In the aftermath of two sexual assaults, winter term 2010 became a flurry of finger pointing, accusations and anger. Even the administration was reeling from student backlash, unsure as to how to disseminate the information students wanted to know.
Junior Angie Ostaszewski and Trevor Sorenson, ’10, decided that, given the air of uncertainty, student action was needed.
“The student body, by and large, had no idea what the school’s procedures were with regard to sexual assault, and once the issue came up, nobody really knew how to deal with it,” Sorenson said.
Ostaszewski and Sorenson were responsible for organizing two open forums on sexual assault at Knox. During the forums, college staff fielded questions concerning the administration’s response to the sexual assaults and how to raise sexual assault awareness.
“I feel like the student body has a responsibility to open a dialogue with the administration when there’s an issue of concern,” Sorenson said.
Senior Sarah Juist agreed this is not a responsibility that students always assume.
“Knox has become a rather apathetic place,” she said. “It’s sad to see.”
Still, student initiative at Knox has not disappeared entirely. Both through established channels and on their own, students continue to find ways to make their voices heard.
Like Ostaszewski and Sorenson, senior Max Galloway-Carson saw a problem and felt the need for student action. For Galloway-Carson, the issue was Knox’s limited counseling staff. Currently, Knox has one full-time and two part-time counselors, which has proven inadequate as the number of students seeking counseling has risen.
Galloway-Carson, who served on the Admission, Retention and Placement Committee (ARP) last year, recalled when Director of Counseling Services Dan Larson came to ARP.
“He was basically pleading for more staff,” Galloway-Carson said. “So I made a resolution in [Student] Senate recommending that we hire more counselors.”
Although the resolution passed unanimously, time went on and a new counselor was still not hired. When Senate discovered $100,000 in the student activity fund and formed the Special Meeting on the Use of the Restricted Fund (SMURF), Galloway-Carson saw another opportunity to push for an additional counseling position.
However, this time around, Galloway-Carson found that while students were receptive to the idea, Senate was not.
“They said it couldn’t work, that they’d done the math and it didn’t make sense,” he said. “The fact that they were telling students ‘no’ didn’t make sense to me. If students want something, that’s how student money should be spent.”
Senior Courtney Tichler seconded Galloway-Carson’s feelings, saying that hiring a new counselor would be a good use of Knox’s money.
“It’s so easy to forget that real life happens in conjunction with academic life,” she said. “Ensuring that the mental health of students is cared for…is of the utmost importance.”
“It would be a good use of funds because it would give Knox students another resource,” sophomore Glyniss Boney said.
Frustrated by the lack of response from SMURF, Galloway-Carson decided to start a petition requesting that the SMURF money be put towards creating a new counselor position. The response was large enough to merit putting the idea of a new counselor on a survey asking students how they would like to see the SMURF money used.
“I got a response better than I was expecting,” Galloway-Carson said. “It planted seeds in people’s minds. Most people silently want [another counselor]. The petition brought that out.”
Senior and SMURF committee member Chris Bugajski maintains that Senate did not ignore students’ desire for another counseling position.
“We felt it important enough to include it in the survey,” he said. “The results will be shown to the administration and a discussion regarding the hire of another counselor will be pursued at Senate. Steps are being taken to achieve as much for all students as possible.”
“Senate should be, if not the first, then one of the first bodies [people] talk to when they want to get something done,” senior and Senate Vice President David Barton said.
Galloway-Carson disagrees with the implication that he went around Senate with his petition. “I did go through Senate initially and didn’t get what I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t do anything that’s not in anyone’s right to do.”
That Galloway-Carson’s petition garnered criticism is not atypical of student initiatives. Junior Kelly Grant expressed disapproval of the way last year’s sexual assault forums were run.
“They made sexual assault to be a trendy topic that garnered a lot of half-sincere support, which I found offensive and patronizing to victims,” she said.
More concerning to Erin Souza, ’10, was what the forums revealed about students’ lack of information.
“I remember a lot of students requested that more information be made available or more programs be implemented, and they already were,” she said, referencing how students requested that a Grievance Panel website be created when one already existed.
Souza suggested that in this respect, the forums were a useful venue for rectifying the disconnect that sometimes exists between students and the administration.
In Galloway-Carson’s case, controversy arose not because of his ideas but because of his methods. Still, he maintains that his petition was the best way to achieve his objective.
“The situation is sort of dire, and I felt like it could not have been done any other way,” he said. “My way was more effective than going through Senate, because Senate is not effective when it comes to institutional change.”
Galloway-Carson is hardly the only one who feels that Student Senate can be ineffectual. Sophomore Mackenzie Steward-Snook echoed his sentiments.
“I haven’t really seen Senate in action,” she said. “I never see how they represent anyone, or better put, what…they actually do.”
Student Senate, according to Barton, does a lot.
“We have a lot of say in how the college is run,” he said. “A recommendation from Student Senate definitely carries weight with the administration.”
As the primary governing body of the student population, Student Senate appoints representatives to serve on all faculty-standing committees, from the Student Life Committee to the Curriculum Committee. Within Senate itself, committees such as Sustainability and Residential Quality of Life push for green projects on campus and reform the housing lottery system. Of the greatest interest to many students is the Finance Committee, which allots money for club budgets and handles additional funds requests.
In response to Galloway-Carson’s comment about institutional change, Barton explained that it is difficult for Senate to issue mandates.
“Can we ban Coke? No, that’s not our job. But we can research the issue, debate it, gather student opinion and present our findings to Dining Services,” he said. “They would be a fool not to listen to the student voice.”
Despite the ability of Senate to push issues, the Round Room of the Ford Center for Fine Arts is hardly brimming with students on Thursday nights. It is rare, Barton says, for students who are non-Senators to come to Senate meetings, though all meetings are open to anyone who wishes to attend.
“This is partly Senate’s fault for not advertising,” he said. “It’s also students’ fault for being apathetic and not self-motivated enough to find out about Senate.”
Student apathy seems to have spread to the Senate election process as well. Barton had to hold special elections at the end of fall term because six Senate seats remained empty after elections at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
Juist, who is a former Senator, believes this is because of a lack of understanding about how much power Senate actually wields.
“For example, they vote every year to recommend how much the student activity fee will be for the next academic year, so they actually influence part of your tuition bill,” she said.
In the spring, Senate will hold elections for the 2011-2012 Executive Board. Barton hopes that through aggressive advertising, he can get more students interested in Senate’s affairs.
“We really do need more student engagement to tell us how we’re doing,” he said.
In the meantime, Barton encouraged students to continue to bring their concerns forward.
“Power really comes from the student voice,” he said.