This year’s College Council presidential elections are marked by the welcome return of a concept that has been missing from the Williams political forum for far too long: actual competition. Sunday night’s debate in Goodrich was very encouraging for several reasons, not the least of which was quantitative. Four tickets showed up to support their candidacies. There was no clear frontrunner. Even more heartening perhaps was the large audience in attendance ready to listen and participate. Assuming that this is more than a mere aberration – and we certainly hope it is – it is cause for definite optimism about a process which has become both less responsive and less representative in recent years.
That said, the election process is still flawed by some of the campaign rhetoric stemming from it. This rhetoric has at times misinterpreted what exactly the CC presidency should and can entail. At several points over the course of the debate, various candidates staked their claims to full-scale representation of the student body, asserting that they were entitled, because of experience or background, to speak to the concerns of the “gamut” of “average” students.
With all due respect, this claim is illusory at best, patronizing at worst. Two people cannot rightfully represent the entire student body. This is an impossible task. There is no average Williams student, nor is the student body a linear spectrum that can be serviced by two poles. Until CC candidates acknowledge that their job is not to adhere to an insular, hermetic concept of objective diversity, but instead to embrace a non-judgmental, non-prioritizing community spirit, CC will be tainted by an air of institutionalized arrogance.
The job of CC should be, simply enough, to listen to student opinions and, whenever feasible, help to activate them. We hope the new CC presidents listen to the following ideas and criticisms:
Lacking from CC these days is a genuine sense of accountability. The various controversies concerning CC’s funding of campus magazines and its recognition of political action organizations were unfortunate results of this weakness: they occurred because CC had never rigidly examined its own bylaws. This is problematic for obvious reasons; fortunately, proposals by secretary candidates Erin Troy ’01 and Joe Masters ’02 could help to reverse the trend.
These proposals include posting the CC minutes online in order to increase awareness about what CC does at its meetings, which are almost never attended by students at large. Even more importantly, formalized lists of individual voting records would offer students a vital chance to look critically at what exactly their representatives stand for. Facilitating this kind of informed friction between the student government and the student body would be healthy and productive in combating bureaucracy and insularity.
Part and parcel with accountability is action. Large attendance at the two CC debates and the strong student reaction to the Amadou Diallo verdict are just two recent examples of a Williams student body that is ready for a more participatory, active community. VISTA, the BSU and MinCo organized an impressive series of responses to the Diallo verdict in one night. By contrast, the Council has no such mechanism for quickly addressing such pressing concerns. The newly elected presidents should seek to streamline a body that is currently bogged down somewhat by a process that overvalues committees, subcommittees and other arcana.
This is an important goal because CC’s bureaucratic structure keeps it from being the affective body it could be. CC in its current form is viewed, with considerable justification, mostly as a funding body. However, it could play a much more active role on campus, and it will be an important task of the new CC presidents to return a sense of agency to the Council by limiting bureaucracy. Discourse and committees undeniably have the their places on campus, but it is action that will once again make CC more relevant to more members of the student body.
Serving as the democratic expression of the student body, the next CC co-Presidents must also ensure that Williams is an open community for all of its students. This especially includes, and is not limited to, traditionally margninalized racial and sexual orientation minorities. All members of the College community must feel comfortable and welcome in all spaces at Williams. Although ensuring this is not necessarily a responsibility of the co-Presidents, they can do much to advocate it.
Whether or not CC has any place in participating in or sanctioning events such as Diallo protests is of course greatly debatable. But we hope that, whatever their opinions on the matter, the new CC presidents are willing to openly discuss issues of political and social involvement on the campus and in the community. It is important for the CC co-Presidents to realize that they can neither please nor represent everyone. However, they can earnestly and honestly work for the campus by listening to individual voices. The new presidents must not stop at being conduits for discourse, but must be agents for change. As such, they must seek to more clearly define the Council’s role as a voice for students with respect to the administration, the faculty and, most importantly, their peers.