Every Sunday, The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) meets at 6 p.m. to discuss student concerns and other prevalent issues with members of the administration. As a democratic institution, the WSA consists of elected senators led by the Leadership Board (LB), which is comprised of the President, Vice President, Chief of Staff, and committee chairs. All other senators are organized into one of the WSA’s four standing committees, including the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC), Community Committee (CoCo), Student Budget Committee, Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC), and the Student Life Committee (SLC). As organizers of and advocates for student life on campus, part of the WSA’s responsibility is to communicate their agendas, initiatives, and processes with the student body.

Elena Brennan ’24, chair of the EIC, described several ways that the WSA maintains transparency with the rest of the student body, including their weekly committee reports that are sent out in an all-campus email. These weekly committee reports include updates from each WSA committee on what they have accomplished and their next steps. 

Each week, I type up a summary of EIC’s actions from the week prior that is then sent out in an all-campus email,” Brennan wrote in an email to The Argus. “All students are welcome to General Assembly (GA) meetings where I read through that summary and then take questions. Additionally, anyone can reach out to me through email if they have any questions about current initiatives.”

CoCo Chair Sophie Chang ’24 is working to make committee reports and GA meetings more accessible to the student body, highlighting that many students might not read or understand the committee reports without the proper context. 

“A lot of times our [weekly committee reports] have to do with the previous week’s updates and those with the last week’s updates,” Chang said. “And if you’re not really involved in the process [from] beginning to end, and not in the WSA, hearing these updates live and seeing things progress, the information might be a little bit inaccessible. So maybe we can work on just making the information more accessible in a way that’s…easier to digest and be given every week with a little bit of context.”

Transparency became even more of a pressing issue for the WSA during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the sudden suspension of in-person activities in March 2020, the WSA started a document collecting questions from the student body regarding available resources, academic accommodations, and contingency planning. The WSA leadership published their answers to these questions, drawing on their relationships with administration and knowledge of campus procedures. This effort made answers and information more accessible to students before the administration had a chance to compile their own COVID-19 website, which answered some frequently asked questions and detailed updates about possible campus reopening that fall.

WSA President Anna Nguyen ’22 reflected on how the WSA aimed to be transparent throughout the pandemic, explaining that they often add context and clarity to the decisions of the administration.

“A lot of the time, the administration does not do the best job at communicating information to the students,” Nguyen said.

Transparency also became a major talking point when former WSA Senator Huzaifa Khan ’22, a WSA presidential candidate at the time, was served with articles of impeachment in April 2020. Unlike other WSA impeachments, Khan’s was controversial because it had not been publicized. The Assembly’s reasoning for not revealing the impeachment was that Khan resigned before the process could continue. However, students raised concerns that the impeachment process—which could have influenced people’s voting decisions—had not been made appropriately available to the student body and that the impeachment had gone public too late. Even Nguyen, who was a senator at the time, did not know the impeachment had taken place until the rest of the student body did.

“When the impeachment of Huzaifa happened, I don’t recall being informed of the incident that led to the impeachment or the impeachment itself as a senator with the General Assembly until after it had gotten out to the public,” Nguyen wrote in an email to The Argus. “That obviously does partly inform the way that my Leadership Board communicates with GA and the student body, and how we have established a clear expectation for transparency within GA and with the rest of the student body from the Leadership Board.”

However, in separate emails to The Argus, Nguyen and Brennan explained that no members of the current LB were on the LB at the time these events occurred. Going forward, WSA committees are still thinking about how to stay engaged with the student body.

“It’s not just about us [needing] to be transparent with the student body, but more what kind of transparency works best for the model of student government within Wesleyan,” Nguyen said.

WSA Chief of Staff Isha Jha ’23 emphasized that for WSA transparency to be effective, students must also take advantage of the resources that are offered and invest in the student government’s work. 

“I think a big part of transparency is, regardless of how transparent I am or how transparent the assembly is, it doesn’t really matter if people don’t care or aren’t invested,” Jha said. “I think we should pivot our focus to looking at more ways that we can show the student body that hey, we’re doing all this really great work, we’re being transparent about it, and we want more people involved in it. So I think it’s more so trying to get the student body involved and less so being transparent.”

Part of reaching out to students involves being more active on social media. After the WSA passed a resolution to promote transparency through technology in February 2020, acknowledging that there was a need for more communication about the WSA’s activities through their social media and website, CoCo became involved in regularly updating the WSA’s social media accounts including their Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Resulting from this initiative was the creation of WSA Publicity (WSAP), a committee that draws members from each WSA committee along with the CoCo chair. 

As the CoCo Chair, Chang leads WSAP and hopes to increase the WSA’s social media presence so that students know where to find information about the WSA’s current initiatives.

“This year, I’m going to try to make [the WSA’s social media] more of a presence,” Chang said. “In the past, I think we’ve really kept our posts to WSA-related things, like voting and WSA events…but hopefully this year I’m going to try to expand that… So that’s one way we could hopefully get the word out about the WSA, and that could also be an avenue toward getting more people interested in reading our committee reports and being more interested in the things we do.” 

Additionally, CoCo is involved in facilitating a listening tour this year, in which senators will meet with student identity groups to hear their concerns. Chang says she hopes the listening tour will help the WSA become more proactive about seeking out people on campus who need their help.

“The listening tour is going to be a way for us to be more proactive about seeing what we can help with around campus, instead of having people have to come to us,” Chang said. “We’ll be going to them… The ones that we’re prioritizing right now are the marginalized student groups and the FGLI board: groups like that that will maybe need our help the most.”

Nguyen also highlighted the fact that the WSA is hoping to do more outreach to students.

“Going forward, the effort is put more into coming to the students instead of asking students to come to us,” Nguyen said. “So that means meeting students where they are.”

Audrey Nelson can be reached at aanelson@wesleyan.edu.

Olivia Ramseur can be reached at oramseur@wesleyan.edu.

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