From passion to action: Implementing practical problem solving techniques on campus

March 9, 2016 by Josemaria Silvestrini

When I arrived this past fall, the one aspect of the College I wasn’t prepared for was the controversies centered on issues like equality, financial aid, free speech and representation that have occurred during my time here. I recognize that a strong, impassioned display of emotion can be helpful in getting the conversation started, but I’ve been hearing the same comments made over and over again, each time laced with an even greater sense of frustration. I don’t intend to say that groups focused on these issues are inherently ineffective, but while it is true that more can always be done by the administration and faculty, I feel that some of the frustration and stagnation felt is due to the lack of action from us, the students.

Passion for a cause is absolutely essential to its success, but passion alone does not solve problems. Solving problems requires a plan that can be put into action, a cohesive team and a clear vision. Oftentimes I feel that we unnecessarily portray people as our enemies, rather than our allies, whether they be a trustee, President Falk, Provost Dudley or someone else in the administration. Everyone in the community intimately cares about improving the quality of this institution. Though it may not necessarily be the best route for every group and every issue, it is important to remember that there are those in College Council (CC) and the administration who are approachable and want to engage with students on these issues. Speaking as the CC green liaison, I know that CC would love to work with students on solving of these problems. I feel that thinkFOOD’s efforts to reduce beef consumption is a prime example of the engagement and planning that I’ve described. From this initiative, I feel that we can glean lessons that can be applied to other issues on campus.

First, there was a clear vision behind  its effort. A specific request like a 50 percent beef reduction is highly action-oriented, which makes it very easy for administrators to execute and analyze. Second, the entire campaign operated on a timetable that took into account the need for progress to be made. Rather than organize an endless series of internal meetings, thinkFOOD accelerated progress by informing the public and hosting a large forum intended to air grievances on the topic. Lastly, instead of excluding the administration and CC from the discussion, thinkFOOD engaged with dining services and approached CC to get its support and knowledge. Though more has obviously been done in efforts to reduce beef consumption on campus, these are examples of effective strategies that can be applied to many other causes that I’d like to see addressed on campus. That said, there is one more lesson from the beef reduction campaign that I think we should all internalize.

Namely, it is the idea that we, as students, should be focusing more on the long-term changes we’d like to see at the College. I feel that we often forget that students have a de facto obligation to head the charge on the difficult issues of our day. What was most inspirational about the beef reduction initiative to me is that it forced us to consider what we want to stand for as an institution. In an article published in the Alternative, Max Harmon ’18 described our need as a school to take a stand on environmental and social issues, to set an example for other institutions to follow. Though it may be only a small step forward, taking a stand on industrial agriculture should excite us all to think about other ways in which the College can serve as an example and ideological leader for other institutions.

We are the youngest generation of leaders in the College’s global community. We have an obligation to insure that the generations after us arrive at the College in an even better position to be leaders in the world than we did. Though the issues I initially discussed are significant and should be a strong focus for a lot of activism on campus, it is also important at times to think beyond those issues. We must figure out the direction of this ship we are all on together and decide whether we want it to sail around in circles or chart a whole new course. When it comes to strategic programs like those focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation, we are behind our peer institutions. Both entrepreneurship and innovation are topics that I feel passionately about and that I believe we desperately need more of on this campus, which is why I will personally continue to push for more resources devoted to these ventures. However, these two initiatives are only a part of the broader trends and issues on which I firmly believe the College needs to lead the charge. What Harmon has done with thinkFOOD has begun the important work of putting the College in a leadership position on a significant issue like sustainability. What we need now, however, is more students to take a stand on the issues that they feel passionate about and to start those necessary discussions here at the College. I, for one, am looking forward to hearing those conversations.

Josemaria Silvestrini ’19 lives in Williams Hall. He is from Palm Beach, Fla.

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