On Monday, Feb. 1, the student body was emailed the culmination of last fall’s Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) external review. While the 17 page document identified issues in the structure, transition process and transparency of MCSG, the reviewers on the whole were impressed by the role MCSG plays on campus.
The review states that “overall, [the review team members] think that MCSG is working well” and that the changes recommended are “incremental in nature.”
For MCSG President Ian Calaway ’16, receiving such a positive review was validating.
“I think it very well captures many of the problems that we have and I think that it identifies a lot of places where we can make changes that will be productive,” Calaway said. “I also think that it highlights the fact that we are doing pretty well. I’ve come to the conclusion that I think they recognize — and I think that it’s good to see — that we’re doing what we’ve been charged to do. And that’s a good feeling.”
Andrew Beveridge, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science and one of the members of the review team, said that, if anything, MCSG has an issue communicating how helpful it can be to the community.
“I would say that I think that MCSG is doing a lot more than people realize they’re doing and when things are just humming along, you don’t necessarily notice,” Beveridge said.
That’s not to say that the review team, made up of two faculty members, three students, two MCSG members and two external reviewers, had no suggestions on improvements for the government.
In some places their recommendations for change are extensive. On the topic of structure of the organization, some of the review team’s recommendations were: that the MCSG President and Vice President redistribute their tasks more evenly between themselves, that once the Sustainability Officer achieves their goals, they be replaced by a Media Officer to better communicate MCSG’s work on campus, and that the amount of class representatives be reduced to four representatives per class and four to eight new representative positions be created for areas like the Department of Multicultural Life, International Student Programs, Athletics and other locations on campus.
On the issue of the MCSG transition process the reviewers suggested having transition documents for each Executive Board and committee member and that a leadership orientation be hosted to ensure that incoming and returning members are comfortable in their roles.
In the recommendations for transparency the team advised that MCSG create a marketing plan, rework their website for great accessibility and devise a planning calendar with members’ goals in order to be more transparent in the expectations and role of each Legislative Body member.
Though hardly a short list of advice, for some students the review report didn’t go far enough to promote the improvement of larger issues in MCSG.
Will Theriac ’16 was a member of MCSG for both his sophomore and junior year. The atmosphere of the MCSG Theriac experienced was so bad that he now describes the space as “unhealthy” and “triggering.” While he recognized that MCSG is a largely positive body this year, he said in an interview that he believes that it is the exception in a history of negative MCSGs and that the review does not do enough to combat the government’s history.
“I did not think the review addressed any kind of structural changes which would impact the culture which historically and in my experience has always tended towards the negative, abusive and hostile,” Theriac said. “I have heard, and I believe, that this year is a lot better with relationships between orgs, but I have also heard from a lot of guests, particularly last semester, that guests still feel unprepared, often attacked, micro-managed and scared when they go in.”
Theriac, who participated in one of the review team’s meetings with student leaders, said that he believes it will take a restructuring of the power dynamic between Executive Body members and Legislative Body members before a cultural change can occur.
Theriac does support many of the measures the team proposed, though he said he worries that the overall positive tone of the report may lead the positivity of the MCSG body to sour.
“I think that this year has been better, but by singing the song ‘we’re better this year, we’re better this year,’ the current crop of MCSG, I fear, may also be lulling itself into complacency again,” Theriac said. “One year of improvement is not enough.”
Andrea Grimaldi ’16 is one of the review team members and a senior class representative. While she recognized that the team received accounts of a poor MCSG environment in early years, she said they decided to focus on the present.
“I was really surprised to see the difference between the old MCSG students coming into the meetings with these bad past experiences,” Grimaldi said. “They approached us as the review team and were very clear about the things they considered a toxic environment in MCSG. And then you could see a very sharp contrast with the MCSG members who were very positive. They were like, ‘oh everything is fine. We’re talking…’ We, as the review team, we decided to focus on the present, on what’s happening right now in MCSG, and how certain things are working and if there were some that didn’t work in the past, how do you arrange this structure so that it reflects positive changes.”
Grimaldi said that overall, the report had been received positively by MCSG members and students. She said that now that MCSG has had time to digest the report during their semester retreat last weekend, they’re ready to move forward and start implementing the recommended changes.
“The ideal thing is to get as much of this done this semester while the people who were part of the review, not only as members of the review team, but who contributed to the discussions of the review process are still there, because that’s when it’s fresher in your mind,” Grimaldi said. “But at the same time with the spring semester you have to understand that you work as an MCSG rep but you’re also a student with responsibilities and the spring semester is always a crazy time for everyone, it goes by so quick. So you try to do as much as you can with the time that you’re given.”