The College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly has failed to commit to transparency.
Many students don’t know what SA does. They’ve told me as much, but it’s not just a personal experience. Former SA President Brendan Boylan ’19 noted that “I have been asked many times: What is Student Assembly?” In a class-wide email, Class of 2022 President Suhas Suddala ’22 noted that in a survey “many of you mentioned that you have no idea what we work on in Student Assembly and expressed an interest in learning more about it.”
Not everybody is going to care about SA. I think we all know that. But enough students took the time out of their day to respond to that survey and put that they wanted to know more. Should we blame the students for not being informed enough, or should we blame SA for not transparent enough? I argue the latter.
I decided to look at some emails and the “Student Assembly” page on the College’s website to see if my argument was sound. Since I can’t go to SA meetings, it seemed like the best place to start.
I looked at SA President Kelsey Vita’s November emails. One reminded me that it was Election Day, which they figured I had forgotten about despite obscene amounts of paper on campus telling me to “VOTE.”
The other one was the November newsletter; it had a statement condemning racist flyers, an ad for three events, a “Meet the Cabinet” bit and a kitten video. Besides “Meet the Cabinet” and the statement, there’s not much to glean from this email.
I then looked at the emails from Suddala. The entire fall 2018 semester had three emails, spring 2019 had nine, but for fall 2019 there have been only three. We have only three weeks of classes left, including Thanksgiving. That’s not good.
I looked at the fall 2019 emails more in-depth. The first was decent; it had a survey, some info about food and mental wellness, a hilarious, poorly-aged hurricane comment, a Coke ad and a mention of office hours for 2022 senators, but no mention of where to meet them.
The second email contained advertisements for homecoming shirts, a dog video, a mention of free sexually transmitted infection testing, and, best of all, a spotlight on SA working with the Counseling Center. That was included because people wanted transparency in the survey. Suddala wisely promises to have a spotlight for every email … but the next email didn’t have a spotlight. Instead, it has an advertisement for Impact Week, a financial literacy workshop, s’mores event and a TikTok video.
Now moving onto the website. It looks like someone gave up making the Senate page. The class of 2023 tab has “Elections coming soon!” Elections were in September. Former Sen. Liam Watson ’20 has resigned from office, but he’s still on the website. Several senators lack profile pictures, and, most importantly, contact information. It’s not just the Senate page; the Executive Board only has the emails of the President, Vice President and Chief of Staff. Tellingly, the Review Board, which I had never heard of, has no contact information. How do you expect us to contact our SA representatives if you can’t even provide an email? Democracies don’t work like this.
The website isn’t totally useless. There is a page called “This Week With Student Assembly.” It was the most helpful list of SA’s recent actions, but its lack of an archive limits its usefulness. I can’t find what SA did last week.
I go to the “Meetings & Minutes” and click on “Annual Student Activities Fee Allocation (Budgets)” link, and I am whisked away to a “cascade.wm.edu” login page. Surely my login will let me, a student at the College, see the budget for student activities budget? Nope. It is hidden away from the common man.
There are two budgets for previous years. One is extensive, but it is from 2015-2016, when last year’s seniors were freshmen. The 2016-2017 budget is a confusing single page.
There is a link “2019 Senate and Committee Meeting Minutes.” It loads up to Google Drive, displaying three subfolders: Senate, Passed Bills and Committees. The link says 2019, which means someone changed it, but the Drive hasn’t been updated in years. The last activity was May 1, 2017. I can’t tell if it’s extreme incompetence or laziness, but it’s embarrassing.
Being in SA is an honor and a nice resume-booster, but this is the best they can do? Frankly, this is unacceptable for an institution that claims to represent students, for an institution that claims to represent the College. I expect better, and you should too. I am disappointed.
I have no idea where to find their passed bills, agendas or budgets. The contact info for people who should know this is sometimes hidden, and their website is outdated. SA might be amazing, or grossly incompetent. I really can’t tell.
I urge SA to take steps to be more transparent. Not everyone can go to the meetings, but the current structure makes it the only way to be “in the know.” That shouldn’t be the case. Instead of putting mildly amusing videos in emails, send us a list of bills. Send us the budget. Send us meetings minutes. Advertise more in the Student Happenings. Update your website. Talk to us. Let us talk to you.
I know people in student government. They’re my friends, my classmates. I don’t want to make other people feel bad, especially people I care about. But it needs to be said: get your act together; it’s for the best of the College.
And I know, as students at the College, they’re capable of it.
So, what’s stopping them?
Email Rory Fedorochko at