Editor’s Note: In an effort to promote face-to-face conversation about important topics, the Williams Alternative presents “Williams Alternative Discusses”–a series of on-the-record group discussions about issues relevant to campus life.
For our conversation on College Council, we invited Erica Moszkowski, ’15, Lucas Elek, ’17, Funmi Adejobi, ’15, and Alexander Deaderick, ’15, to share their thoughts and experiences. The unedited transcript of the conversation, moderated by Quentin Cohan, ’17, appears below.
Quentin Cohan: Basically, the idea is behind the whole series of discussions is to get people talking about things out in the open that are important on campus that people don’t necessarily talk about regularly, at least, not face to face other than on Facebook or Yik Yak or that sort of thing. This conversation, obviously, is about college council and what its role on campus is or what it should be or how it’s perceived to be and questions of that nature. Obviously, you guys have some degree of familiarity and experience with college council. The first and most obvious question is what it is you think the role of college council is, not should be or is thought to be but is on campus? Erica, we’ll start with you because you were CC president for a year.
Erica Moszkowski: The college council role is defined to be two things. One is to be the governing body for all the student organizations. They have over 160 of them and to be the governing body for those groups, additionally, to be the voice of the student body to the administration. Those are the two primary functions of the college council. Anything else we would step in, in other various ways and other situations.
QC: Such as?
EM: The rest of it would fall under being the voice of the student body. Whenever student groups have or anyone has an initiative they want to start, they can talk to us. If there is something that’s not happening on campus that they want to see they come to us and we can make that happen, the Great Ideas campaign, for example.
QC: Do you guys have anything to add to that?
Funmi Adejobi: I think that sums it up perfectly that we’re supposed to be the voice of the student body and we do that to the best of our ability or CC tries to be the best mouthpiece of the student body to the administration that they can. In a lot of ways, they’re a very large liaison between the student body and the administration and other bodies on campus.
QC: How long were you on CC?
FA: This is my second semester on CC.
QC: So you’ve done it both semesters this year.
QC: Lucas, how long were you on CC?
Lucas Elek: I was on CC for three semesters, all of my freshman year and then last semester. I decided that I needed a break from CC because it definitely is a lot of work if it’s done right. But it also can be very absorbent of your energy even more than just your time. People that really do care get very wrapped up in it, especially when we’re dealing with a lot of very important issues like we saw at the tail end of last spring. Then, obviously, the stuff in a very similar vein erupted this fall.
QC: This fall?
LE: Starting with the Taco Six and then continuing on.
QC: You mentioned how CC is supposed to be. It supposed to be the voice. It tries to be the voice of the student body. Do you think that you guys don’t always succeed in that mission?
FA: It’s really hard for a lot of class reps – the point of the class reps is to be the closest point of contact between the student body and CC/administration. A lot of times, at least I found in my semester as a class rep, because I felt I knew a lot of people that I didn’t have to actively try to reach out and get a sense of what people were thinking on campus, even though that’s explicitly what the job of class reps are. So, they do a fairly good job but we can always do a better job.
EM: The inherent problem with any representative structure, like the representative democracy of the United States or a representative democracy of Williams’ campus is that you’re never going to get every single perspective. You’re never going to get everyone in one room. Asking four people to represent 500 is not going to be totally representative of everyone. That’s going to be the challenge that CC always faces, which is why we get into conversations about whether CC if fully representative of the student body in general. That’s a very legitimate question. That’s one that CC always strives to address and does its best but it’s going to be a constant struggle. That’s the basis of representative, any sort of representative democracy.
QC: Alex, have you been on CC?
Alexander Deaderick: I haven’t been. No.
EM: Sorry. You’re the only one here who hasn’t been on CC.
QC: I also haven’t been. I’m not just a moderator.
EM: So you get to ask yourself questions too.
LE: I was just going to add on, one of the eye opening things for me, trying to point out why I think it’s always good to take a step back from these sorts of things when you get too far involved, I proxied for Alex Besser the last meeting for a little while. It amazed me how many new reps were suggesting things that already existed. To me that demonstrated the general apathy of the student body and to be actually involved in CC. For example, they were talking about how we need to get the CC message out there. We need to have a CC Facebook page, which there is. That does a pretty good job of trying to invite people. It’s just that people don’t accept it or they get tired of the clutter in their newsfeed. Someone else suggested a program to Instagram things which do exist already. Again, understandably, some people just don’t want constant news blasts. Then that’s problematic because then you have people saying CC isn’t doing enough outreach. There’s a lot of outreach. It’s just most people, like other Williams’ students, like CC to some extent, are very much involved in their own world and don’t take a step back to look for these other things.
QC: I would say that I’m probably one of those people. The fact that some of the newer reps didn’t know about these things just highlights the way most people on campus feel about CC. They’re not really sure what it does. It seems to be something they hear a lot about but don’t really know why it’s so important or what its function really is. How is it perceived on campus? Alex is here. As someone who wasn’t on CC just to speak from that perspective. Someone who has no involvement with it, what do you think the perception of CC is on campus?
AD: You had mentioned something else. Were there other non-CC voices invited here?
QC: There were but people were busy. It’s very hard to get even four people in the same place at once.
AD: A couple things. This election, we’ll call it a debacle, was really the first time people were stepping up and saying somehow “we feel wronged”. All of a sudden all this participation comes out of the blue, myself included. We were looking at earlier, something wasn’t right and now all of a sudden everyone is up in arms and somehow felt slighted. To be honest, that’s going to be anything. If you look at it, major voting and voter turnout for national, even local elections–it’s going to be very apathetic. That’s just part of it. I think something that you mentioned, as far as it being very apathetic and reaching and looking out for things and having that self-driven energy to do so is very indicative of how people are siloed into their own little boxes and groups and what is taking up their day. So I definitely understand that as well.
As far as how CC was, I guess if you go by the majority of the campus that really isn’t involved in the state of the operations or as you mentioned with the reps, and they’re really unaware of certain things it implements, it was very much like, what is this doing? We can go to CC and ask for money and do things but really other than as a funding vehicle I feel like a lot of people didn’t really know what they did. Some of that was just because the different ways that CC was involved in the campus weren’t necessarily made as public to other people.
One of the concerns was the different committees that they lead. Maybe members of the CC are on these different committees but by and large these committees, unless you’re tapped on the shoulder, so to speak, you’re unaware that they even exist. A lot of it seemed to me and it’s a question of legitimacy was because it didn’t seem very transparent. For instance, I thought it was funny, the Robert’s rules of engagement and how you guys are proposing amendments and dialogue. I for one knew nothing about Robert’s law or Robert’s rules of engagement or whatever it’s called. A lot of it seemed very murky as to what’s going on.
Like I said earlier, you just have this question of legitimacy because you can’t really see what CC is doing and what are the ways they’re engaging? There weren’t really opportunities it seemed for students to engage on those committees and to do anything with CC other than to come here for funding and this is what I get. That was a big question as to what do they do?
As to your outreach, I, for one, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked on Instagram or Facebook to like the CC page. Outreach is always going to be a problem because, like you said, people are not going to want things crowding their inbox. That’s understandable. But I think the biggest thing was what are you doing, how are you doing and the transparency they see as a whole?
EM: I’m actually really curious because as now, an ex-member of CC, I’m retired, there is nothing I can do any more really. But I was wondering, you mentioned there are all these committees that people don’t really know about. Having led the process of soliciting applications, I can tell you, we received 156 applications for committees last year from students across campus, all different class years, from 27 different committees. We sent all campus e-mails. We put up posters listing all the committees saying what they did. We published reports every semester saying this is what this committee is doing right now. Why aren’t we getting through to people? What would be a better way for CC to address the campus?
FA: One really good way would be for CC to be a little bit more aggressive in how they inform the student body of their activities. One of the things I’m really trying to work on implementing in CC is a bi-weekly update of the important things that we talked about. It might not be long but it would be a good summary of things that we’ve been thinking about. Someone, yesterday, brought up publishing the agenda before every meeting. So if you see that we’re going to be discussing the social honor code and that’s something you’re interested in talking about, then you know this is the CC meeting that I want to go to. So people have an idea of what we are actually doing for two hours every week.
QC: You guys do post minutes.
FA: Yeah. Have you ever read the minutes?
FA: You should try to read the minutes. They’re pretty hard to read. It’s a record of every single word that was said during the meeting. It’s hard for me, and I’m on CC, to parse through what’s happening and make it into a coherent list because that’s not what the minutes are. They’re supposed to be an on the record account of what was said. If we could do a better job of explaining what we’ve done, for example, I bet a lot of people don’t know that we, this past session, made senior week free for every subsequent senior week for the rest of time, after this one. So senior week is one really good example of many examples of things that CC has done but we just haven’t told people about.
QC: CC did all sorts of stuff and now we bring you this really awesome concert or whatever. I guess Ace does that. Someone said CC got Lee’s snack bar to be open for whatever it is you guys did. So you expect those big things. But it seems like those sorts of things don’t happen very often. So a lot of times CC giving out money, which has really only involved a few people I feel both on CC and a few people who need the money. Other than that it’s like, oh yeah, my CC meeting. I’m the student rep. So it’s kind of like, well, what are you going to really do?
LE: I have a lot to add to that. First of all, my experience with reaching out to people and why, again, I’ve just accepted that there’s going to be this tension there. My first semester when I was elected–when you’re elected as a freshman, you’re elected to represent a specific dorm. So I was the rep for William’s dorm. I was really excited. I invited everyone. I put up posters. Join the group. I also posted stuff. What I found was that, originally, of people that I told, I had less than half the dorm join. Then people stopped. They left the group because they were tired and on vacations. This was the year that a particular group was going through sanction process. I posted about–I had no idea that we had a sanctions committee–fun fact, we have a sanctions committee that I didn’t even know about. I know that some of you are involved in this group. If you want to know more about our sanctions work, come and talk to me. I had no idea that I had posted a link online.
Part of the problem is that even if you do what I did, which was everything in my mind that I could possibly have done, some people are just going to phase it out. You’re always going to have that. Some people are definitely more responsive when you reach out to them. I had some positive feedback from that. But there are always, always, always going to be people, everything you do, even if you write them a note and hand it to them, they’re going to be lost two weeks later. That’s just a product of the William’s life because we’re so busy, because we’re so frazzled. For a while, I was frustrated with students but then I realized that’s just who we are. Like me, if I don’t put something in my Google calendar and put four different reminders for it, I have no idea what goes on because I can’t keep track of all that. It took me a while to understand that. But I think that’s a huge problem.
FA: This session has basically all new reps; what I find interesting is that you could essentially pluck anyone out of the student body, put them on CC and they will be successful. It doesn’t take a certain type of person or a specialized ability to be able to contribute to CC but a lot of people just don’t care. Everyone has the potential to be on CC. A lot of people are apathetic towards it because, like you were saying, no one really knows what it does because the things that we do are often very little. Not little as in volume, but little in scale.
QC: Giving money to XYZ groups, if you’re not in those groups, you’re not going to know about it.
FA: Giving money is a huge part of CC’s function but we manage all the SAT but people don’t necessarily hear about that all the time. SATs being Student Activities Tags.
QC: My question then is if – it seems like most of what CC does is give out money and delegate and organize funds. So why do you really need all these other people on the council? More or less what I’ve heard is that the people in charge of X committee recommend something and then that happens or the people who are presidents and the treasurer are the ones who care the most.
EM: That is definitely not true.
LE: There are a lot of problems with that. First of all, because that’s what people want, people want more diverse opinions. They want a larger council. The reason why we have these VP positions to begin with, it used to just be the president or the co-presidents and then the class reps, was because the students themselves wanted it. We’re walking this fine line between people wanting action but people also wanting other leadership roles. Other people want to be able to help and they want to be able to serve. If you look at the history of CC, you’ll see that we’ve actually grown in size because students have wanted to do more in theory. The problem with that then is that there are all these other different committees that didn’t exist 30 years ago. So CC had a lot more direct power back then than it does now.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a diverse leadership body, which I think there are a lot of advantages to, and have CC to table to directly impact student life in a lot of ways. For example, you look at the creation of Ecomm, which is very recent. Before that, there were the neighborhoods. Originally, if you go back 10 to 20 years, there were the groups on campus that made an impact, it wasn’t even called college council, it was called something else, but it was the CC equivalent and it was the gargoyle society and that was it.
FA: Going back to the question about why we need anyone outside of the treasurer, class reps and the presidents is because if you look at what the VP positions do, they all have a lot of work. Aside from the presidents, who also go to a lot of different committees, they sit on basically every one of them, the VPs are essentially the manpower behind getting things done.
I’m the VP for organizations, which means I oversee all of the student groups. What that means is I oversee things that you don’t think about. For example, the club team will have to buy uniforms. We have to deal with question of who has the uniforms over the summer. Who has the uniforms during the year? Where can they be stored when they’re out of season? All these things seem like non-essential questions but they are when you look at how much money we have to spend on not just the groups but on the entire campus and how frugal we have to be with those sorts of things. That’s just one example of how broad the reach of my specific VP position is.
The reason why there are so many committees is because there are so many different aspects. CC is like the oil to the gears of Williams. We keep things running smoothly in a lot of ways that people don’t know because they aren’t thinking about those things.
QC: I wonder then, couldn’t conceivably the club team handle it?
FA: Another thing that CC provides is institutional knowledge and memory. There didn’t use to be summer storage. There is starting this past summer because clubs – we fund NBC a ton of money for their performance so they can get new costumes or something. They say you’re giving us all the money now because we’re going to be able to reuse these for years to come. But we don’t know where they go after their performance. We don’t know where they go over the summer. They’re lost. People take them home. There’s no accountability for that sort of thing.
EM: On the club sports thing, for example – that’s actually a really good question and I’m glad you brought that up – it seems like it would be super easy if you could just, like Frisbee, go do whatever they want or pick your favorite club sports team, rugby. There are all sorts of legal issues that make it really difficult for the college to actually even support the team and to be able to fund the team. We need to make sure that the team has insurance and that the team has a coach and that the team has the ability to travel. Just this year, CC managed to get a trainer just for club sports athletes. Club sports teams can’t do that by themselves but having a centralized student government can help organize all that.
QC: On the point of the trainer though, someone who works for the alternative and is on the rugby team told me, the rugby team went to CC to get a trainer. Nothing happened. Someone got injured and then went to dean Bolton. The next day there was a trainer.
FA: This year?
QC: Yeah, this year.
EM: Here’s the problem. The trainer was hired this past summer. Things like that where you need a student government to be arguing for you, we’ve been arguing with the administration and going over the legal papers for three years. This is something that takes a really long time. Of course, students are always asking for a trainer. That’s a consistent request. So, one day it magically happens but there has been a lot of work going into that for years. That’s very typical. Things on a college scale move a lot slower than a student scale does. That’s where a lot of the mismatch comes between student perception of what the council is doing and the results of college council at work.
FA: Also, CC does a lot but what’s hard is, ultimately, everything we do has to be run through the administration. That’s not our fault. If we could get–
EM: Qualifier, not everything, certain things.
FA: Not everything, a lot of things, some things. If we could get trainers for all the club teams in a day, we would do that but that’s not the type of thing that we have ultimate authority over.
QC: That’s just one of my thoughts about the necessity of something like CC. Obviously, someone needs to be “the voice” for the students. But at any school, with any student government, ultimately, the administration is going to be what’s in charge anyway. It seems like a division between the student–instead of being a place for students to go and then speak to the administration, it’s full of division versus to go through CC.
EM: Hang on. One other thing is that we’ve been doing a lot of the talking. I want to make sure that we can have the non-CC member talking. So, let’s pull ourselves back a little bit.
AD: I run track where NCAA score a lot. We score points, the Directors’ Cup. We have no trainer. That’s my only gripe. So when I see rugby, they have concussions and whatever. But when I look at that and I’m like we score. We send All-Americans. We contribute to every year the Directors’ Cup and football doesn’t do shit. We have no trainer. So we go two weeks. We have all these injuries. We travel 3000 miles across the country and we have no trainer. To me, that is frustrating. I don’t think there’s anything you guys can do about that.
LE: There is a division, obviously, between club sports and NCAA. Part of that is, obviously, the reason why the club sports want to stay separate from the athletic department. They want to be able to have their social activities. So then there’s less liability and there’s less control there. But then that brings up the whole issue of why it took so long to get them a trainer. I want to go back to Quentin’s point here. That, right there, in a nutshell is a lot of my frustration and a lot of the reason why I had to take a step back.
My frustration is about the functionality of CC where sometimes it really can just feel like a figurehead because a lot of it is through the administration. Again, there are a lot of reasons for that. It’s no longer a central governing force. There is a diversified, which in a lot of ways is good because it lets a lot more students get involved. But it’s also a problem because when we want to really present a united front and get really fast action from administration, that’s difficult. Part of my frustration, I personally felt last year, my quib was we should do an occupy movement for the club athletes, when we didn’t understand from the spring of last year, from the CC presidents, from Max and Adrian, if this was really going to make headway or not. Again, part of that is, we have to walk a very fine line, particularly for people like me who can be very loud and very brash, unnecessarily sometimes. There is definitely a fine line between wanting to push the administration but not anger them.
QC: If you guys really want to be the voices, you should do that.
FA: We push the administration to the extent that we can. A perfect example of how the administrative oversight doesn’t extend to just CC and also doesn’t extend to wholly CC, the divestment referendum, that wasn’t a CC initiative. That wasn’t an initiative directly sponsored by CC. The referendum passed, which means that at least 67 percent of the campus voted and of those–
EM: No. Thirty-three percent of the campus voted. Required for the referendum was 33 percent. Sixty-seven percent actually voted. A vast majority of the people who voted, voted in favor.
FA: My point exactly. So it was very clear. We made it very clear to the administration that divestment is something that’s very important for all of these people and here we are with no word on where we are with divesting the endowment. That has nothing to do with how well the referendum went. It has nothing to do with how hard the divestment club tried. It has wholly to do with the administration. At a point, that is just not something that we can control.
For the most part, CC is autonomous. We do a lot of things but there are some things for liability reasons that have to go to the administration. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Also, talking about CC just being another barrier between students and the administration, if CC didn’t exist and someone wanted to do something, every single time there’d be a lot of redundancy in going to the administration. In a lot of ways, CC acts like a funnel for the students to direct them. Even if a student does just want to talk to someone on the administration, they know how to do that. They come to CC and we direct them where to go.
QC: The question I have for Alex, you were talking about how you wanted to get the trainer for the track team, for example. But say it was something else. Would you feel like you should go to CC or you should go to maybe your coach or the athletic director or some other administrative figure?
AD: I would go to the athletic director mainly because, like Lucas said, there’s a division between club sports and NCAA sports.
EM: That makes total sense to me. CC doesn’t have to be the only voice of the student body to the administration. This is a small place. Things are divided up in certain ways and there are certain responsibilities for certain things. CC is actually not responsible at all for the varsity sports, not at all. It’s not part of our budget. It’s not our business. We can’t do anything to you guys and that’s fine. But the thing that I want to make clear is that – and we’ve been talking a lot about how CC is, if you think about things in arrows. CC is an arrow from the students to the administration. But it also goes the other way. It’s a bi-directional relationship.
CC is helpful because if people have questions – what I always sought to do was to be the person that people could ask questions to. I don’t know how this works. I want to find out because I want to do this and that or I want to start this initiative. CC should be the place, we’re a repository of information where if you want to know some things, like what the history of something is or you want to start something new, CC should be the people who should be able to tell you. That’s a really important function of CC that has existed on a more under the radar level. Something that I hoped to have worked on and hoped to have created an image where CC was that place where you could come and ask questions but that is the primary function of CC. Maybe we don’t do as good of a job or CC doesn’t do as good of a job of explaining to people or telling people about, but the idea is that even with something like that, if you did ask a member of CC, we could help you, even if it wasn’t necessarily our area.
LE: That’s one of the good things with having long-standing members. You’ve developed this institutional memory. Again, you will have walked the line between having a variety of people be able to serve on council but you also want to have people who have been on CC long enough to understand the way certain things work or to avoid having the same arguments. Again, last week when I sat in for Alex Besser I was amazed that this was the fourth time I was witnessing the Paresky printer conversation. Every semester we have tried and we’ve talked about that. Part of that is you’re always going to have that. But part of that is also the struggle of a body that because we graduate in four years, unless you write everything down–we’re working on that actually. I should say the current CC is working on that.
EM: Not just write it down, everyone reads it. That’s the hard part.
LE: Right. It’s hard. Again, I was really frustrated but I also had to remind myself, this is part of being at college. This isn’t a career. This is something that, maybe if you’re a super veteran you do all four years, but most people don’t. Most people only serve for a couple or even like a term.
I want to get back to something we were talking about earlier. In terms of challenging the administration, I’m not saying that CC should be the ones doing this. I’m just saying that if you look at other schools, what they did in years of activism. We were talking about divestment earlier. The Yale student body made a lot of news earlier where they were actually just sitting and they got arrested. I’m not saying we should do that, but I’m just saying, to me, that shows at least some section of the Yale student body is willing to challenge the administration. There is good and bad to that but really put themselves on the line for that. To some extent, there is that here. You saw that last year a little bit with the Bloomberg stuff. I know there was somewhat of a move on Falk’s office last spring. I don’t know the details but I know something happened there.
Figuring out, if that’s the accomplishment we want to make–I personally think it is, I don’t know if other people do–and if that’s the place we want to be, figure out how to channel that energy for things beyond just a specific issue. I know there are people who really do believe that they’re being treated unfairly in this way or that way. It’s just a matter of now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. You don’t necessarily have to get cuffed. That’s an extreme. But that spirit and audacity in a lot of ways is not, not that it’s not here but it’s not channeled. That is definitely something that CC could do but the student body needs to decide if that’s the kind of campus that we want to be.
AD: Sometimes, I’ve certainly felt like we’re going back to that apathy. I wonder sometimes is it because Yale is attracting different students than Williams? Is it because we like to hide behind the excuse of work? What is inherently different and unique about Yale and other institutions where they’re willing to get handcuffed for something as opposed to Williams? If that’s not the case or if it is the case, what percent of the student body was willing to put themselves on the line? Does that relate to something out here? Is it because of our geographical distance? I know, for instance, there have been professors that have gotten arrested for certain causes. I can think of Justin Adkins and the Occupy movement down on Wall Street. He put himself on the line and got arrested for things like that.
I guess I just wanted to make sure that we’re taking into account maybe this school attracts different types of people. Maybe percentage wise we have the same amount of people that are just as active. Maybe our geographic location is somewhat limiting. It’s not to say that these are excuses but they may be contributing factors. I think that was about it. I don’t know. Put your money where your mouth is.
I certainly do think that students could do more to do something. If anything, sometimes, our isolation both socially and geographically is very limiting. The divestors are marching somewhere on Saturday. I think it’s maybe half a mile. I look at that and laugh in my head. Because that doesn’t seem like a march in the way I think of things and the things I did. I’m from Denver. We march and we do Martin Luther King Day and we do Juneteenth. Those are marches and those grab people. But, again, we have a different geographic and social climate. I don’t know, just think of the differences. I’m forgetting the other point I had.
QC: I totally agree with pretty much everything you said there. Does anybody else have some final thoughts about what CC is?
AD: My final thing is we have this climate of apathy and, as you guys have mentioned, there are things that you have done. Part of that is definitely going to be influenced by the fact that we have a very transitory population, twenty-five percent of the population we lose every year. That’s just the nature of things. It’s not like the real world where you’re politicians and you’re living in it. You really can’t escape it. If we recognize this, that our population is very dynamic, if you will, and we also recognize that people are likely apathetic, then I think of CC as being the bigger person, if you recognize these two things.
There are certain things that you have to be the bigger man in the sense that you’re going to do more, more than what’s expected. You’re going to be very visible and very public because this will be the type of people you’re working with. I don’t even know if these are in practice but a big thing seemed to be visibility. If that requires you guys taking an entire section of the newspaper and saying this is what we did at this meeting, this is what’s in the works, this is what we did last year. If you have to take an entire page of the newspaper, do it.
If it means having student reps actually out there because, like you said, people are apathetic and didn’t want to come to you or if they did it was only a few that came to you in your William’s dorm. I’m going to be in Paresky during snack bar hours from 9:00-10:00 and maybe set up along those benches along the windows and do your homework there. People see you and you’re visible. They come up to you and ask questions that way. Having someone make the effort to go out to them, they can hide behind their work. They can hide behind their sports. They can do whatever. But maybe it requires CC doing that extra step because you know what kind of population you’re dealing with. I think that visibility would definitely help as far as your connection with the campus. Those are my final words.