Many students on campus do not realize how much influence the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) actually has, until a major event like the China campus controversy erupts or the annual Textbook Exchange rolls around. However, in reality, the WSA takes part in changing campus policies and hearing student concerns on a regular basis.
Adam Hickey ’22, who currently serves as the WSA Chief of Staff, said he believes that the reason for this misunderstanding of the WSA comes from people’s experiences with student government in high school.
“Every high school is different, but the one I came from, I think, is a pretty common experience, which is that the high school government essentially just organizes school dances and nothing else,” Hickey said.
Hickey emphasized the features of the WSA that set it apart from a high school student government.
“I think the WSA is a unique opportunity to be involved and represent student concerns and actually advocate for beneficial policies for students to the administration,” Hickey said.
Huzaifa Khan ’22, who is currently the Chair of the Student Life Committee, said that the WSA is constantly doing work behind the scenes to make changes to our campus.
“We all work with administrators outside of the WSA on various things and throughout the year we are constantly providing feedback on things that are happening,” Khan said. “It’s not just the big glamorous headlines you might see once or twice a year about a WSA project.”
So, how does the WSA really work? The WSA is made up of 36 senators in the General Assembly, which is comprised of five committees: the Academic Affairs Committee, the Student Budget Committee, the Student Life Committee, the Community Committee, and an entity called the Equity and Inclusion Committee. The chairs of each committee, along with the President, Chief of Staff, and the Vice President form the Leadership Board.
The Academic Affairs Committee does exactly what the name implies: they deal with advocating for students in anything related to academics, including course policies and teaching evaluations. The Chair and Vice Chair also sit on the Educational Policy Committee, which consists of faculty members who oversee what happens academically on campus. They are responsible for initiatives such as the Textbook Exchange, the Printing Allowance Program, and the course retake policy that allows students to retake a course if they received a grade of a C minus or below. Jake Kwon ’21, who is currently the chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, explained that committees work to most efficiently address the concerns of the student body.
“We are very project driven,” Kwon explained. “So we have a lot of students who show interest in something, for example…if students feel unhappy about the academic resources that they’re getting on campus, we’ll try to mediate that by getting in touch with the office that is responsible for those resources.”
The Student Budget Committee (SBC), on the other hand, is in charge of allocating funds to student groups on campus. They offer funding for events or activities run by official student groups that will benefit the club and the campus community. Additionally, three senators—one from SBC and two non-SBC senators—comprise an Appeals Board that hears appeals made by student groups about funding. This allows student groups to argue procedural errors of the SBC and contest their decisions.
The Student Life Committee deals with a wide range of areas including dining, housing, healthcare, athletics. It contains three subcommittees: Environmental Sustainability, Physical and Mental Wellbeing, and Social Life. These subcommittees are connected to various campus offices such as Public Safety, Residential Life, Physical Plant, the Green Fund, and others. Khan noted that one major accomplishment of the Student Life Committee this year has been the addition of laundry fees to tuition costs.
“I have finally gotten a commitment from the University to implement free laundry by Fall 2021, which means that laundry will be included in the residential comprehensive fee in tuition,” Khan said. “So it won’t exactly be free, but there will be no more swiping and it’ll be covered by financial aid.”
Although past responsibilities of the Community Committee have been to communicate with student groups, this year the committee is shifting to facilitate relationships between Wesleyan and Middletown. Currently, the group is focused on making the transition to WesNest run smoothly. They also communicate with community driven groups, such as the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP) and North End Action Team ( NEAT). Nigel Hayes ’23, a Senator on the Community Committee, noted that the committee deals with Wesleyan’s two communities.
“We figure out how we can establish a better relationship [with Middletown], provide or share resources with them when we can, and also educate students on the impact we have,” Hayes said. “[We also] do a lot with what goes on here in terms of student groups on campus…It’s a weird combination of interactions within Wesleyan, but also how we interact with Middletown as a second community as well.”
Along with its complex structure, the WSA has significant leverage within the Wesleyan community and a strong influence on the administration. Senators on the WSA can present resolutions, which are then open to questions and critiques by other senators. Once resolutions have been presented, WSA members vote on them the following week; however in time-sensitive cases, the WSA can sometimes decide to expedite a vote. Once a resolution gets passed, it is presented to the administration. Hickey explained this process further.
“If it’s a really urgent issue that you’re concerned about getting through quickly, it can be a pretty quick process,” Hickey said. “If it’s a big issue that we’ve struggled to get by the administration, often times we’ll write a resolution and pass it to bring it to the administration. That happened earlier in the year when they were considering establishing a satellite campus in China. We wrote a resolution and passed it. That can be a longer process, but I think it’s effective in demonstrating that there is pretty unified and strong student support behind a particular idea.”
Khan argued that the WSA is more effective in passing a proposal to the administration if the resolution also has outside support from students.
“I think something like last semester with the China campus was exceptional in both the scale of the problem and how quickly we were able to resolve it,” Khan said. “Although we kind of lit the fuse, I think we depended on a lot of external forces of outrage to help move the needle.”
So, how can students get involved in the WSA without running and being a senator? Hickey stressed the importance of the WSA’s Sunday meetings.
“If [students] don’t want to make the time commitment to be on the WSA full time and commit to coming to a meeting every week, any student is welcome to attend our meetings,” Hickey said. “We have a segment of every meeting called open forum where you can bring up any issue you like to our senate.”
During open forums, senators and non-senators can express concerns and give ideas or critiques that can be discussed at committee meetings. If a student cannot or does not want to go to WSA meetings and present an issue to the entire WSA, Senators have their emails on the WSA website or can be reached through Facebook Messenger.
Although the workings of the WSA might not be well known to the student body, they are an integral part of the Wesleyan administration’s functionality. For many on the WSA, it is an opportunity to change the school and make it a better place.
“I’m in a place where, should I need to change or critique anything, I have a voice in that. I don’t just have to sit by,” Hayes said. “If something happens that I don’t like or isn’t fair, I don’t just have to take it.”
Olivia Ramseur can be reached at email@example.com.