Relegitimizing Student Assembly

by Evan Meyerson | 4/7/08 1:24am

Over the past three years, Student Assembly has continued on an embarrassing march towards irrelevancy. Student opinion of SA ranges from apathy to mockery, and the alleged ineffectiveness of our student government has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is no doubt that SA is immensely restricted in its capabilities. This writer is in full agreement with The Dartmouth Editorial Board's call for "realistic ambitions" ("Realistic Ambitions for SA," Apr. 4). When asked to name SA's most significant accomplishments over the past three years, a source extensively involved in the Assembly, who wished to remain anonymous because of continued involvment, pointed to providing buses to New York City for breaks, passing the upkeep of Blitz terminals over to the College and posting book lists and class syllabi on the SA web site. Then he ran out of ideas. "The truth is, tangible changes are always lacking in SA," the source said.

Student Assembly is not going to single-handedly bring another sorority to campus by passing a meager resolution. The Assembly will not force the College to hire more government professors by simply telling it to do so. SA wields trivial power in a literal sense, yet now more than ever our student government desperately needs to become more than just a model UN.

Even while recognizing the "tangible" limitations of the Assembly, there is one paramount opportunity which The Dartmouth's Editorial Board missed in its assessment of SA. Student Assembly and its leadership must once and for all recognize that its greatest potential would be harnessed in becoming a wide-reaching and vigorous student advocacy organization, nothing more, nothing less.

This capacity for activism begins and ends at the top. The president of SA must become the representative voice of the student body. The axiom "speak softly and carry a big stick" should not apply to the SA president -- she or he must not be afraid to speak loudly! The president must take positions on every important issue currently affecting Dartmouth students, understand the multifaceted social and political climate a student leader must navigate and become the ultimate student advocate.

Two principal objectives should guide the SA president and the Assembly itself: mobilization and partnership, the latter stemming from the former. The president must dedicate her or his year in office to unrelenting involvement in the causes and interests of every major student group and constituency at Dartmouth. This could mean regularly attending (and inviting oneself to) the meetings of groups like IFC, NAD, GSX etc. This could mean taking a vocal and visible lead on the issue of gender social space equality by personally spearheading a campus-wide "Dartmouth Day" designed to demonstrate unity among Greek organizations and unaffiliated students alike in their desire for more equitable social opportunities for all. While the above examples merely represent possible courses of action for a president, the point is that the only hope for relegitimization of SA is if its leader genuinely seeks to become a public figure and mobilizer in the Dartmouth community.

Partnership derives from successful mobilization. SA must more aggressively collaborate with Dartmouth's most significant student organizations by allowing itself to become a forum for constant communication with and among the larger campus groups (we're talking about more than just "SA office hours"). SA's student advocacy function could even be advanced by granting Assembly voting rights to leaders of campus organizations who meet certain numerical qualifications regarding their membership (i.e. any group with more than X members can have a vote in SA). Perhaps as a definitive step towards cohesion, the SA president could work to merge the plethora of student governments that exist on our campus.

There is no reason that a school of 4,000 students should have a Student Assembly, Class Council, Programming Board, Collis Governing Board, COSO, etc., all with separate budgets, separate leadership and yet largely overlapping agendas. Admittedly, however, bypassing the egos of the "leaders" of our many student governments in order to construct a single student governing body with one budget, one agenda and one set of leaders may present an unfeasible task, even if everyone involved knows that such an umbrella organization is the only answer for ineffectiveness.

Student Assembly president is the only position for which we have a school-wide election, yet no single president of the past three years has represented more than a fraction of our campus. Travis Green has been utterly invisible to the vast majority of campus during a time when Dartmouth is begging for a real student leader. I'd even go as far as to say that most Dartmouth students couldn't even name the current president of SA. Tim Andreadis was unashamedly anti-Greek and established a reputation throughout his tenure as the most divisive character on our campus. He was elected with a sweeping mandate by gloriously unifying the campus behind the ideal of "respect for all," yet quickly learned that it is difficult to be the voice of the student body when you vehemently disrespect an institution in which more than two-thirds of eligible students participate. And Noah Riner, in his very first moment as president, made it clear that he would only answer to a single constituency -- Jesus.

These are not the "leaders" that our school requires. We need a leader who seeks to actively unite, not divide. We need a president who speaks vociferously with the voice of the student body rather than hide within the obscure cocoon of Carson L01.

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