A Closer Look at the 2018-2019 Student Council

When Student Council first succeeded at reforming the Visitations Policy at the beginning of the year, I felt that it was actually fulfilling its intended purpose: to serve as “the liaison between the students and the administration.” From its extensive use of all-school emails to its hosting a town hall meeting, the Council worked tirelessly to help students throughout the resolution process. More importantly, I felt confident that this year’s Student Council, unlike many of its predecessors, clearly had the ability to deliver on its promises.

When Student Council first succeeded at reforming the Visitations Policy at the beginning of the year, I felt that it was actually fulfilling its intended purpose: to serve as “the liaison between the students and the administration.” From its extensive use of all-school emails to its hosting a town hall meeting, the Council worked tirelessly to help students throughout the resolution process. More importantly, I felt confident that this year’s Student Council, unlike many of its predecessors, clearly had the ability to deliver on its promises.

However, halfway into the school year, I realize how misguided my initial impression was. After having interviewed and surveyed a variety of students, from House presidents to underformers, I found that Student Council has failed to fulfill the majority of its goals.

Though Student Council members have sought to address the clear lack of school spirit, nothing has changed. StuCo hangouts have not happened. The number and variety of social events has stayed the same: Saturday nights are typically limited to dances, skate parties, and occasional musical performances or game nights. Furthermore, most students I’ve interviewed agree that the excitement and overall attendance at these events has decreased. The Dog Pound has been inactive during many of the athletic games I’ve attended, which, like dances, attract the same crowd of outgoing students. As a result, the social scene doesn’t cater to the many more introverted people on campus, contradicting the vice president of social’s platform goal of building a “socially inclusive, united campus.”

StuCo’s other spirit-building efforts, such as its lackluster Hill Week, have also flopped. While some of us did dress up for Spirit Week, for example, the dull crowds walking around campus suggest that the majority of students were in regular class dress. To further dampen the festivities, StuCo included a pornographic reference in the Hill Video, showing poor judgement and serving as a bad example for underformers. Student Council crossed the line between humor and disrespect to evoke strong school spirit. And although not its intention, this video, a symbol of female degradation, has changed what Hill week represents.

Another goal for social life was to organize more Form-wide events, yet nearly all of them have been “fundatory” events like the III Form Newcomb Tournament. The V Form’s only Form-wide event so far this year, a Softee Ice Cream Truck, was held back in September.

Academically, student council aimed to encourage academic achievement—with things such as the Green Cup—and provide more peer-tutoring resources. Yet these resources have yet to materialize. House presidents and academic representatives have not been informed of any lists of potential House tutors. As a library peer tutor, I don’t see others present during their scheduled times, nor students approaching them for help, indicating StuCo’s lack of enforcement and communication to the student body.

Compared to the two important academic policy improvements during the 2016-17 school year and considering his promise of “enacting real, positive changes” to Lawrenceville academics, this year’s vice president of academics has not succeeded.

Similarly, another focus of Student Council was to address grading disparity. To its credit, the Council tried to create a system for regrading major assignments, but discovered that re-reads of major assignments have been available for years. Unfortunately, everyone I interviewed was unaware of this, confirming the need for greater communication. The Council has worked with faculty to standardize rubrics in the English and History Departments; however, its progress, even if substantial, has also not been conveyed to the student body, necessitating the need for increased transparency between the student council and student body.

Two important goals of the vice president of honor’s platform were to “Film a Mock DC and send it to the entire School” and to “try [her] hardest to bring back silent majors when appropriate for the given situation.” Neither of these initiatives has been accomplished. To be fair, most students’ understanding of silent majors is fundamentally flawed: Colleges control silent majors—not the School—and with changes in the application process, silent majors as they once were are no longer feasible. However, it is still the responsibility of the vice president of honor to ensure that her goals were achievable and to not reinforce wrong impressions as a candidate.

Despite shortcomings in fulfilling its stated platforms, Student Council deserves appreciation for its efforts. Featured athletic games have better, more equal gender representation. Student Council has done well to hold frequent meetings with House Presidents. Every other week, seniors can attend an interscholar athletic event rather than their conditioning program, and many student events such as musical performances now qualify for exploration credits. The newly implemented athletic day offs, even if insignificant according to some students, are steps in the right direction to relieve stress on campus.

Our current Student Council, like most of its predecessors, has ultimately been unable to achieve many of its goals despite earnest efforts. However, there are several improvements that we can make to better equip future Student Councils for its job and hold them more accountable to the student body. First, platforms of running candidates should be limited to the three most important initiatives. This would allow candidates to focus on quality over quantity, making significant impacts rather than a plethora of small improvements. Many promised changes also turned out to be impossible. Thus, the administration, reviewing proposed platforms, should state which corresponding changes will simply not happen. This would remove overly ambitious promises that aren’t feasible. Most importantly, Student Council should clearly communicate by email or school meeting announcement upon achieving an important goal. Every month, it should send a progress summary on its initiatives, upholding transparency which was cited as the common issue by many students.

While Student Council has not made substantial progress so far, we shouldn’t focus on its shortcomings. Instead, students should proactively communicate and provide feedback so the Council can better fulfill its roles in representing the student body.

Still Going Strong

In my fall term Spanish class, Student Council President Trevor White ’19 always talked about his dog. This dog showed up in tertulias, class discussions, and side conversations; the dog took center stage. From such moments we shared together in Spanish class, I saw not the school president but just another student trying to balance school and extracurriculars with thinking about his dog.

Being a part of Student Council in any capacity is an enormous responsibility. These members serve as the liaison between the administrative staff and the student body; in this way, they are both negotiators and mediators. Through biweekly meetings and countless hours of discussion, Student Council members work with the administration to reach agreements and enact changes in a process that takes time and patience. Thus, the student body often does not see any tangible changes for a long time, so students complain that Student Council has done little good this year. But this assessment isn’t fair, seeing as Student Council has made several noticeable changes this year.

Student Council was able to maintain the dialogue between administrative staff and the student body when it was renegotiating the terms of the new visitation policy. According to White, when he and other Student Council members first saw the new policy during preseason, “[they] thought it was either a joke or some training exercise that the Deans were using to get [them] ready for the year.” When it turned out to be neither, their responses to the policy still helped prepare them for the challenges they would face in the rest of the year. Through effective communication with the student body via all-school emails and Town Hall sessions, meetings with faculty members, and countless drafts, Student Council was able to change the policy in a significant way and give a platform for others to continue making changes, which was a part of White’s campaign last spring.

Furthermore, school meeting time is budgeted far more effectively than it was last year. Student Council has integrated Sustainable Person of the Week, Intellectual of the Month, and Artist of the Week to acknowledge students who are contributing something to both the school community and the world outside the gates. Announcements have also been more streamlined in order to decrease wasted time and make more room for activities that engage the entire student body, such as LQ trivia games, basketball contests, and student performances.

Beyond changing school policy, Student Council has also tried to make itself approachable and easy to talk to. White tried to learn the names of all the students in the school over the summer because he feels it’s important for students “to know that [he] knows who they are and [that he] cares about them.” In addition to that, he and other Student Council members visited II Form Houses in order to introduce themselves at the beginning of the school year. Members continue to make themselves approachable so that others feel comfortable starting conversations with them, whether they be school related or otherwise.

Some still might complain that notable parts of several Student Council members’ platforms have not come into fruition. More often than not, ambitious goals that members propose in their platforms cannot be turned into real concrete changes because of unforeseen obstacles in details and logistics or other difficulties. Or, like most things, certain events that Student Council members are currently planning should remain a secret so that they come as a surprise to the students. Another point to note is that Student Council’s tenure still lasts for several more months, which is plenty of time to implement changes to Lawrenceville life.

While it is easy to place the blame on others and solely look at flaws, it is good to take a step back and see how much good Student Council has been doing. Therefore, we as a student body should be more appreciative of the hard work and dedication its members have put into trying to make the school a better place; not every person is able—or willing—to do what Student Council members have done this year. Let’s take a step back and see how far we’ve come.