Gnomes: Why ASWC isn’t working

Bryce McKay

ASWC legend tells of a recognized club in ancient lore. The way I heard the story is this: A group of industrious community builders decided that ASWC was ineffective: that it was a bureaucratic machine that had outlived its usefulness. To illustrate this fact, they came up with the most pointless club they could: the Friends of Gnomes. They gathered the minimum of 15 signatures and applied for recognition from ASWC, which would in turn gain them all $150. After a long, hard-fought battle, the defenders of gnomish rights won out, took their $150 and ran.

They were right. They would still be right today. ASWC has a lot of problems: The senate spends time debating whether to recognize clubs like Friends of Gnomes. Once the Friends lose recognition because their representative didn’t come to a joint session (where they would most likely spend their time doing homework), the senate debates whether or not to forgive them. The senate enacts resolutions like CODA (a symposium planning committee resolution from last year) and their resolutions have no effect on the campus environment. The question that has material significance here is “why?” Why is ASWC ineffectual?

For one thing, senators need (to some extent) to take themselves seriously. Obviously, the senate doesn’t oversee Bon Appetit or Residence Life, but they can have an impact on the community we have. If the senate seeks to be a body advocating student rights, it needs to act like it: enact legislation that positively affects campus life.

An example? One piece of legislation in the works does have that kind of legitimacy: a textbook rental program. Programs like this have cut costs by as much as 70 percent at other schools on books offered as rentals, and the senate is looking into supporting this kind of a program here.

The problem is this: They must take it seriously and put in the hours to work with the administration, the bookstore and the financial institutions at play here at Whitman. They can’t let themselves get pushed around. They need to tell these people that the students want this and that they’ve got a mandate to seek it. That’s the function of the senate: to tell the other agencies on campus what the students want. The senate may not have the power to implement a textbook program, but it can call for one. A large part of what made CODA ineffective was that, as I wrote last week, the Bridges administration ignored it. The senate needs to assert itself as the representative leaders of Whitman students, and Whitman students need to back them up if/when the college fails them.

There’s one other thing that needs to fall in line if ASWC is going to be significant at all: you. You play a large part in all of this. If ASWC is to be effective, you need to support and to some extent invest in it. If you want to lead the symposium, you have to assert the leadership that the senate is trying to garner for you. If you want to have a textbook rental program, you need first to talk to your senators: Tell them to get it done. Then, once it is done, you need to follow through with it: Ask your senators what happened with it. Ask the bookstore staff what happened with it.

Of course this isn’t going to fix everything. Senators will sometimes be elected because they’re attractive, the college administration will sometimes discount their policies and some students won’t care about either of those things. At the end of the day, ASWC is still a student government. My question is this: Can’t it be an effective student government?