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ASWC Has Improved, But Engagement Still Problematic

Blair Hanley Frank

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Illustration by Eduardo Vazquez

Illustration by Eduardo Vazquez

When I wrote my election season column last semester, the Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) was in dire straits. A disjointed communications strategy and ineffectual leadership made for a political entity that seemed distant from the students it was supposed to represent.

There’s good news, though. ASWC has made vast improvements since last year, especially in the realm of communications. The work of Sally Boggan ’13 and the Department of Communications has improved ASWC’s reach by leaps and bounds. It’s been a big year for ASWC as well, with huge victories regarding international travel and student representation with the Board of Trustees. But there’s always room to improve.

Now, ASWC needs to take those successes and convince the Whitman campus it is worth it to care. I love the constant emails through the ASWC listserv, but some of my friends find them tiresome. Now that its communication is on track, ASWC needs to reach out to those people who aren’t predisposed to pay attention to everything that comes out of their office.

That’s not an insurmountable problem, but it won’t be solved simply by writing better emails. ASWC needs to give the student body an opportunity to get some skin in the game, and that means radically rethinking some of the key assumptions behind the existence of a Senate and Executive Council. With an incoming Senate class that represents a wide swath of the Whitman community, I think it’s an excellent time for ASWC to turn over a new procedural leaf and become more welcoming to those who aren’t a part of Senate or EC.

My recommendations for next year are twofold: ASWC should provide greater opportunities for students to directly influence the political process and work hard to make that process more accessible.

Having a Senate that’s able to direct policy and handle housekeeping of ASWC as a system is important and useful. We’re a busy campus with hardworking students, and when it comes to discussing policies with members of the administration, or managing ASWC’s bylaws, having an elected political elite on campus to represent us makes sense.

But that system separates average students from the mechanics of governance. Representation means that it’s possible to vote a couple times and then ignore what ASWC is doing for the rest of the year. Senators already propose measures in committees: Why not allow students to make their own proposals? I’m sure it would require some creative changes to the bylaws, but a more direct democratic system would provide an excellent opportunity for students to influence ASWC’s process in a tangible way, and make us feel like we matter in our student government.

In order for those changes to be effective, though, ASWC’s meetings need to become more approachable. The current obsession with strict parliamentary procedure has to go. I understand that running a tight meeting is important, but the mechanisms ASWC has in place to do that exclude everyone but the initiated few. It seems that there are even times when the Senate gets confused by its own parliamentary acrobatics, as shown by the fact that the Senate voted on the same amendment three times in a row last Sunday.

If the Senate can’t grasp its own procedures, how can a student be expected to understand them? Moreover, the jargon-filled language of parliamentary procedure isn’t even helping the people it’s supposed to keep organized. That should be a signal that it’s high time to reevaluate the way things get done, especially because a more accessible, more human Senate is better for everyone involved.

ASWC has made some great strides to bring its message to Whitman’s campus. Now it just needs to put the hard work in to actually make its process more engaging.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “ASWC Has Improved, But Engagement Still Problematic”

  1. Meh on April 22nd, 2013 9:23 pm

    Sounds like the Pio is trying to find something wrong with ASWC this year, and the only thing they could point to was that procedure is hampering to productivity and student engagement.

    Interestingly enough, this article points out a number of times how successful ASWC has been this year–so clearly ASWC is being productive. And it would be odd to just throw procedure out the window just to allow every student to participate in ASWC meetings, because then what’s the point in electing them in the first place? Plus, this article failed to point out that all the committees on ASWC use procedure minimally, if at all, and allow any student wishing to drop in to voice their opinion unhampered by the rules of procedure.

    So what this article really boils down to is that ASWC is a governing organization, just one that is good at getting stuff done.

  2. Rachel Alexander on April 23rd, 2013 8:35 am

    Just to be clear, this column (like all of our columns) represents the opinions of the author only and not The Pioneer as a whole. If you disagree, you’re welcome to submit a letter to the editor.

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ASWC Has Improved, But Engagement Still Problematic