On Monday and Tuesday, Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) was analyzed by a team of eight reviewers and the campus.
The review team was comprised of one staff and one faculty member: Title IX Coordinator Karla Benson Rutten and Professor of Mathematics Andrew Beveridge; four students: Akila Copeland ’16, Andrea Grimaldi ’16, Yan Jin ’16 and Cole Ware ’17; and two external reviewers: JoNes VanHecke, Vice President for Student Life at Gustavus Adolphus College and Julie Thornton, Associate Dean of Students at Carleton College.
Selected for their diversity, investment in MCSG and experience with student governments, the team met with a range of campus groups to create a holistic picture of MCSG’s strengths and weaknesses.
The review culminated in an open forum with students on Tuesday, Oct. 27, in Markim Hall. Apart from Grimaldi and Ware, who are active members of MCSG, the forum was intentionally free of an MCSG presence.
“I think having that open forum was critical in understanding what the average Macalester student understands about MCSG, what their concerns are, maybe what they’re confused about and by making sure that MCSG isn’t there, they can express any thoughts freely without worrying about some sort of conflict arising,” Calaway said.
About 15 students, most of them seniors, attended the open forum. Thornton opened the conversation by explaining the review team’s goals for the forum and their feelings about the review.
“What we hope to be able to do as the review team is to take all of this information, plus what we’ve learned through all of today and some of last evening and develop a report that we’ll share with a number of people,” Thornton said. “Ultimately, the campus community will be able to see that and then MCSG will make some changes moving forward. I know collectively we feel like this is a great place for a student government to be, to be looking to get better and to hear from its constituents.”
Some students voiced concerns on MCSG’s handling of specific situations like last year’s referendum on the funding of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), the purchasing of an ice skating rink in 2013 and the setup of first-year elections.
On the subject of the MPIRG referendum, Gabe Garbowit ’15 voiced concerns on the application, or potential misapplication, of campaign rules.
“MCSG candidates weren’t allowed to say their position on the referendum issue,” Garbowit said. “They’re our legislative body; it would be weird if Congress members couldn’t tell us how they were thinking about these things.”
Trinity Gao ’19, one of two first years at the forum, was frustrated by the election system in which students must vote for representatives only weeks into school based only on their campaign promises and then assigns them to an unrelated committee.
“Since I am a first year, I didn’t know anyone when I voted for first-year reps,” Gao said. “So I went to this election thing and they gave a speech and I cast my votes based on what they promised to do. Since all the class reps are in different committees, how would MCSG help them achieve their goal and promise? Because I want my votes to be worth it.”
Though much of the feedback centered on personal experiences with MCSG, there was an overarching concern with issues of effectiveness, representation and accessibility.
“I question the effectiveness of MCSG’s ability to really be a push for any institutional change, especially if the administration’s views aren’t in line with a resolution that’s taken up by the student government,” Dan Bomberg ’16 said. “I question whether the structure of MCSG as a student government, can have any impact, any bargaining power with the Administration.”
Grimaldi said the representatives were aware that many students feel misrepresented and trying to fix that.
“We as student representatives may not be doing our best to represent the student body because we end up being consumed by these other issues or things going on,” Grimaldi said. “So this is what we’re here for. So we can know how we can improve our representation of the student body.”
Students were not short on suggtions for improvements either.
“Something that may be a lot of fun, and this may just be my opinion,” said Tyler Skluzacek ’16, “but the [Macalester] library on their web page has a box and it’s ‘ask a librarian.’ You can type anything into that box and the library will send you a really fun, but super helpful response to your question. And that’s something that maybe MCSG could consider as well or maybe have it blast to the executives, or maybe just the representatives overall, because I feel like if you have a lot of people looking at that you can get a response to your question really fast.”
Others suggested MCSG use less official language in their communications, use Facebook more, create videos, add their bylaws to their website, move LB meetings to a more common area and create workshops for students not involved in orgs to learn how to enact change on campus.
Calaway said he hoped that feedback from the forum, and the review in general, will help MCSG overcome some systemic issues.
“I hope that something that can come out of this is that we lay a foundation to sort of create a strategic plan so that we can make long-term goals for MCSG that sort of transcend the issue of having a high turnover rate every year,” Calaways said. “I would like to see some things change while I’m still here but I fully expect that a lot of things will take time and that the best things will certainly take time.”
MCSG will receive a document from the review team with their findings in the coming weeks. The reviewers confirmed that the review will be available to the entire campus.
“We really feel like it would be foolish not to share it with as many people as possible because that’s part of this, transparency,” Thornton said.