A case for voting Yes on continuing the Williams Student Union

One year ago, the student body voted to abolish the College Council in favor of the new Three Pillars Plan. The Williams Student Union (WSU) is one of the Three Pillars, and was created to be the non-hierarchical advocacy group for Williams students. Due to some serious concerns during the ratification of the Three Pillars Plan, the task force decided that the WSU would have one year to prove its value to the campus. The referendum to cement WSU’s place amongst the Three Pillars will be occurring alongside the WSU/FAST election between March 3 and March 13. The referendum is a simple majority, so every vote matters! It is clear that WSU is a successful advocacy group that is fundamentally different from College Council, and avoids and avoids the pitfalls that led to CC’s downfall. Therefore, we urge you to vote Yes on the upcoming referendum to enable WSU to continue its important advocacy work. 

  WSU has engaged in numerous projects and efforts this semester that have markedly improved student life and carried out our role as an advocacy and student representation body. For example, the student body expressed concern that professors would ignore the value of the health days, so after discussing the issue with administrators and learning that it would not be possible to add more health days, we created a petition to show professors how much the days meant to students. We were glad many professors took the concerns seriously and adjusted their syllabi to protect health days. We also held a town hall with Integrative Wellbeing Services and Converging Worlds to determine effective ways to spread the mental health resources the college provides. Additionally, in partnership with the Career Center, we presented “Debunking the Myth of the Perfect Williams Student,” an online lecture series where alumni shared success stories despite not fitting the stereotype of a typical Williams student during their time here. 

We also recently revived Free University, a program that connected hundreds of Williams students to the Williams community despite Winter Study being cancelled. Throughout the semester, WSU has developed reclamation proposals and hosted a Claiming Williams event to address the problematic and complex parts of Williams’ past, such as the Haystack Monument.

Through our work on reclamation, we learned after conversations with administration, that there are no pathways for students to propose ideas to change campus spaces. Over the last decade, student led initiatives including murals, name changes, and peace gardens would fail because there is no group meant to approve, fund, and maintain such spaces. We are now working with administration to create a formal process for these projects. Soon students and faculty will be able to have a place to propose projects and ideas on how they’d like to see the campus reconcile with its past through the use of campus space.

On that note, we have established regular meetings with members of administration such as President Mandel, as well as with various committees and groups on campus. All of our work can be found here.

Admittedly, there are some fundamental questions that we continue to grapple with as we develop our presence and identity as WSU. Does WSU represent the institutionalization of protest movements against actions administrators may take? Could WSU abuse power to potentially legitimize or delegitimize a protest movement led by students? How would WSU handle issues between two diametrically opposed groups? We understand where these concerns come from given the former student government. However, we believe that with the current system in place for WSU that none of these concerns can be actualized. Although premature and still developing, there is no precedent for a group like WSU in the past and we are fundamentally different from College Council.

We recognize that the former student government, College Council, had a lot of problems and that many students rightfully lost faith in it. However, we are absolutely not College Council. Unlike College Council, we do not control the funding an RSO may receive — that responsibility falls on FAST. Unlike College Council, we do not control whether a group can become an RSO. Unlike College Council, all we have is the power of the pen — our words. We cannot interfere with the existence of clubs or protest movements, other than simple advocacy which all Williams students have access to regardless of whether they are on WSU or not. This being said, we recognize that words can be immensely powerful, especially as our connections within various clubs, offices, and administrative figures grow. 

As a part of the Three Pillars, however, there are much higher standards of accountability and scrutiny for the WSU than there was in CC. We are beholden to the student body. Fundamentally, it is quite difficult for us to get away with anything that would put the student body at harm. Constitutionally, all our general meetings can be accessed online, our agendas are posted weekly, and other events like town halls and forums are done for the sake of both bringing transparency and giving students ways to voice discontent. The link to join our weekly meetings is available on our website and all current students are welcome to join to advocate for issues important to them and to see how WSU functions. In addition to our website, we have implemented a monthly newsletter, email account, Instagram page, and a feedback form to ensure we’re as accessible as possible to the student body. WSU is an inherently flexible body that is only legitimate through the support of the students. For example, a referendum to vote on the removal of WSU can be instated as long as a petition with 10 percent of the Williams student body as signatories is created. It is also quite easy to impeach and remove a problematic member of the WSU through the same process. 

WSU is fundamentally political. We will not shy away from addressing issues we feel are important to recognize. WSU’s goal should always be to uphold and promote the safety, equity, and inclusion of all students at Williams. 

In essence, we are working hard to establish and develop WSU as an institution that successfully carries out the spirit of its creation. So far, WSU is a successful institution that has created many positive changes to student life. We truly hope that you vote Yes on the upcoming referendum open from March 3rd to March 13th to keep the WSU as a part of the Three Pillars. 

Emmanuelle Copeland and Samir Ahmed are currently the 2023 and 2024 representatives on WSU.