the administrative work most people want no part of. I totally understand the frustration people often feel, but frustration is an inherent part of compromise. Not everyone on this campus agrees on every issue, so the WSA needs to be a place where all voices, not just the loudest, can be heard. Passion is wonderful and important, but so is balance and fairness.
Just like in the real world, government is hard. It is messy and often confusing. This is true no matter what the system in place looks like. I support change, continual improvement, but it needs to be realistic change. Complete upheaval will ultimately erode the legitimacy and effectiveness of the WSA. Dramatic change will create a situation where the great progress the WSA has made, working with the administration to improve CAPS, First Generation student support, and various other improvements will be lost. This transition will hurt the Cardinal community, both for us and for those who are to follow. We stand here at a crossroads. We can be swept up by the winds of change and lose so much progress. Or, we can continue to work, to improve, to unite. There is a way to have both: the significant change many see as necessary along with the retention of the positive functions of the WSA. Join Madison Moore ’16, myself, and countless other members of the WSA in finding it.
Hammitt is a member of the class of 2017.