Got a Problem? Speak Up!

What an attractive idea: a student body president who really cares, really wants to listen, and really wants to know what I think. I am truly touched by the 21 candidates who are pledging to speak up for me unconditionally, to represent every single student out there, even the ones who have been expelled, and especially the ones who haven’t yet matriculated. It brings warmth to my weary heart and tears to my eyes. While I agree that the Student Council should do everything in its power to reach out to the entire student body, I am surprised by the number of students who are sold by this campaign promise. Improving communication with students is an excellent goal for the Student Council, which, as a representative organization, should be communicating regularly with students. The problem is not the noble goals of presidential candidates. Instead, it is a general sentiment on campus that the Student Council is responsible for everything and accomplishing nothing. Students at Phillips Academy love to voice their opinions. We are constantly instructed in the arts of persuasion and analysis. Given the opportunity, most seniors will rattle off a long list of complaints, and even freshmen can join in the whining with at least one social or academic blister. When class representatives to Student Council fail to send weekly e-mails or forget to make nightly bedtime phone calls to their classmates, off-campus program cuts become the fault of the reps. Rather than sending e-mails to any members of Student Council, writing letters to members of the administration, starting petitions, or writing articles for the Commentary section, students criticize Student Council for failing to get in touch with them. I hate to destroy any illusions, but technically, the Student Council does not have much power. The Student Council cannot erase your cuts, it cannot overrule the Trustees, it cannot unlock your dorm when you forget your key, and it certainly cannot extract opinions from students who do not speak up. I have been on Student Council for two years, one year as Lower Representative and this year as Vice President. I have been very impressed by the two school presidents that I have worked with, specifically by their abilities to reach out to students. Spencer Willig ’02 spoke regularly and passionately with students on the path and practically forced the class reps to send e-mails soliciting criticism (the responses were limited). Allegra Asplundh-Smith ’04, after a not-entirely-successful attempt to memorize The Face Book, started a Student Council radio show (Tuesdays 10-11 pm) and organized a foolproof strategy for conducting the largest student survey ever. After a long discussion and a look at past survey yield, the Student Council passed out surveys to students on the way into cluster meetings and allotted time during the meetings to fill out the surveys. Previously, students, left to their own devices, often threw away the surveys or filled them out hastily. The same students then complained loudly about potential Pace of Life changes and the general ineptitude of the Student Council. Perhaps you hate your class reps, you do not have e-mail access, surveys make you homicidal, or writing letters just is not your thing. So, why not stop by a meeting? Student Council meetings are open to everyone unless specifically indicated. Observers cannot vote, but they can offer their opinions every Sunday at 7:00pm in the Trustees Room on the third floor of GW. Before I bestowed my signature on any would-be presidents, I asked them why they were running. After listening to their platform summaries, I invited each of them to attend the Student Council meetings. Sadly. few candidates have taken me up on my offer, though in their platforms, many expressed bewilderment as to how to contact the Student Council. Furthermore, only three candidates have asked Allegra what it actually means to be the Student Council president. I do not write this article to belittle the presidential candidates or the student body at large. Many students are very active in school politics and I welcome complaints about Student Council, an organization that can certainly use improvement. On the contrary, I simply challenge students to back up their complaints with some facts, or to take matters into their own hands. I hope to see a few additional faces around the glossy mahogany tables this Sunday, or to hear a couple of new ideas from voices outside of the Council. I know that Andover students are a capable bunch, and I hope that students will voice their opinions to help alleviate the oft-discussed Student Council communication problems.