Macalester students have long been active in initiatives to further align campus and student life with the college’s values. A new student-led project, the Student-Led Coalition, is attempting to center those projects and give students a space to collaborate.
In the last couple of years, students have successfully pushed Macalester to abstain from future private partnerships in the fossil fuel industry, rename the Humanities Building following The Mac Weekly‘s “Colonial Macalester” special issue and advocacy from the student org Proud Indigenous People for Education (PIPE) and refocus admissions practices to increase accessibility and recruit domestic students of color. Student activism and leadership in broader social and political issues as well as campus-oriented issues has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on Macalester’s campus.
Over winter break a group of students brainstormed ways to push back against the administration’s decision to shorten spring break. Macalester administration made the decision without direct input from the student body, provoking concerns from the Macalester community over mental health and wellbeing. The result of the student organizing was a petition, drafted by Ayana Smith-Kooiman ’22 and Amy Vandervelde ’21*, calling for the restoration of a full spring break.
More recently, Smith-Kooiman and Katie McCarthy ’22, interested in ways to mobilize student voices and spread awareness of initiatives like the spring break petition, used their experience helping to draft it as a jumping off point for highlighting similar student-led projects. Reaching out to students involved in the spring break petition as well as cold-emailing some students from different departments at Macalester, they gathered a sizable group interested in promoting student-led projects to improve campus life. This group grew to become the Student-Led Coalition, a recently launched platform for student campus-oriented organizing.
The coalition now has a growing presence on Twitter and Instagram, where it promotes itself as “a project space for student-led solutions and a source of institutional memory for student organizing.” Organized in ‘teams,’ the group includes students researching and promoting issues related to public availability of course evaluations, publishing in The Mac Weekly as a means of publicizing student opinion, pursuing environmental justice and accountability and expanding access to Disability Services.
“The vision overall is just to have it be [a space for] all this research students are doing for these projects that they want to pursue, because [their project] is a problem that they see at Macalester and they want to change it,” Smith-Kooiman said.
The Coalition’s student-led projects are consolidated on a Slack channel where students can collaborate with others on existing projects and create their own. Students can also contribute research to build institutional memory of progress made and actions undertaken in service of a particular student-led goal. Currently, there are about 50 students on the Slack channel, 100 Twitter followers and 150 Instagram followers.
McCarthy’s motivation for helping initiate the Student-Led Coalition was the lack of a centralized platform for shared resources, research and community surrounding issues on campus.
One issue she encountered was a professor having their class’ exam due on a study day earlier this year. In response, the class got together, wrote a petition and sent it to the professor, who then moved the exam date. Talking to friends, McCarthy learned that they too had had similar problems.
“There’s no centralized location for this kind of institutional memory but also for this resource sharing to exist,” McCarthy said.
MCSG Student Services and Relations Committee member Finn Odum ’21, who is part of the coalition, echoed this point, explaining the value of the coalition as a project space.
“A lot of times, unless you already have an organization centered on that idea and value [of a particular project], it’s really hard to get resources,” Odum said. “One of the great things is that this is a student-led project for other projects. It is providing people with the interest and the resources and the support to get things going.”
At its core, the Student-Led Coalition is a non-hierarchical organization. While there are leaders for individual projects and students managing social media and the main Slack channel, any student can join by messaging the coalition’s social media accounts or asking a member to add them to the Slack. Currently, the coalition’s Instagram page encourages students to reach out to Ayana Smith-Kooiman ’22, Shelby Kruger ’22 or Kaela Bloemendaal ’22 with any questions about involvement.
While indirect support from faculty and the administration are welcome, the coalition aims to remain a strictly independent, student-led and student-operated space. The coalition’s initial leaders considered embracing a student union model, but ultimately decided that a coalition would better maintain independence and a focus on students.
“That way we really are just truly for the students and not still somehow tied back to the institution,” McCarthy said.
Students currently involved in the Student-Led Coalition look forward to seeing it grow. Given the challenges of spreading the word virtually among students who don’t have social media accounts, the possibility for full-capacity in-person campus life brings further opportunities to make the coalition a backbone of student organizing.
In the meantime, participation is open to all students interested in student-led projects in any capacity.
“I would just want to encourage anyone to reach out to us, even if it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this right now,’ Bloemendaal said. “We all came here for a reason; we all heard about Macalester’s values… and here we are trying to make sure this place lives up to those purported values…. We’ll do the work.”
*Amy Vandervelde is the opinion editor for The Mac Weekly.