ASWC Town Hall Provides Forum for Student Voices
The first ASWC town hall meeting of the semester was held in the Reid Ballroom Thursday, Oct. 25 and was open to the general student body. ASWC senators, club representatives and other students were given the opportunity to bring up any issues or questions they had about ASWC or the college in general.
The structure of this town hall discussion was altered from past years. Usually ASWC selects a theme that they feel is relevant on campus, which limits the breadth of discussion and sometimes isn’t engaging. However, this town hall—themed “Choose Your Own Adventure”—left room for a wider range of topics.
“We are trying to come up with a new structure for town hall, seeing ways in which we can make it more exciting for the people attending,” said Vice President and Student Affairs Committee Chair Marcial Díaz Mejía. “In the past, ASWC or administrators just talk to you and it’s not really interactive. We were trying to see ways in which we could make it more attractive and we can actually get some information that’s valuable for us.”
Despite the efforts of ASWC to attract more of the Whitman community to the event, only about five non-club or non-ASWC-affiliated students showed up. The lack of attraction could be due to students not caring about the dealings of ASWC, not knowing about the event or not feeling as though the event would be productive.
“In general, most people have the perception that ASWC doesn’t do that much, but that may not be true. That may be because they don’t actually know what’s going on,” said sophomore Ari Durning. “My main reason to come was to understand what ASWC does and what their most important roles are.”
Durning is currently interested in Whitman implementing a sustainability coordinator faculty position, as opposed to the current position held by one or two different senior students each year. Durning learned through the town hall that first-year senator Jack Percival has the same goal in mind, and Durning plans on getting in contact with ASWC to collaborate.
The meeting was set up with separate discussion tables with a senator or two at each, a new addition to the structure of ASWC Town Hall. The groups discussed prompt questions like favorite and least favorite things on campus, issues they wanted to bring up and any questions they had for ASWC. After the group discussions, the meeting was opened up to the whole congregation, in which people could talk about these issues to the larger group.
“We wanted to create a venue in which students can directly come and tell us what their concerns are,” said Díaz Mejía. “We’re trying to frame the questions [differently from] ‘Tell us what’s wrong with Whitman.’ At the end of the day, when you’re with your roommate or your housemate or your friends, what are the problems that you talk about that happen at Whitman?”
The individual group discussions allow students to more directly converse with and get to know their senators, and bring up anything they feel is relevant without having to speak to such a large group.
“That kind of informal dialogue [is] beneficial for senators to understand what’s going on, how ASWC is perceived and also how the college is perceived,” said Executive Director of Communications Sally Boggan.
Students indeed ‘chose their own adventure’ for the forum, decked out in a number of different costumes ranging from Indiana Jones to Tomb Raider.
“[Costumes] are a way to show that we really care about what we do, but we’re also not the Ivory Tower and we’re not unreachable,” said Díaz Mejía. “We’re really approachable; that’s what we’re trying to convey through costumes.”
Each senator has a project that they are working on, and after reading the descriptions of the projects, table groups had the chance to choose one of the senators to come to their table to explain more about the project.
“Students [will be able] to vote on what they wanted to hear about most,” said Boggan before the town hall. “I don’t think it necessarily has to be senators lecturing about what they’re doing. Having more dialogue is what I’m looking forward to most because we will be able to enact change based on what it is that the students want.”
ASWC is interested in continuing to improve on advertising and communicating with the student body. Social media websites are being used to draw attention, such as the Facebook event that was put up for this town hall. Boggan is interested in making advertisements and the general culture of ASWC-student relations more fun and approachable. One idea for the advertisements is to have on the posters a list of topics that will be discussed during the meeting.
“Letting students know what we want to see from the program, what we hope that they could bring to the program to make them more aware so that the program as a whole is more useful—that could be a really beneficial thing for students,” said Club Director Nick Chow.
Chow is interested in integrating feedback from this town hall to improve upon the next one later this semester. He recognizes that the culture and interest surrounding town hall could be improved upon.
“We want the entire student body to feel supported by a student government that has been put in place to support them,” says Chow. ”[This town hall] was definitely a step in the right direction for what we were trying to achieve: to make town hall as useful as possible and something that students enjoy going to because they find that it is purposeful and useful for education for themselves and also to voice their opinions to ASWC, other students, even possibly to the school’s administration.”