One of the greatest benefits of attending a small school is that students have the opportunity to join multiple groups that would require an increased level of commitment at larger institutions.
This isn’t a college where students have to commit to one or two interests and remain locked into pursuing those interests for four years. Here, we have students who can be on the football team, and in an improv group, and in the gospel choir, and still reach success within their major and minor.
This would be much less feasible at a larger school. We have a special opportunity at a small college to get involved in multiple facets of our education, not just our classes, but in multiple environments, in true interdisciplinary liberal arts fashion. And yet club membership on campus seems as if it has been declining and it feels as if there are fewer students trying classes out of their direct track than years past.
It is not reasonable to expect every student to take 20 credits, join five clubs, and work three jobs, but it’s not unreasonable to expect students to take their classes, join a few clubs, and create change on campus.
By getting involved, students are able to make their voices heard, in large and small ways.
Students are provided a few opportunities to get involved in making institutional change, however, the College still needs to do a better job of listening to and respecting student interests and ensuring that they are actually being involved in institutional decision-making processes in a meaningful way.
Sending an email to students after changes are made is not enough.
We need widely-known physical and electronic locations where students can give the school their input, not through carefully crafted surveys or focus groups, but through truly public and accessible points. We also need these locations when we receive information disseminated by the College.
Sometimes it feels as if we are so far away from the changes that we are hoping to see that they feel completely unreasonable, so we give up. I fall victim to that kind of thinking too; and I lose hope along the journey toward a positive outcome.
However, from our inaction, we let the College control our voice.
I urge you to take a minute to reflect on the things that are happening on campus that need to be changed, and to truly consider the ways that change can be made.
Clubs like Progressive Student Union, Green Life, and CASE are all making true strides to educate and improve our campus community. The Free Press is always looking for more students to write articles about the content they care about, and it is one of the best ways that any student can access an audience.
We can fight for the continuation of programs and clubs by indicating our interests through petitions, attending events, and even protesting their cuts, but there comes a certain point where that fight is futile if nobody actually enlists in the opportunities that we are working to preserve.
Students do have an option of getting involved in voicing their concerns toward the school’s administration through the Student Government Association. The SGA is run by students that are elected to directly represent student interests, however, in recent years, our SGA has taken more of the shape of event planners than the elected voices of students.
Obviously, events that encourage students to get involved are important, but the SGA needs to do more.
Each year, two members of the SGA are chosen to represent the entire student body at Board of Trustees meetings, where ultimate decisions about the College are made. Usually, these students, referred to as “visitors to the Board,” are the president and vice president of the Student Government Association.
During the recent President’s Council meeting with members of the administration including Provost Julia Jasken, President Roger Casey, Vice President of Administration and Finance Tom Phizacklea, and Vice President for Enrollment Janelle Holmboe, Casey said “Every single major decision this College has is made at that table and they are the people that are charged with fiduciary responsibility for the College.”
Our two elected SGA representatives were both not present at the most recent Board of Trustees meeting in October. Currently, our only way for students to access the Board, where the College makes its decisions, is through the SGA representatives that we elect.
It is the duty of our elected SGA representatives to understand the responsibility that is required under the position of president and vice president, and it is unacceptable that they have not upheld this responsibility to the students that elected them.
At the same President’s Council meeting, Casey said, “It is shocking to me that over the years our visitors to the Board have not with more frequency taken that responsibility on.”
It is clear that there is work that needs to be done within the SGA, and there is a larger structural change that needs to occur within the current system. It should not fall into the hands of two students to represent the interests of all students if those students are not capable of handling the responsibility of that task.
It should be possible to envision a campus where students can directly contact the Board of Trustees with their concerns without these issues being funneled through one unreliable channel.
In order to create the changes that we hope to see, we need to be willing to get involved on campus in ways that we do not normally. If we all possess an attitude that discourages us from trying new things outside our comfort zones, we remain trapped in a bubble, isolated from opportunities that can improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
We are supposed to be a college that changes lives, but how can we expect our lives to be changed if all we do is enroll, take four years of classes, and graduate with placement into an internship? That doesn’t sound life changing—that sounds like high school with a higher price tag.
Structural and societal change has to start from the ground up, at the individual level. Students have power, voices, and opportunities to make themselves heard, but we need to step up to ensure that we are effectively using the voices that we pay so much money to amplify.
We aren’t in a city of 5 million or a college town of 500 thousand, where 50 students protesting would not necessarily make a heavy impact. We have an undergraduate student body of around 1800 students. We can make a difference on campus and in our community, even if there are only 50 of us.
If we got even 225 students involved in relevant current issues, for example, protesting the ways our campus damages the environment, or advocating for higher wages for our adjunct faculty, that’s an eighth of our student body fighting for things that truly matter.
Being at such a small school, we are given a truly rare opportunity to take direct action and impact the shape of our campus and our community.
I implore you to ask yourself, “What actions can I take in my time at McDaniel to change my own life and the lives of others around me?”