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The Consensus Episode 3- Haverford’s Dream Team: An Interview with Students’ Council Co-Presidents

In this episode, David King and Rasaaq Shittu interview Students’ Council Co-Presidents Mariana Ramirez ’20 and Katie Leiferman ’20. This episode was and was produced by Grace Morton ’23 and includes music by Mattias Lundberg ‘20. Cover illustration by Sarah Jesup ’20.

David King 0:13
Hello, and welcome to the consensus a podcast brought to you by the Haverford Clerk Haverford online newspaper. I’m your host, David King. Thanks for being with us. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Rasaaq Shittu as we speak to the students council co presidents Haverford Dream Team, Katie Leiferman and Mariana Ramirez. We talked about their agenda for the year working with a new president plans for plenary, and what it’s like to share the presidency. Check it out. We hope you enjoy.

My name is David King, and welcome to the consensus today I am here with Rasaaq and the co-presidents of Students Council, would you like to introduce yourself?

Mariana Ramirez 0:55
Sure. Hi, my name is Mariana Ramirez, I use she/her pronouns.

Unknown Speaker 0:59
Hi, I’m Katie Leiferman and I use she/her pronouns.

David King 1:02
Um, so just for people who don’t know who you are. Tell us a little bit more about yourselves what your background is on students council? how it is that you actually got into the position that you’re in now.

Mariana Ramirez 1:16
Do you want to get started?

Katie Leiferman 1:19
Sure. So yeah, I’m from Austin, Texas. I came to Haverford through the Horizons program, and met Mariana actually in mock trial our first year. And we kind of bonded over mutual frustrations that we were having in the classroom, and kind of dynamics that we were noticing, like play out in the classroom, in terms of like, who was participating, and more so who wasn’t and just kind of general anxieties around speaking up and like feeling empowered to take up space and things like that. So those conversations kind of stuck with us through our first year. And then the beginning of our sophomore year, when elections for co-secs came out, we just kind of just on a whim decided to run together with this idea that it’d be a really good position to try and take on some of the issues that we were experiencing the classroom. Do you want to talk about sort of what we did?

Mariana Ramirez 2:17
Yeah, so after doing the survey, we presented the results to faculty members, throughout various like departments on campus and told them like our findings, and the Provost, Fran Blase, took notice of that. And from there, they created a task force for classroom climate, which I got the opportunity to serve on. And we basically looked more deeply into the classroom dynamics more broadly. And like how it manifests Haverford with such changing demographics, right, because the Haverford that we have today is not the Haverford that, was here 40 years ago, and so yeah, how is that that like, the classroom dynamics are changing now that we have more POC now that we have more low income students and more people from underrepresented backgrounds? So that was the work that we did last year and the year before that.

Rasaaq Shittu 3:12
I mean, going into this, like, you’re talking about the fact that you felt a need to step in because you saw something that you didn’t like in the classroom or certain dynamics that you had disagreement with. Do you see that as one of your duties as co-presidents trying to step into the classroom and change things here? I haven’t really felt personally like, or what else you see as your job as co presidents?

Katie Leiferman 3:35
Yeah, I think that’s something that we’ve learned over the last two years on council is that a council can’t be productive if it’s not constantly in touch with students. And so like, especially last year, in our position, our kind of biggest emphasis was on transparency and communication with the student body. Like we started the Ford Form, the weekly consensus, started having town halls. And like all of that was in the same spirit is kind of what you’re saying, like, what’s happening in the classroom that we’re not going to know unless we’re in touch with students, unless we’re talking to students unless we’re getting students to come to council, and we’re showing up to events with them. So I think kind of exactly what you’re saying. Like, if we only have one duty as a council, it’s to constantly be in communication with students, aware of what’s going on and trying to address those things as they come up.

Mariana Ramirez 4:22
Yeah, we have built in like a 10 to 15 minute time block during our meetings, where we like go around and talk about what’s going on on campus. And like that’s kind of an opportunity for students to, or like council reps to talk about what they’ve been noticing, not only like in the classroom, but also across the community. So it’s our way to, like, get feedback from reps who have gotten feedback from like, the multiple communities that they’re a part of.

David King 4:46
I think this is a good time to ask. So what what exactly happens in student council meetings? I mean, I know they’re open to the public, supposedly, but what goes down? What is sort of the inner function?

Mariana Ramirez 5:05
Yeah, they are open to the public, please come through we meet on Sundays at 5:15. DC basement. Do you want to talk more about?

Katie Leiferman 5:14
Yeah, sure. Um, so I mean, it’s going to change every year, but this year, how we have we have meetings structured is like would be helpful if we went into the literal agenda of sort of how we move through things?

David King 5:26
Yeah, sure.

Katie Leiferman 5:28
Okay. Um, so everyone on council comes. And the first thing we do is just kind of check in, in general, like Mariana said, like, what is going on on campus. And we find this to be like a really helpful way of getting news from all across campus, everyone has their communities, that they’re part of the parties that they’re going to on the weekend, the clubs are going to after school. And so that’s kind of like just a way of going around the table and hearing and trying to be as in tune to campus and the campus climate as possible. And then we move into officer update, which is essentially where all the reps let everyone else know the work that they’ve been doing over the week. And that’s helpful because it gets transcribed into minutes, which is then sent out student body so you can actually know constantly, what are these people that I elected doing, specifically on the day to day, then we usually have presidential updates, where we talk about updates from our end updates from meetings that we might have had with like faculty or people in admin. And then after that, it’s very week specific. So this past week, we talked about the budget approving the budget. We talked about plenary, we talked about the Clerk article that you guys are writing about reps. And yeah, it kind of changes.

Mariana Ramirez 6:43
Yeah, sometimes we’ll have guests come in and like talk to us about whatever they want council feedback for. And lately, we’ve been incorporating like a five minute block at the end of each meeting where we address like group dynamics, like if you notice, somebody hasn’t been speaking up, or like somebody has been taking up too much space we use this time to like address things that we don’t want to be on the minute it’s like, more within Council. That’s pretty much…

David King 7:08
Great. Um, so I know, you guys are very busy. This takes up a lot of your life. So what exactly are your goals for this year? What do Katie and Mariana want to leave as their impression as student council co presidents?

Katie Leiferman 7:33
I think, like the biggest thing that we’ve learned from the time that we’ve spent on Council is that the year like, the speed of the year is insane. And coming to the table with sort of like all these projects that you want to get done very quick, very quickly, you realize what is doable and what is not especially because so much of what council handles is kind of on a as things come up basis. Like as the wage discussion last semester happened that we couldn’t really have predicted and like, took up a lot of council’s energy and time. So in that sort of spirit, we came to the table with one like, major project that we’re trying to focus all of our energy on. And then of course, you have like the representatives who have their own projects, but from our end, not projects, Plenary.

Mariana Ramirez 8:22
Yeah, sure. So we want to restructure plenary. And we want this plenary or the plenary in the spring, depending on how things go to be radically different from anything that anyone has ever seen before, we want to take the data from the clearness committee report, which said the role of students Council is to define what the purpose of plenary is. And I think, plenary has become this thing that like, nobody really knows what it’s for. Nobody really knows like the purpose of it, people go because it’s like an obligation the customs team is making them go, they feel like pressure. So we want to make plenary, a meaningful space to have campus discussions. And we want to get rid of a lot of like the structural, nitty gritty of like, friendly, unfriendly amendments. And we basically want plenary to be a space where we have like actual conversations, because I think a lot of the times the resolutions that come forward focus on like changing two letters of the Constitution or changing like a sentence. And I think that’s when it becomes very disengaging, because you get of group of like 10 people that are very attentive and are paying attention the entire time. And then you get like the rest of the campus that is just there like, present, but not like fully engaged. So we’re in conversation with a lot of communities across campus trying to like see what students want from plenary, because at the end of the day, it’s not what we want. It’s like what the community wants the space to be. And so we’re just trying to get as much feedback as we can. And we’re going to be starting meetings with plenary committee within council that are going to be open to the public to start, like, defining the why why do we have plenary? What is the purpose of plenary? And then based off of that, we can afford to think about what changes we can make to address that Why?

Rasaaq Shittu 10:16
I want to ask specifically, do the fact that you guys were talking about how you want to restructure plenary, like almost completely major from anything that we’ve seen in the past. What was the like your personal experiences with Plenary being first years, assume that you’re on the other side of Plenary? now being Stu-Co presidents on the other side of Plenary? How has it been seeing it from both sides? What are the changes we’ve seen happen? Or what do you think you’ve noticed, due to being in different positions?

Mariana Ramirez 10:45
So when I came into Haverford, I never, I never knew about the Honor Code. I never knew about plenary, I never knew about self governance. I never even did like anything Student Government related in high school. And so when I came into Haverford, I came in through the Chesick program. And I remember my very first plenary, I was there with my customs team. And I was there because we kind of had to go and like the HCO like, rounded everyone up and we all went together. And they told us bring your homework to work on because it’s long, and it’s boring. And I just remember like, seeing the same five people going up to the microphone and speaking the entire time. And I remember everybody like around me just doing their homework, like not paying attention, not listening. And I just remember like, asking myself, like, what am I doing here? Like, this is such a waste of time. And I think, I think that’s like a common experience. And I think that’s a very common way to see plenary. And I think now that like, I’ve been in Student Council for a few years. And I’m in conversation with like, my friends from home who go to large state schools, I realized how special plenary is and how special and cool it is that we have this space to come together as a community. But I think that obviously, it’s not perfect. And I’d really like to see some radical change happen to make it more engaging.

Katie Leiferman 12:02
Yeah I would just add to that for our class. And for the class, that’s a year below us we’ve had, as David probably knows, like, the last 4 Plenaries have all been pretty different, like we had my sophomore fall was the protest. And that spring, we had an additional special plenary, which ran like we did minutes for maybe the eight hours. And then last fall, it was coming to the table with all these propositions for how we can have discussion at plenary that got voted down and nothing happened. And then we had the spring, which was like somewhat of a normal plenary, we changed up the space a lot. Kind of anticlimactic. And so it it seems like, since we’ve gotten here plenary has we’ve tried different things. And plenary is still failing to sort of serve the student body in the ways that it should. And I think the biggest takeaway from my time in like the three years that I’ve been here at plenary is that students are, are very passionate and are very engaged, and it’s plenary that’s not doing the service, right? It’s not that people don’t care about Haverford or don’t care about making better community, it’s that we’re not using the space in the right ways for people to, to engage. And so I think that’s on our end, I don’t think it’s a question of student apathy at all. Students care an incredible amount here. And we just need to do a better job for like providing the platform for that and for discussions across campus.

David King 13:29
Yeah, thank you for that. I know that plenary was and student apathy, those kinds of issues were really important to Maurice and Andrew, who are your predecessors. Do you think that left any impression on on you guys? Is there something that that Maurice and Andrew sort of instilled in you?

Mariana Ramirez 13:51
I think, like their energy and their creativity, to imagine things differently. Because I think a lot of what we do at Haverford is done because of near tradition. And I don’t think we often think about, like, the reason why we do things. So I think they were great in terms of totally like pushing us to think about things differently. But like Katie was saying, like, we don’t think that students are apathetic at all, anything that discourse kind of got, I don’t know, at least for me, I was a little uncomfortable with that discourse. But yeah, we just, we want students to know that we don’t think that the community is apathetic, if anything, like we see how much people care about each other, and how much people care about like the things that they’re passionate about.

David King 14:41
yeah, thank you that that’s I think that’s a really important distinction. I think that’s it’s it’s really interesting how you guys are reshaping council to reflect that kind of energy that the Haverford community has.

Rasaaq Shittu 14:54
It’s nice to see as you guys are moving out, you’re still making an attempt to break change. As you guys are moving out, we just have a new president that’s moved in, Wendy. What is it been like working with her, any of your thoughts and your ideas about changing plenary? Like, what’s your relationship?

Katie Leiferman 15:15
Yeah, so we meet with Wendy once a week. And I think what I’ve been most moved by about our conversation is how direct she is. She’s very much like she’s going to tell it to you like it is and like that’s been really helpful for us in terms of just having like a very meaningful dialogue, like being able to say, look, this is the student perspective, from where we see it. This is what we’re hearing from students. And she she shows up. Like she really does, and she wants to help in any way she can. She’s constantly like, tell me where to be and I’ll be there. And I think we’ve seen that from the groups that she’s already met with, and that she’s continuing to try to meet with.

Mariana Ramirez 15:56
Yeah, she’s really just here to listen and see what the community wants. We asked her like, so what are your plans for the year one be like, tell us like what you want to do. And she was very much like, I am here to listen and see what the community wants. So I think she’s really open to hearing different perspectives and doing the best she can to address like, the issues that students bring forward. So she’s also going to be starting Wendy’s Worner.

David King 16:23
No way. Wow,that’s, that’s breaking news right there. This, you heard it here first, folks.

So Wendy, is is obviously a big change for the community in in several ways. She, she’s the she’s the first full time woman as as president of the college. She’s also the first non-interim president that we’ve had in a while. And that’s kind of, the fact that she has said on multiple occasions, she’s here to stay, she’s not going anywhere, I think has left a deep impression on me. And I get an impression on a lot of a lot of other people. So I was I was there for the inauguration. It was, it was a really, I think it was a really good event. What did you guys, was that the first time hearing her speech? What are your thoughts on that?

Mariana Ramirez 17:41
Um, I think I’m always skeptical, right? When like, people make these big, elaborate speeches, and they make promises, I’m always like, very skeptical. And we actually met with her like, a few days after she gave her speech. And I was like, yo, Wendy, inclusivity, is like big, you know, like how catch phrases that you hear everywhere, like everybody’s talking about inclusivity and diversity, but like, you know, like, you need to do things to like back up what you’re saying. And she is already like, looking at how faculty members are highered. So she’s like screening that process, because the way she’d framed it to us is like, the way that faculty members are hired is inherently like flawed. Like the the system in which that happens is like imperfect, structurally. So she’s already like, looking at that. So I’m really optimistic. I think she brings a lot of energy, I think she genuinely like, is going to do the things that she says she’s going to do.

Katie Leiferman 18:41
Yeah, I think I think I felt the same way as you did. And I spoke a little bit to that at the inauguration. But the ‘I’m here to stay’ thing, I think means a lot to students. Because we have had so many presidents in such a short span of time. And I think when you have students coming to the table at plenary presenting resolutions, for example, often times those are five years out 10 years out how we’re looking forward, like the one on the carbon footprint last spring. And so knowing that you’re there’s leadership that signing that resolution, who’s going to be here to see that through is really important, because we’re only here for four years. And if we’re going to make any kind of impactful, sustainable change at Haverford, we need leadership that’s gonna be able to be here and make sure that that continues on once we go.

David King 19:24
Yeah, that’s, I think that’s those are all good points. And I’m glad that the reception of Wendy has been has been a real positive. I want to go back for a few minutes to talk about plenary and clearness. I know we’re short, short on time, so we’ll keep it will keep it quick. The clearness committee report obviously came out last week. You guys had it beforehand as members of student council. So what what are your general reactions to report? What do you what are your feelings? hearing from students?

Mariana Ramirez 20:03
Yeah, for at least at least for me, personally, I think the report is really powerful in the sense that we know we talked about the athlete on athlete divide, and we talked about these other issues on campus, but I think like seeing the numbers and like seeing the statistics, like really reinforces and, like validates what people have been saying, and so we’ve been telling people on Council, like, use that report for like, whatever project you want to do, because I think like, if you have the evidence, if you have like, the numbers, like it just makes your project like that much more pressing. And so I think it’s really powerful. Obviously, it’s going to take a long time to like, process everything and to like, really digest the implications of the results. But yeah, I think the clearness committee put so much work into it. And I’m really impressed by how in depth and how comprehensive their work was.

Katie Leiferman 20:56
Yeah, I think going off of that, in my experience at Haverford, being part of whatever it is like a community committees or organization, or Council, whenever you sort of noticed a problem, the first step is always assessment, how can we prove to everyone out there who might not see this, that it really does exist? And clearness is like this incredible opportunity and just work of art that we were handed. Yeah, where we can kind of say like, okay, Officer of athletics, and you’re really passionate about this? Well, there’s information in that report you can use, or officer of the arts or whatever position it might be, there’s something in there for everyone to use. And that’s so helpful as a council because then we’re not spending the entire year sending out surveys asking the student body. The assessment is done. And like now, we are able to use this whole year, like action, like what can we do what our steps forward, some of which are already outlined in the report. Some of it can be taken after looking at the data itself. But that’s just like a huge burden honestly, off of council and like a way to increase and speed up the process of so many initiatives that we’ve tried to do over the years. Because the assessment, the assessment part is done. Yeah.

Rasaaq Shittu 22:03
I mean, going off of clearness, I remember when I received the email, like it was kind of weird, I had no idea what it was. In terms of like, my Customs team, no one like told me what Clearness was , When I like open the document, I’m surprised to see all this data about things I was hearing about, like I heard about the athlete non-athlete divide. I heard about how marginalized groups might feel speaking up on campus. What has been like the history of the clearness report? Is this something that’s very new? Is it something that’s been happening for the past couple years, but it’s never been actually apply? What is clearness?

Mariana Ramirez 22:40
The clearness report, so the clearness committee is supposed to be coming together every four years to assess like, the campus climate at that given time. And it’s been done in the past. I don’t know for how long but I think this is really the first year that there’s been this much like depth and this much breath of information collected, I think in the past, like they focus on one like specific aspect of campus, but this time around, like they really liked almost everything.

David King 23:12
Yeah. So the clearness committee, I believe first came out of a plenary resolution. And, and the historic response to the report has been to, to, to propose resolutions. And so so what, what, if anything, is the relationship between plenary this year and the clearness committee report? For you guys? How much impact are both of those events going to have on each other?

Katie Leiferman 23:50
I think a huge amount of impact. I think you’re completely right, that sort of we have this assessment. And it’s now like, in terms of looking forward, the natural response is plenary. And whether, depending on how plenary looks this year, whether that’s a resolution or that’s a conversation, that becomes a resolution. I think that plenary is going to be like a very integral piece ain how the campus responds to the clearness report. And I would say we’re going to be doing a lot of outreach to students to see like, what they want resolutions to look like. And so I would just kind of plug like, if people read the report and have have have strong feelings, come to our meetings, and we’re going to be having additional hours available for plenary specific events and conversations, but just be on the lookout for that.

David King 24:38
Great. So before we let you guys go, one, one question that is that we’re really interested in is what is it like to work with a co-president, you know, in in so many other institutions, so many other places? There’s one president, there’s a vice president, what is it like to share that kind of seat?

Mariana Ramirez 25:00
I think it’s really cool. I, I think we complement each other in so many great ways. And it’s nice, because it is a lot of work. And like it gets shared with another person. And it feels like you’re not alone. And like you’re in this together. And I think that only like, empowers you. It’s not the situation where it’s like, oh, like I want more power, or like, you know, so it’s great. I’m really happy that it’s a shared position, and I can’t imagine it any other way.

Katie Leiferman 25:28
Yeah, I mean, I would say the same thing. I also think that we both, like, since our first year have felt so passionate about so many things across campus, that it’s nice to have that person that you’ve known for three years, to go back to and also to remind you, at the end of the day, like when things get so stressful, and when deadlines and meetings and appointments and all these things start like piling up like just kind of as like a grounding like a centering person to be like, remember why we’re in this. Like, remember how like fun and like good this work can be. And I’ve had an incredible experience working with Mariana and it’s like, the amount of growth that’s been possible because we want to work together. It’s just crazy. So yeah.

David King 26:14
That’s wonderful. Katie Mariana, thank you so much for your time.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Katie Lieferman and Mariana Ramirez. We hope you liked it. Stay tuned for more content from the consensus. In the meantime, check out the clerk’s website at www dot Haverford This episode was recorded by David King and Rasaaq Shittu and was produced by Grace Morton. The editor in chief of The Clerk is Ali Rosenman. And our music was written and recorded by Mattias Lundberg. Thanks for checking us out. See you next time.

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