As we go to vote for many of next year’s WSA members (or at least as the few of us who care enough to go vote), I wanted to share what it has been like serving on the Academic Affairs Committee on the student government during my first year here at Wesleyan, and what I have learned from it.
Most students at Wes don’t have any opinion on the WSA, or really care what the WSA does. This was a bit surprising to me, considering that the University has a reputation as being one of the more activist campuses in the nation. I was expecting more UC Berkeley-style levels of protests, counter-protests, marches, chants, sing-alongs, and so on. Instead, most students seem content to come here for their education, or simply to have a small liberal arts school experience. Each week, they go to class, go to parties, attend club meetings, and repeat x14 until finals.
With a large percentage of the student population relatively quiet toward the WSA, it makes the rest seem a heck of a lot louder than they really are, which is something that I have had to work hard to realize while making decisions. I’ve had to learn that I don’t just represent the loudest students on campus, but all students. The loudest are simply the angriest, for one reason or another. If I do decide to pursue any kind of governmental career after Wesleyan, this will be a lesson well learned: just because a certain interest group is the loudest, it doesn’t mean they necessarily represent anyone other than themselves. After all, they aren’t elected. They are the ones who vote and shape the local, state, and federal governments. A person who can mobilize even a small percentage of the usually silent majority can get any position in the country they want, even the presidency. Tall order, though.
I’ve had to learn that egos are incredibly and frustratingly fragile with some people on this campus. Much of this adjustment is on me, of course; part of the job description is to have or quickly develop tough skin. I’ve had to, and continue to have to, readjust my idea of what is politically acceptable and regain a bit of empathy. But at certain points I’ve sat in my room replaying conversations, meetings, and situations where I’ve thrown my hands up going “Come on! You can’t be this weak and fragile! Right?! Being offended or feeling attacked isn’t a logical retort!”
And probably one of the more surprising things is that this fragility of egos isn’t just among some students, but found at all levels of this University. It is actually scaring me a bit more than I’d like to admit at this point. I’ve thought to myself, “Will I have to walk on eggshells from here on out?” Have I been so irrevocably changed that I have to be paranoid about every article I write, every conversation I have, every meeting I speak at with proverbial pillows, stuffed animals, and blankets, lest I offend someone or bruise their ego and come off as the crazy vet guy? Of course, not everyone I talk to has a fragile ego or disposition, but a lot more than I expected, and at levels that I did not expect. There are plenty of individuals here who have strong characters; I don’t want everyone who interacts with me to think that I think they have a fragile ego. That isn’t the case at all; these egos are found just on certain unexpected levels. It isn’t just the students that are coddled a bit here at Wesleyan.
Change takes time at an institution this large—that I already knew—but I no longer feel overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes. If anything, that should make people respect those who work in the WSA more, specifically the chairs of committees, with the amount of hours they put in to making sure that several areas of our student life run smoothly, or as smoothly as possible. In many respects, it is a thankless job that requires a lot of hours.
If a project requires 30 work hours to complete, then it requires 30 hours. There is no getting around that. Half-assing it and trying to do it in two hours is just not going to achieve any real change. And there are plenty of students who are financially required to work during the semester (I’m one), and yet are able to block off time to participate in the WSA. Are students angry at the WSA for not being representative because of the time required that is not always plausible for those who have to work, or are they actually angry at the institution for taking so many hours to achieve any noticeable impact? I firmly believe if being in the WSA were important to someone, they would find a way to block off the time to do it, even if they have to work. I do it, and many of the people I know in the WSA do it. It is possible.
I think this speaks to why activism is so attractive to students: they can donate a few hours a week to a cause instead of having to give dozens each week, and there is no judgment there. Everyone has different interests and different opportunity costs for the time spent in the WSA. For some, they have interests or requirements that make the WSA no longer feasible, but there are still ways for them to make a change. But it is my firm belief that if someone truly wants to be on the WSA, then they will be, and to say that the hours required are too much is more of an excuse than a legitimate reason.
Not everything about the WSA has been negative. In fact, it has been overwhelmingly positive in a lot of respects. I was ecstatic to be able to champion a few causes on the academic side of the house—namely, allowing first years to have four courses already selected when they walk on campus for orientation. There are a lot of exciting new minors, certificates, and clusters that I was able to vote for, and the one I’m happiest about is the planetary science minor.
I was disturbed to hear about some of the wage level and yearly bonus practices at Wesleyan and was ready to go to bat for the cause, but it got resolved very quickly. If you or anyone you know is having an issue with your hourly rate or bonuses, please get in touch with me.
A lot of the discussions in the General Assembly have allowed me to learn a lot about the culture of the campus, and while I still don’t get the snapping of fingers (good ol’ ‘Murican clapping is my style), I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. I invite anyone and everyone who is the least bit curious as to what goes on to attend a meeting. I swear we don’t bite, and you don’t have to speak up unless you want to. Stay a while and listen.
I plan on being on the WSA all four years that I’m here, so here’s to next year and the fun it will bring! It has been a pleasure representing you all.
Stascavage is a member of the class of 2018.