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Photographer: Kate Silber

Who Does Students’ Council Really Represent?

On the day of Plenary, Students’ Council congregated on Sunday morning to talk about how council would approach the #AllStrugglesOneCode protest. Students’ Council representatives were at the planning meetings for the movement, yet Students’ Council, could not agree on how to address the movement. As the Officer of Multiculturalism on Council, the protest posed a challenge. On one hand, I am expected to work with the entire Students’ Council to think of a way to approach the movement as a cohesive unit. However, I also represent the students that are addressed by the #AllStrugglesOneCode since it was a movement that showed just how integral marginalized students are to the College, even if the College does not always acknowledge their identities. It raised the question: does my job as the Officer of Multiculturalism entail that I should hold the needs of the student’s I represent above the consensus of the Council or vice versa?

Students’ Council primary job is to represent the student body. It is in our Students’ Constitution. We are elected representatives for a reason; we are expected to act in the best interest of the student body. Is our job to represent a majority of students, and to hold them over students from marginalized communities? Many times, students from marginalized communities are excluded from conversations about doing what’s best for most of the campus. What is often left out of these conversations is how decisions student governance makes will directly and indirectly impact students of marginalized identities.

My role on Council is explicitly this: “[to be] responsible for voicing student concerns pertaining to multiculturalism.” (Students’ Constitution, Section 5.06, subsection (j)). My role, in a sense, is not necessarily to advocate for most students, but rather, to give my attention to students who often are excluded from the majority due to their various identities. This can be challenging in Council when often, we are talking about how we can improve the well-being for all students on campus.

The #AllStrugglesOneCode is a prime example in which SC was faced with determining what our responsibility is with respect to the students we represent The Students’ Council Co-Presidents, the Officer of Athletics, the Officer of Academics, and myself were aware of the protest during its planning sessions. SC’s involvement does reflect a willingness to hear out students and gives us a basis on how to best represent students. However, I was more included in this conversation due to my involvement with ALAS and the Existence as Resistance House, not necessarily due to my association with Council. I did not think about the movement through the lens of a Council member, I thought of it as it is my responsibility to represent marginalized students in SC because I am a part of an affinity group and community house that actively try to stop underrepresented students from being silenced. Moreover, my identity as Latina, low-income, and first-generation also influenced my participation; throughout the span of my first year at Haverford, on too many occasions, the Social Honor Code has failed me and my friends.

On Sunday morning, when SC was trying to figure out the most effective way to deal with the protest, my positionality affected how I thought we should move forward. For me, it was more important to support the students in the movement because the mission statement the organizers brought forward was solid and legitimate. Moreover, I felt a deeper connection with the mission because it brought out a lot of the experiences and feelings I have had as a woman of color on this campus. However, not everyone in Council thought the same thing. Some Council members saw it as a sign of disrespect towards the students and staff who help organize Plenary. They stated how it was an inconvenience for Students’ Council and Honor Council because we spent a couple of hours planning Plenary. I brought up that this thinking is selfish and privileged, in the sense that while student government was inconvenienced for a couple of hours this week, many marginalized students have been inconvenienced by Haverford from the day they stepped onto campus. Somebody in Council suggested that we cancel Plenary because if we went through with it, it would seem as if Council turned their backs on marginalized students. However, most of Council did not agree that this would be plausible since our Constitution does not state that we can cancel Plenary. The movement highlighted a prominent fact:  the Haverford community and certain student government structures add on to the daily inconvenience of marginalized students. The question necessarily becomes this: do we have more responsibility to the law or the spirit of the law? For me, it seemed like Council had chosen the law over who the law affects. The animosity during this meeting confirmed it. Although I, along with  a couple other members, spoke to the concerns of the community I represent, there was only so much I could do in Council when most people believed it was best to move forward with Plenary, despite the resistance.

 I will always prioritize representing marginalized communities over coming to consensus with the rest of Council, even if that means I am constantly at odds with the operations within Council. I believe we are elected representatives for a reason and our responsibility is to represent students. I strongly believe that representing the student body is more important than abiding by a Constitution that was probably written with minimal attention to marginalized students. After all, this school was not built with our voices in mind, the Constitution (though ratified consistently) is no different. If we do not represent the interests of our peers, then Students’ Council no longer serves its purpose.

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