The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) recently received an invitation to join the Global Student Government (GSG), a democratic student-run organization founded in April 2022 that acts as a representative body for students across the globe.
In June 2022, two months after its founding, GSG President Justin Patrick reached out to former WSA President Anna Nguyen ’22 via email and extended an invitation to the WSA. In the email, Patrick explained that the GSG was formed after two years of work by a coalition of student governments internationally.
“The main aim of the organization is to ensure students are a structural part of education decision-making processes, influence global education politics, and have a powerful platform to represent and advocate for their views on global issues,” the GSG website reads. “Outreach and advocacy are the very core of the newly created organization.”
Other members of the GSG listed on its website include the Student Assembly of the State University of New York, the Students’ Union of University of Toronto in Canada, as well as several inter-school and regional student governments, such as the Asian Law Students’ Association.
In his email to Nguyen, Patrick mentioned the GSG is seeking a more diverse group of schools beyond the limited fields of study represented by its current members. This prompted their outreach to Wesleyan, as well as to a number of other liberal arts schools, particularly within the NESCAC. The organization was specifically looking for schools they thought would support the set of values and innovations put forth by the coalition.
Current WSA president Nigel Hayes ’23 has since taken over GSG planning after Patrick’s email was forwarded to him last July. Since there is no deadline for accepting the invitation, Hayes has spent the past few months considering how and when to respond to the invitation. Hayes first introduced the invitation to the rest of the General Assembly (GA) of the WSA in November 2022.
Should the WSA decline the invitation, Wesleyan students also have the option to individually become members of the GSG. If they accept, the entire student body will be represented in the GSG by the WSA or a designated auxiliary GSG committee.
Hayes brought up the invitation again at the beginning of the spring semester. Hayes and WSA Student Life Committee chair Orly Meyer ’24 both explained that the WSA has been preoccupied with other matters throughout the school year, and GSG planning has not been top priority at the moment.
“I don’t know too much about the organization,” Meyer said. “All I know is that Nigel is looking into having the WSA join [the GSG]. I think it would be something that’s far in the future. In my opinion, there [have been] more pressing issues on campus that…should be focused on.”
Hayes also stressed his hope to ensure that current and future WSA members are well-informed when they address the invitation during the coming academic year.
“My hope is that by the end of the semester, I will have given the returning students enough information to make that decision by the end of this spring…to decide whether [we] want to accept or not,” Hayes said. “And then when the fall comes, [if we have already joined] we could immediately start working with the Global Student Government or [continue deliberating] in the fall of 2023.”
In his consideration over the invitation, Hayes has focused on how joining the GSG might benefit the student body. One benefit he identified is the exposure of Wesleyan students to diverse views of other GSG members.
“I think there’s many regions of the world that this would give us a chance to interact with, to learn a lot from, to be able to impart a lot of knowledge as well as have some really good debate and discussion on what the future of education should look like,” Hayes said. “So just kind of laying out for future conversations [on things like] student democracy, housing, health, immigration, equity within education, education funding, environmental justice, [and] student journalism.”
According to Hayes, Patrick also mentioned that the University was one of the first schools in the United States to which the GSG reached out. Hayes highlighted the significance of invitation, which he attributed to the student organizing efforts over the past few years, including the formation of and advances made by the Wesleyan Union of Student Employees (WesUSE).
“I think there’s something to be said about the fact that [Patrick] reached out to a liberal arts institution like ours, considering a lot of the progress and changes we’ve made on campus,” Hayes said. “I think [it sets] the tone…within the United States, for this is the power of students when we organize [and] work together.”
While Hayes’ WSA presidency will conclude in May, he has some items he hopes the GA will consider if they choose to join the organization.
“Some goals [I envision for WSA] after entering the [GSG], would be to…not only ask for advice but also take some examples from [student governments] around the world,” Hayes said. “[To see if there is] something that we can do [as a higher education institution] not just within our athletic conference but with the massive wealth disparity within the state of Connecticut, especially for the towns we’re in—for the high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools here.”
Ultimately, Hayes is confident that joining [the GSG] could help interested Wesleyan students gain some nuanced perspective on different issues and how to address them.
“We [will] have new friends and allies, and new critics that will help us make better decisions,” Hayes said.
With the potential introduction of a new and large-scale organization, there are also a few concerns. Hayes mentioned his apprehension about the longevity of the GSG.
“Obviously, as you have [with] any larger international body, there is always the question of how we make sure [it can] effectively [achieve its goals],” Hayes said. “There are bigger national and international organizations that [are dealing with] a lot of the same problems they’ve had for years but still not yet solved. We can cut down the amount of time it’s going to take to solve [such] problems, if we work together, but I do worry about making sure this group lasts many years, [and hope] that it reforms itself regularly, if necessary.”
Hayes shared that he also fears that most Wesleyan students may not choose to engage with the resources offered by the GSG.
“My other concern is that students won’t care enough,” Hayes said. “[I want] to make sure that they have the ability to truly be involved in this and be passionate about it, that they feel fulfilled in the work that they do…and know that, in the long term, as they dedicate their time to it, they still benefit from it as well.”
Meyer cited a few misgivings she has about the WSA potentially joining the GSG. She expressed uncertainty about how the University, which has a relatively small student body, would fit into an organization composed primarily of larger European institutions. Her other concern lies in the financial requirement to join and remain a part of the organization. There is an annual membership fee that is 1 Euro per student enrolled in the University per year, which would translate to roughly 3,600 U.S. dollars and could have a fiscal impact on the University.
“One thing I’m concerned about is that it costs money to be a part of [GSG], either every student will have to [contribute] individually, or it will come out of the WSA budget, which is part of the student activities fee,” she said.“With such a young organization, I’m worried about investing thousands of dollars into it when [there is no clear] return on that investment.”
Hayes acknowledged that concern but ultimately believes that payment of the membership fee is achievable, given that it falls well below the average amount requested from the WSA budget by other student clubs.
Hayes thinks that the WSA should explore and prioritize the opinions of students across campus in its consideration of the GSG’s invitation, given that joining the GSG would extend GSG voting rights to all Wesleyan students. He encourages students to consider Wesleyan’s large international student community and the GSG’s possible significance to their college experience when weighing in on the matter.
“We [would be a part of] this larger international group that [is connected] to many people’s different home countries, cultures, ethnicities. And there might be very real problems going on in those areas.” Hayes said. “This is a way that we can connect back to the places that we’re all from, and to use the money that we have for that small amount per year, to make sure, [you] can do something while you’re still a student.”
Hayes also noted some ways that Wesleyan students can benefit the GSG as much as they can benefit from it. He emphasizes that the University can offer perspective to other members of the organization.
“I think the University can be an asset to the Global Student Government, by illustrating many of the things that we’re worried about on campus and maybe many of our biases,” Hayes said.“[We can say] ‘Look, this is how we do things over here. And here are some of the problems we’re experiencing in education.’”
Hayes encouraged all Wesleyan students to reach out to representatives of the WSA or the GSG for more information on the upcoming decision. He expressed his hope that they understand the time and effort being contributed by other students in service of improving Wesleyan for everyone.
“I’d hope that [students] appreciate [the WSA], and interact with it, and…use the tools and resources available to them to do whatever they feel is right and most important to them,” Hayes said.“I love [Wesleyan] and at the same time, I have a lot of critiques of it. I just hope that students know that their voice does matter.”
Gabrielle McIntosh can be reached at email@example.com.