ASWC Kicks Off Six Year Strategic Plan

Kate Grumbles, Staff Reporter

The Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) is beginning work this semester on a six year strategic plan intended to bring sweeping changes to the governing body.

ASWC members consisting of, from left to right, Lily Parker, Brian Wu, AnnaMarie McCorvie, Omar Aldahleh, and Chris Meabe, convenes to discuss topics such as increasing the wages of students working for ASWC. Tywen Kelly

The proposals for the strategic plan fall into four main categories: “big picture,” meaning changes to the ASWC Constitution, internal restructuring of the bylaws, changes to ASWC members’ hourly wage and external relationships between ASWC and other clubs on campus. The strategic plan itself will be rolled out over the next six years, with some changes taking longer than others.

The impetus for these changes came from a difficult Senate meeting held at the end of the 2017 fall semester. Two issues especially made many members of ASWC uncomfortable with the decision-making procedures of the governing body. The first was in regards to a miscommunication among Senate members surrounding the procedure and precedent of recognizing campus clubs. The other point of contention was the process of deciding whether or not to grant the Diversity and Inclusion Director, an appointed, rather than elected member of Senate, a vote. Senior AnnaMarie McCorvie, President of ASWC, mentioned the complication that the current governing documents caused in this vote, that required a change to both the ASWC Constitution and by-laws, the documents that explain the official procedures of ASWC.

“The Constitution … had language that forced the Director of Diversity and Inclusion by-law change to be very complicated in its wording,” McCorvie said.

The last revision of the governing documents was around six years ago, and the constitution specifically has inconsistencies from what McCorvie referred to as the “copy-and-paste” approach that was used in that revision. Junior Lily Parker, member of the Oversight Committee who served as Chair during 2017, spoke about the reaction within ASWC to that difficult Senate meeting,

“It kind of all happened super fast. That Senate happened, and within a week and a half, we had a plan of how [the Strategic Plan] was exactly going to be structured out. Now we’re kind of gearing up to actually begin on it.”Tywen Kelly

Efforts toward changing the wording of ASWC’s constitution are being led by McCorvie. She, along with other members of ASWC, hopes to simplify the language of the Constitution. Beyond this, she hopes to add a values statement to the document.

“We don’t have a lot of language in our constitution about what it actually means to serve the student body as an elected representative, and often that leaves people to flounder and not know what their role is,” McCorvie said. She hopes to clarify ASWC’s goals and mission.

Any changes to the Constitution need to be voted on by the entire student body, so McCorvie and other members of ASWC working on the document hope to have a draft by early March for students to vote on during ASWC elections.

Within ASWC, the restructuring of the by-laws has been made a priority as well. Parker has been leading the efforts to revise the document. Similar to the Constitution, there are parts of the by-laws that require procedures that don’t match how the current student government functions.

“I have big ideas about restructuring the by-laws that need to go in tandem with AnnaMarie’s ideas for the Constitution, because the by-laws need to represent the Constitution accurately … and there are some discrepancies right now,” Parker said.

Beyond changes to its governing documents, the strategic plan also introduced the possible switch to paying members of ASWC minimum wage for their efforts. Currently, ASWC Senators make $150 per semester and the average ASWC position makes $3.87 per hour. A switch to minimum wage, which will be $13.50 in 2020, would be an increase of $9.63 per hour. This change would affect everyone who is employed with ASWC (including leaders of WEB and campus media organizations), starting with the people paid the least, all the way up to the President of ASWC. While some Senators may see their hourly wage increase in the next year, the current members of Executive Council will not be impacted by this change as it rolls out over the next six years. Chris Meabe, Finance Chair, spoke about why this change is important for the members of ASWC.

“We have had a moral obligation to change [the hourly wage] for as long as we’ve been paying students. It’s just that we now feel we have the resources, the ability and the energy to actually make that change and start the ball rolling this year,” Meabe said.

While many members of ASWC see this as a positive change, there has been pushback from Whitman’s administration.

“The response [of some administrators] to us paying students better was a little hesitant,” McCorvie said.  “The [message was], ‘You know these are volunteer positions, we don’t want people running for Senate because of the money.’ I disagree completely with that idea, I think we’re only making these positions more accessible. A huge percentage of students at Whitman need to be making a real wage to go here, so to limit them to doing certain kinds of jobs and not others is ridiculous.”

The increased pay for members of ASWC could mean that the $390 fee all students pay to ASWC might increase, which also has the potential for pushback from the student body.

In addition to the internal changes ASWC is introducing this year, there will be a concerted effort to change the relationships between ASWC and other clubs on campus. Senior Brian Wu, the ASWC Club Director, spoke to the missed opportunities in the current mode of communication between clubs and ASWC.

“The biggest issue we face right now is that most clubs only come to us for money and miss out on many other resources we have available for them,” Wu said in an email to The Wire. “So we are trying to rethink about what it means to be an ASWC club and what responsibilities ASWC has towards clubs (and the other way around).”

Despite all the work that members of ASWC are doing to prepare for the implementation of the strategic plan, McCorvie mentioned that she will not be too disappointed if some or all of the changes don’t pass.

“A huge part of doing this project is just to show that we can, and to prove that when we are frustrated by the rules that limit us in ASWC, we don’t have to just feel frustrated, we can try and change them,” McCorvie said. “If it doesn’t [all] pass, I think we still have done something really important.”