Some people say the Student Assembly doesn’t do anything, and that may be true. Some people say the SA can’t do anything — and, at first, that sounds pretty reasonable too. What does the SA really do? Spend money on pet projects and arbitrary resolutions, right? Act as a government while essentially doing the work of financial coordinators? No, the SA can’t do anything, and if the response to last Tuesday’s presidential election is any indication, everyone knows it, too.
The only real objections I heard to the campaign of Jessee Vasold ’11 and Caitlin Goldblatt ’11 was in regard to their ambition — they wanted to do important things, and we all know the SA doesn’t do anything, so the story goes.
In hindsight, this objection seems a little misguided. Vasold and Goldblatt mentioned multiple times their intentions to turn the SA into an activist organization. Most of us shrugged “good luck” and promptly stopped caring, but that goal is actually a lot more viable than it seems. The SA may lack tangible administrative agency, but its power isn’t derived from tending to an arbitrary stash of ice-cream social funds — the real power of the SA lies in its ability to be heard. It provides a platform from which to voice student concerns and advocate beneficial policy, a way to make sure our issues and opinions are present in larger conversations with the College of William and Mary and the community.
When Vasold and Goldblatt said they wanted to affect real change in the social and political climate of our school and beyond, they had no naive illusions that they’d be able to snap their fingers and do so. Instead, they showed an understanding that the only way to make student demands heard in the wider public discourse is to voice them again and again. The SA is simply the highest soapbox from which to do so.
When we look past the spectacle of mock-government in which the SA to often engages, its actual purpose becomes clear — it’s the lobbyist muscle of our very own interest group. And, as we all know, special interest lobbyists are the bedrock of American government. The SA has the invaluable position of being able to present our issues to the public eye, at the very least forcing administrative officials and others to consider them in their final deliberations.
When Vasold and Goldblatt proposed active promotion of student rights, mental health awareness and Honor Council oversight, they grasped that the very act of broaching these concerns persistently and vocally could bring student issues to the forefront of public dialogue, therefore exerting pressure on the administration to take these issues into account when making important decisions. The first step toward correcting a wrong is to alert the world of its existence.
Perhaps even more intriguing were Vasold and Goldblatt’s intentions to wield SA influence to advocate for much-needed improvements in workers’ rights at the College, and to foster a supportive environment for LGBT members of our community. With these aims, the candidates took the logical next step: They proposed lending the SA’s prominence and potential swaying power to groups not normally afforded a voice of their own. While campus workers may not have a significant platform from which to express their concerns or protest mistreatment, the SA certainly does. By involving itself in ostensibly nonstudent-related issues, the SA has the ability not only to bring those issues to the attention of the public and the powers that be, but also to widen the group of people with a vested interest in its actions. As the SA’s advocacy extends to more people, the number and diversity of its backers will increase, thus boosting the lobbying pressure implicit in that advocacy. Strength and mutual benefit through solidarity — this is the stuff of real social change.
When well-intentioned students effectively label SA activism a pipe dream, they are admitting defeat before the first battle has even begun. If the SA is to claim any kind of relevancy, it must move away from emphasizing its own machinations and simulations and realize its potential as voice of the voiceless, students and otherwise; or, as the Vasold-Goldblatt platform put it, it must become “less SA-focused and more community-focused.” While activism was less central to Chrissy Scott ’11 and Kaveh Sadeghian ’12’s campaign, the newly elected president and vice president have acknowledged the importance of advocacy for student rights and better treatment of workers employed by the College. Hopefully, they will act strongly in expressing these concerns.
If the SA can achieve anything, it won’t be as a governing body, but rather through the use of its most powerful asset — its voice.
E-mail Nate Hendrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.