Opinion: To be honest… with Catherine Dema

*Disclaimer: All information used for this article was obtained from public and published sources of information with observations from the April 2, 2019 Senate meeting, which was open to students. No questions were asked by the writer during the meeting. To the best of this writer’s knowledge the following is accurate. A follow-up article including direct responses from the current Student Senate cabinet was published. View this article here.

To be honest, Student Senate is embarrassing. This year, Senate has done appreciably nothing – or has failed to publicize what they have done. A simple glance at their published minutes or attendance at a meeting shows that students on Senate choose to weigh personal conflict and agendas above what can actually be changed about the school. At the meeting I observed, senators were confrontational and rude. Conversations devolve into jokes and proposed topics of conversation are ignored instead of actually discussed.

While I see many issues with Senate, the primary problem is a failure of communication and a failure of awareness of the role of Student Senate.

According to their constitution, Senate is composed of four cabinet members and four elected representatives from each grade. The elected cabinet members for the 2018-2019 school year are President Jakob Miller, Vice President Sarah Lewis, Treasurer Hannah Keeney and Secretary Alex Theissen. Class representatives were elected in the fall of 2018 for first-year students and the spring for other classes.

However, several spots have been vacated since the beginning of the year. According to Senate rules, when a position is vacated, a new senator is appointed. In cases of vacancy, no school or class-wide emails were sent out asking for interested parties. Rather, individual senators recommended students they thought would be interested.

This process has led, at least in part, to a homogenous Senate that fails to represent the student body. According to outdated information from the Senate website – which has not been updated with current senators and does not have the full names of all senators, which makes it difficult for students to identify their representatives – and word-of-mouth information from current senators, I have compiled data about the current senate.

16 of the 20 required positions, or 80 percent of senators, are filled by students who participate in Greek life, according to current information with the recognition that senators may resign from senate or accept bids from Greek life organizations in the future. According to CollegeBoard, participation in Greek life is 40 percent for men and 42 percent for women at William Jewell College. Greek life is vastly overrepresented on Student Senate. Six senators belong to the same sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, and four belong to the same fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha.

Five of the 20 senators are in the Oxbridge program – that’s 25 percent. Fewer than 20 students per year participate in this program, and one quarter of students in the program are not on campus at Jewell in any given year. While this statistic alone is shocking, it is also infuriating because these students will not be on campus more than two consecutive years – making it less likely for them to be able to sustain initiatives and make change on campus.

Eight of the 20 senators are political science majors – that’s 40 percent. According to data on graduates from 2018 from the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately four percent of Jewell’s student body are political science majors. While this may be expected, there are reasons to question the natural affiliation between political science majors and Senate in this case due to the process of appointing new senators.

Encouragingly, eight of the 20 senators, or 40 percent of the Senate, are athletes. According to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis from the United States Department of Education, 42 percent of Jewell students are athletes, so senate represents the balance of athletes quite well.

While I would like to include statistics on the racial and ethnic makeup of senate as compared to the student body as a whole, the relatively small number of senators and the vast majority of white students on campus makes this statistic difficult to compute and represent. 79 percent of Jewell’s student body is white, and white students appear to be overrepresented in senate – though I was not able to confirm this information.

While these statistics alone are enough to incite questions, they alone are hardly enough to condemn the current Senate. Maybe no other students have been interested in joining. Maybe political science and Oxbridge majors are more likely to want to participate in Senate. Maybe it’s in the nature of ZTA and LCA members to have a desire to be involved in student government.

However, these cannot be excuses for this Senate. If senators are appointed without Senate letting potentially interested parties know, the student body is not getting the representation it deserves. If senators recommend people to nominate, they are most likely to ask people they often interact with – those in their Greek organization, those in their major, those in their program, those in their sport.

There may be students interested in joining Senate who simply don’t know any current senators. These students would never hear about vacancies on Senate because Senate does not notify the student body of vacancies.

I am not advocating Senate to simply focus on identity politicking. I am imploring them to effectively communicate and do all they can to properly, and accurately, represent Jewell’s student body – as they are tasked to.

Senate is required to represent the campus, and they fail to even keep the campus informed. Their meeting times are not listed on their website, Presence or on their Facebook page, as they claim.

Senate has failed to make meeting minutes from the 2019 spring semester public, as they are required to by their constitution. The minutes that are posted, from the fall semester, are simply inadequate. They contain almost no information, do not keep track of votes, fail to record proposals in detail and keep no record of actions taken by specific senators outside of meetings.

There is little to no information of use to the student body in the posted minutes from Senate meetings.

Almost more concerning than the utter failure of the Senate and its cabinet to provide updated, adequate information to the student body is their collective attitude in meetings. According to both analysis of all published minutes from the 2018-2019 school year and attendance of just one meeting, it is clear that senators are often confrontational, rude and inadequately consider the desires of the student body.

According to both minutes and attendance, it appears as though senators often bring up comments and ideas that appear to be of no benefit for the student body and are intended to put someone on the spot.

Rather than requesting a systematic overhaul of the clearly disorganized Senate and cabinet, senators pursue apparently personal agendas – or push proposals that appear to have little impact on the campus as a whole. If the descriptions of these agendas fail to accurately represent how proposals are actually viewed, if they are more broadly supported and not just the project of individual senators, the language of Senate minutes and meetings need to change.

Rather than requesting formalized records of all communication from Senate, they attempt to remember what was said in meetings, which was apparent in the meeting I attended and can be easily assumed from attempts to understand published minutes. Instead of being able to consult detailed minutes or emails from senate to administration, senators rely on memory – which can lead them to confront each other over facts of past meetings and communication.

Rather than requesting records of formalized communication from administration and student life, they appear to be rude and disrespectful to representatives of the College at meetings, according to minutes and attendance of one meeting.

Rather than consistently email the student body updates about Senate and send informational emails about events, they question whether students support proposals that have not been publicized. The role of independents is questioned and they appear to be distressed at the lack of independent involvement.

Senate discusses ways to get independent students more involved on campus and ways they can solicit student feedback. I recommend sending consistent, timely and clear emails and posting flyers in order to address independent involvement and to request feedback.

Senate should publicize what they discuss and consider. They are required by their own constitution to make meeting minutes public, and they should consistently update the student body about their meetings. Publicize the fact that students can attend meetings – a fact not mentioned in Senate emails to the student body.

Even when Senate plans an event, they fail to adequately publicize or discuss it. The recent Diversity and Inclusion roundtable – organized by Keeney – was generally positive and beneficial to the community. It was a good event that fostered necessary communication at the school. Yet, while students in Greek life and on sports teams were required to attend, independent students and the campus as a whole were given little information about the event.

Screenshot of email from Senate.

A school-wide email was sent only two days in advance of the event. It failed to explain the purpose or content of the event. Without personal communication with members of Senate, I would not have known that the roundtable was going to be facilitated by an outside source, nor would I likely have attended.

This is not because I did not have a desire to be involved in the campus discussion of diversity and inclusion; rather, I felt the event was likely haphazardly planned and would be poorly executed. This interpretation would have been incorrect, yet it was the sense conveyed by a sub-par email.

The roundtable itself was beneficial and had been extensively planned. However, without membership in certain organizations, students would not have had any reason to think the event was anything other than a waste of time – one that Senate was bribing them to attend. The school-wide communication about the event provided little context and did not compel students to attend.

The roundtable is just one example of a time when Senate failed to communicate. If there was poor attendance of this event, or others, by independents, I suggest Senate work on developing better communication techniques rather than accusing independents of apathy.

Senate complains of a lack of transparency from the college administration yet fails to meet their own standards of transparency and communication. Students generally have no idea who is on Senate, what Senate does or even that Senate meets. Senate hosts Coffee with the Prez in order to increase student communication with Dr. Macleod Walls, president of the College, but fails to host similar events for students to speak with senators directly.

There are further problems with Senate. Their constitution appears to contradict information on their website and is far from comprehensive. They appear to fail to have an outlined understanding of their own power. Cabinets fail to fulfill campaign promises, or fail to adequately publicize instances when promises are fulfilled.

These issues need to be addressed. Many would be aided by serious reconsideration of how Senate communicates with the community and a discussion of how Senate can be a part of the community students should feel proud of. Several of these issues are not just problems with the current Senate, but concern traditional functioning of Senate. Regardless, they need to be fixed.

Yes, it is hard to serve your peers as a member of Senate. Yes, it is difficult to balance this responsibility with other obligations and school work. Yes, it is difficult to make systematic changes to the functioning of senate.

Still, Jewell students deserve a Senate that represents them and that they can be proud of.

Catherine Dema

Catherine Dema is the page editor for Features & Investigations on The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: History of Ideas and physics.

9 thoughts on “Opinion: To be honest… with Catherine Dema

  1. Rylee Wingert

    This article is extremely biased. Also this was obviously posted to just bash our senate. In no way did you wanna help because if you did you would have contacted senate directly to fix these issues, if they are even real issues. Your affiliation does not effect how you care about the school and how well you preform on senate.

    1. Anonymous

      Student senate president also made a tyrannical decision last fall to force a certain senator out of their position simply because they had a class conflict. This could have been resolved easily but they failed to send out a poll on when it would best suit senators to meet.

  2. anonymous

    Disregarding the factual inaccuracies in this article, 15 of the 20 senators are currently active Greek life members, not 16 as stated in the article and Senate does have their meetings times posted on both Facebook and Presence contrary to what the author claims, it demonstrates tremendous hypocrisy. The author attempts to call out senators for being rude and confrontational, while failing to realize that, even if this charge is correct, she is simply succumbing to the exact same behaviors she detests.

    1. Benjamin Zahnd

      I love Catherine, I believe she has pointed a finger at a system with undeniable flaws. Great job, keep it up the good work Ms. Dema!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.