Why you should go to a student representative body meeting

Courtesy Image // William and Mary

Peerawut Ruangsawasdi ’26 is president of the Botetourt Complex Community Council. Email Peerawut at pruangsawasdi@wm.edu.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

Every other Sunday night in Fauquier Hall, 40 or so people gather around in a circle in the lounge. Chosen by their fellow residents to represent them in the Community Council executive board as hall representatives, they work conjunctively with those on the pro-executive board and resident assistants. 

Watching from outside, an observer must wonder, what in the world do these people do? Do they just sit around and participate in a sham talking shop meant to be a pastime activity for debate enthusiasts? 

Far from it, I say, if such an observer exists. While I serve as its president, I am most definitely not an eager orator. In fact, most who know me would describe me as quite the reserved type, a quality that resulted in me being told to speak up. Having to consciously speak up every five minutes or so during meetings to ensure that everyone present can hear me has been quite the challenge!

Well, we’ve eliminated the possibility of it being a talking shop. What, then, does the Community Council actually do?

Apart from general upkeep duties, such as maintaining the community agreement or lounge schedules, the Council first and foremost works on behalf of residents. One such avenue lies in the management of community funds, whether it would be through planning initiatives or purchasing items as requested. The Council also works closely with the Head Resident to identify and mitigate any issues that may arise throughout the year, and that may look like communicating with the appropriate College of William and Mary entities, Residence Life or the Residence Hall Association.

But there’s more work to be done. “I’m sorry, but the Community Council doesn’t do anything,” my friend, a fellow Botetourt resident, said the other day. “That is remarkably false!” would have been my response, although I was too stunned, shocked and internally saddened to say so at the time.

If so, how come are people unaware of the works of the Council?

Transparency and engagement. 

As president, I’ve regularly sent out newsletters to update the Complex on what the Council has been up to, aptly named “The Botetourt Council connection.” I’ve even uploaded them to a Substack dedicated to housing all Council communications. I engage with people on the Gooch Hall and Botetourt GroupMe’s, addressing their concerns and providing avenues for them to directly communicate with me. I’ve even created new personal Instagram and Twitter accounts just to relay information solely relating to Community Council. 

And if those aren’t enough, I offer additional opportunities for residents to schedule a meeting with me to relay any concerns that they may have through Calendly, the link of which is included on The Botetourt Council Connection.

However, I have come to realize that these efforts do not go far enough in bridging the gap between student government bodies and the student themselves — members of such representative bodies must be proactive in reaching out to students, not solely relying on residents to come to us. After all, we’re all students, and getting caught in the nonstop current of academic rigor at the College is totally fair and relatable. 

As president of a Complex of five halls, this has proven to be a bit difficult. Any and all efforts through connecting with people outside of Gooch Hall, where I’m from, have to rely on support and efforts from residents of each of the other four halls. I confess that I have only gone into two of the Botetourt Halls (shocker). I promise that I will arrange initiatives for me to better connect with the other three halls and see if they need anything from the Council. We’re all part of the same Complex — if one hall has a problem, it is beholden upon all of us, particularly those with positions on the Council, to come to their aid. 

Yes, there may be some issues that are outside the reach of the Council. But that doesn’t mean the Council can’t advocate on behalf of residents to try and solve those issues with those who can. As the main representative body of the residents, it is the Council’s duty and imperative to do so.

But communication, trust and cooperation go both ways. As we are trying to be more proactive in reaching out to residents, residents should also be able to feel comfortable enough to approach us with any issues that they may have. Or even if you don’t have any input currently — come and observe our meetings. We’ve had one person this year who came to three consecutive meetings and was granted voting rights. Attending our meetings can only serve all of our interests — residents can be more informed about the affairs of their home, while also gaining communicative experience. These are fulfilling functions for students to carry. I know they are for me.

Students shouldn’t restrict their participation to just Community Council, however. Since the fourth of October, I have attended every Student Assembly Senate meeting. Seeing student democracy in action has been an entertaining but also interesting experience. That is how students can be best informed about the works of student representative bodies. 

Of course, I realized that not everyone can attend these meetings. That is the case for me for RHA — I’ve yet to have gone to an RHA meeting due to a class conflict. But that doesn’t mean I just give up on being uninformed — I always ask for updates from the Botetourt Complex RHA representative, whom I have to applaud, as they have been more than magnificent in relaying information from RHA to the Council.

As an interested stakeholder,  I appreciate and commend outreach efforts from community councils, RHA and the SA, but I would suggest that there are actions that can still be taken. 

According to the SA Constitution, all bodies of the SA must keep regular journals and records which shall be open and publicly available to students. We’re almost halfway through the year, and students still lack access to the SA Senate meeting minutes through the website. I have been told that it is currently being worked on. I certainly hope that is the case. Providing summaries and meeting minutes is one way that we can increase student interest in the SA, or “burst the bubble” that SA has often been described to be in, demonstrated by the occasional low election turnout numbers.

 Greater cooperation between those bodies also needs to be emphasized. Fundamentally, we all serve one group — the students. I am working closely with a few members of both organizations to organize an initiative to explain the roles of each of our organizations and how we can better serve everyone in the College community.

For others who may not currently be as interested as I am, I would strongly urge you to attend at least one meeting of each of those bodies, and perhaps more. At least just to get a sense and a feel of what those bodies are for, and why we fund them with our tuition fees. After all, if you come here, you belong here. If you belong here, and have funded those bodies with your or your family’s money, you ought to have an invested interest to ensure that those bodies are working to really improve your lives here. And perhaps you can even provide a suggestion or two and maybe even make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth!


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