CC considers its own future following fall elections results

Davey Morse

As College Council (CC) leadership re-evaluates the organization’s future role following a series of controversies and sharp drop in popularity last spring, both CC and the honor and discipline committee announced their newly elected candidates for this year on Monday. Though the executive board will look toward new members and the student body to determine its direction in the upcoming months, low numbers of candidates, dwindling voter turnout, and underrepresentation of many identities pose serious concerns in the eyes of many CC executive board members.

The Record reported in a May 8 survey that CC had a seven percent approval rate and a 59 percent disapproval rate, marking the lowest approval rating and highest disapproval rating of any surveyed institution on campus. CC Co-President Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí ’20 recalled several controversial incidents from the past year that may have contributed to this unpopularity, including the funding request for Black Previews, the Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI)’s application for registered student organization (RSO) status, a $225,000 accounting oversight and controversy surrounding the near-impeachment of 2018-2019 CC Treasurer Spencer Carrillo ’20. With regard to CC’s unpopularity, Vice President of Student Organizations Will Howie ’20 reflected, “I think everyone on the executive board sees that whatever we’re doing right now obviously has some pretty major issues.”

Given the consensus amongst executive board members that CC faces fundamental issues, they are working to identify central areas of concern. For one, several board members point to low election turnout. Per the election data released by CC, only 26 percent of the student body voted in the recent class representative and honor and discipline committee election. Many executive board members additionally see a lack of candidates as a major concern. CC Parliamentarian Lance Ledet ’21 commented, “Not enough people run to keep elections competitive.” Cabrera-Lomelí suggested that the disproportionate representation of certain gender, sexual and racial identities, is linked to low turnout: “Only one board member identifies as female — none as females of color … The board’s makeup does not reflect the student body.”

The past week’s CC election affirmed many of the concerns expressed by the board.. Three fewer students ran to be CC class representatives than for the Honor and Discipline Committee, despite the fact that there are twice as many class representatives as Honor and Discipline Committee student members. Furthermore, sophomores and seniors had fewer candidates for class representative than there were positions to fill. As a result, two sophomore and two senior class representatives-elect never submitted self-nominations, but instead were written in as candidates. Reid Kurashige ’22, a sophomore write-in-elect, responded, “Lmao… I’ll do it.” 

Lev Gordon ’20, a senior write-in candidate, commented, “I must… seriously consider taking the position. I refuse to let my three voters down.” As a partial explanation for the low candidate turnout, Cabrera-Lomelí observed, “People often just run for one semester, in the case of Class Rep, or just one year, in the case of VP, because it’s a frustrating space … Again and again, the bylaws, the constitution, the bureaucracy come up.”

Many executive board members also see bureaucracy as a hindrance to student engagement with CC. According to Cabrera-Lomelí, “CC’s constitution and bylaws were created about ten years ago, when CC had a different set of priorities.” Yet student governments all across the country, Cabrea-Lomelí noted, are going through a transitional period. “New students… want support and a different way to express, manifest, and organize themselves,” he said. CC’s unnecessary bureaucracy, in Cabrera-Lomeli’s view, helps explain how the space appeared unwelcoming for Black Previews organizers and other student groups last semester. “Black Previews was a really cool event, but the organizers had to jump through a bunch of hoops that in the end screwed them over,” he said. VP of Community and Diversity Kai Soto-Dessen ’22 further pointed out that students who come into CC meetings often don’t feel comfortable. “All throughout my year, students who were coming in to represent their clubs and not a part of CC have felt excluded and like outsiders,” he said. “You can notice how uncomfortable they were.”

CC’s primary method to combat seeming inaccessibility and lack of student engagement is to solicit student feedback in the coming weeks. The Executive Board will hold a town hall on October 12, for instance, in the Paresky Center. Cabrera-Lomelí described its intention: “We want to have this space where people can yell at us, where they can throw things at us—ideas, anger, anything. We will put in the labor of writing it down, synthesizing it, and pushing the conversation forward.” Some Board members recognize the possibility that many students want to abolish CC. Cabrera-Lomelí remarked, “If the Student Body is done with CC and they want a separate mission of students to decide what to do, going forward, that’s okay.”

CC members and College administrators have already taken some measures to reduce the complexity of the bylaws and constitution, streamlining the RSO approval and grant-request processes. “We cut down the bylaws from over 20 pages to 11. And now, you only need to know one or two if you’re an RSO asking for funding,” Ledet said. Concerning RSO approval, Howie explained that after CC initially rejected WIFI’s RSO request, the administration replaced the existing infrastructure with a new committee, comprising Howie and three administrators, one of whom is involved in the College’s legal team. “The College negotiated with the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights, who told them that at most other institutions, it’s really administrators, with student input, who approve student organizations,” Cabrera-Lomelí said. “So what we were doing was out of sync and a potential form of liability for the school.” Since the committee revision, Howie reported, “we have approved three groups and rejected none.” 

The executive board is also considering whether the administration should take on more of CC’s current responsibilities. Lomelí pointed out, “CC Treasurer is basically a 30-hour job. There could be three treasurers, all as full-time staff members. The administration is starting to recognize that it has a role and responsibility in this process.” The administration has generally expressed support for revising CC to best meet student needs. “This fall, I’ve met with the current presidents to discuss their efforts to think through different organizational structures for the Council,” President Maud S. Mandel commented. “I’m supportive of these efforts, as I think it’s very important for a functioning college governance structure to have a student presence that represents the breadth of the student body and that can articulate and raise up student concerns.”

The CC presidents also believe that some of its recent controversies might have been avoided if the College’s student government were divided into a student life and a finance body. Co-President Ellie Sherman ’20 and Lomelí have drafted and shared with the executive board a tentative proposal to that effect.

Even with these changes and plans, executive board members see that there is much to be done. “All of us in Exec are constantly disagreeing about what CC’s role should be,” Soto-Dessen remarked “What we do agree on is that because of how controversial last semester was, because we were all a part of the issue, we want the student body to… dictate how CC should function.” For Cabrera-Lomelí, democratic analysis of CC’s role is far from over. “This process is not going to be over in a month, and maybe not even in a semester. But, as Ellie and my legacy, we want to make sure that, at the least, this conversation has happened, that we set the wheels in motion, and that hopefully, by the end of the school year, a transition can occur.”