It came down to a single vote.
College Council (CC) could have decided to open a new avenue for participation in campus politics, but instead, during its last meeting before winter break, it denied recognition to Williams Students for Reform in a tie settled by the co-presidents. This is an outcome that disappoints me, for it was a vote to exclude a group of concerned students from campus politics, and a vote that says that anyone who wishes to participate must and can only work through the Council’s own system.
As one of the group’s organizers, I understand Williams Reform’s goals, but much of the campus, apparently including many members of CC, does not. The representatives who voted against group recognition, I think, misinterpreted our intentions, or did not recognize that there is a place for our organization in campus discussion or wanted the group to issue an explicit mission statement. The misconceptions sadden me.
In my view, the Reform Group has a straightforward purpose: to discuss, initiate and advocate improvements to student governance at Williams. We define our mission broadly because we believe that our group’s usefulness and interests extend beyond any one issue or organization.
Reform’s members take an outsider’s view of campus politics. Williams affairs need the insight of independent minds. A group like CC can only change itself in some ways and will remain blind to other important problems through lack offers another way of becoming involved in student governance, outside the usual system of elected representatives, allowing those who cannot participate through CC to take part in campus affairs. Ours is an open grassroots organization.
Many of our members feel that CC has not adequately addressed their concerns; our group serves as a megaphone, amplifying these marginalized voices. It is important that Williams Reform operate as a student organization, for, while we could speak out as individuals, our opinions become more forceful when we act as part of a group. The interaction and cooperation possible in a group let us refine our beliefs, and bring our attention – and the campus’ – to new issues which we would never have seen on our own. But Reform, a broadminded group, remains open to a variety of opinions.
For now, we choose to focus on CC, since a series of missteps this fall, many of which have been discussed in these pages, point to weaknesses in its practices and bylaws. Because CC tries to speak for the student body, and because it controls organization funding, its behavior affects everyone on campus. It does a difficult job, often very well, but it can always improve, and sometimes it needs outside help in order to change.
Williams Reform offers that help through a growing number of activities; some as public as writing Record articles, or some as personal as chatting with people we know about campus politics. Others as conventional as speaking at CC meetings or talking with Council members, or as novel and independent as producing “The Alternative Minutes.” We seek to increase student involvement and interest in their own governance – and we think that we have done this, with our successful push for bylaw reform, our increasing membership and all of the discussions that we have sparked.
Reform is not an alternative student government plotting a coup. We want to work with existing structures and help to craft an even better system. Nor is Reform a ploy for vengeance by members of organizations trampled by CC, for our concerns range beyond our personal interests. But I can promise that we will not shy away from controversy: as part of an advocacy group, Reform’s members, with diverse but strongly held beliefs, must speak out.
I hope that when Reform returns to CC and requests recognition again, the Council, better understanding our purpose, will see everything that our group can contribute to campus discussion and student governance. This time, let the vote be one for openness and freedom in campus politics.