Taking the gloves off

Tuesday, at the Student Life Committee, the gloves came off.

A number of us went to the meeting. We knew, as has been reported in TKS, that SLC had voted itself into permanent executive session for the remainder of the school year, in response to criticism about, among other things, their tendency to go into executive session. But we felt it was important to demonstrate what SLC often forgets: their committee has direct bearing over all nonacademic issues of student life, so students should know and care about their actions, and we do not appreciate having our voices silenced for the sake of their convenience.

We were not violent, we had no plans to cause a scene or disrupt the functioning of the committee – we never have. We just sat, as always, at the other end of the table, ready to listen. But the moment Dean of Students Xavier Romano entered the room, he told us all to get out. Most did, but I chose to stay. “I’m here for the meeting,” I said. Xavier did not take this well. He gave me one more chance to leave before he called Campus Safety. I declined the opportunity.

Xavier reached for his Blackberry, wondering aloud how this incident would look on my law school record.

As we waited, I spoke briefly with Professor Tannert-Smith, who, while she did not publicly echo Xavier’s assertion that I was an “idiot,” tried to explain that we who had quietly and politely attended the meetings had failed to be available for a dialogue on the executive session policies. She contended that every single executive session SLC has gone into was necessary to deal with certain agenda issues; the blind rage at being thrown into the public spotlight from their comfortable behind-the-scenes anonymity had nothing to do with it (even though the permanent executive session decision had been made last week, even before the agenda for this meeting had been set or distributed to the faculty members). SLC members asserted that it was not illegal for the committee to go into executive session whenever they liked, and so they wished to use this extraordinary power as much as they could. Somebody asked about Jenn Snider from Campus Life, who is not on SLC but was also in attendance. Xavier assured the committee that she was “one of us.” The irony of banning students from attending the Student Life Committee was apparently lost on them.

After calling Campus Safety, Xavier dialed what I assume was President Taylor’s office. When word came back that Roger wasn’t there, he yelled down the phone: Find Him, Now. President Taylor, as head of discipline, has the power to remove me from campus for even such a trifling matter as this; my simple and polite presence had enraged the ostensibly good-natured Dean of Students so much that my head was to be had. I was told that a grievance was to be filed against me, although nobody seemed to know for sure what judicial body would hear grievances concerning meeting attendance. Not wanting to be forcibly removed from campus and forced to delay graduation and risk my law school seat pending a show trial, I finally left, and the meeting, I assume, went on much as it would have had we been allowed to attend.

The episode lasted less than ten minutes, but it illustrates to me the lengths to which the Student Life Committee and others in the administration are willing to go to limit the participation in campus governance of students who do not slavishly obey their wishes. It lays bare the hypocrisies of Knox College, where we tout our freedom to flourish and trumpet the involvement of students on faculty committees, but where students who have interests outside the establishment or who are willing to stand up for what they believe in have scorn shoveled upon them. Those who run this college think little of squandering the raw talent of students out of laziness or spite. It is hard for students who take initiative and advocate for change on this campus when it seems we are being punished for our involvement and our good faith efforts to improve our alma mater.

The Student Life Committee is at the forefront of the corruption of college government: they have fetishized secrecy and systematically ignored, shut down, or threatened with reprisal all student voices on campus save the four on the committee – they see the free discourse and exchange of ideas that one should expect at any good school as subversive and highly suspect. Our college has become a place where attending a faculty committee meeting can put one at risk of expulsion. Real change, it seems, will only come when those good people left in the administration and faculty (and there are many) refuse to be complicit in the corruption that pervades this school. I cannot continue the battle as a student for much longer – but I hope that those who will be here in future years will take notice of the abuses carried out in the college’s name and will hold accountable those who choose to commit them.

Brian Camozzi

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