At last weekend’s annual ASWC retreat, roughly thirty students convened at the Johnston Wilderness Center. Exchanging names, ambitions, years and positions, the group was quickly united by its common passion for bettering Whitman College. Students discussed broader issues such as dissatisfaction with the school mascot and financial aid policy as well as shorter-term goals. Sexual Misconduct and Prevention Chair Katie Steen called for increased lighting on campus, while first-year Senator Erin Lopez advocated for a system that notifies students when they receive packages. Senators also outlined cultural changes that they hope to foster both on campus and in the greater Walla Walla community; first-year Senator Caroline Bauwens proposed putting “as much weight on [racial issues as on sexual violence]” in light of recent events. The breadth of the student representatives’ concerns, as President Jack Percival put it, “speaks to the level of impact that ASWC has on campus” and its potential to effect change. After a discussion of the resources needed to turn these ideas into actions, the group retired to a long night of card games, casual conversations and s’mores.
In typical ASWC fashion, students broke up into committees the following morning to practice their roles. Anya Tudisco’s Finance Committee, for example, decided whether to grant funds to “AnyaMarie McDisco,” an imaginary jazz-enthusiast hoping to attend a John Coltrane concert. Each committee oversees a distinct element of Whitman life: while Student Affairs acts as “a liaison between student interests,” according to Chair Arthur Shemitz, the recently formed Sustainability Committee, led by Dani Hupper, is building a wind turbine and reinvigorating the bike share program, among other projects.
Then everyone staged a mock Senate meeting to learn about the mechanics of discussion and voting. The issues on the table were much more lighthearted than usual: the potential formation of a Napping Club, the funding of a “Prancercise” class, and the confirmation of Kanye West as ASWC President for the 2020-2021 school year. By addressing these less-than-serious agenda items, members improved their mastery of Senate proceedings, using vocabulary and techniques from Robert’s Rules of Order to dictate the meeting’s style.
In total, ASWC evaluated and voted on five agenda items, held three formal debates, conducted four question-and-answer sessions, and spent $500,000 to provide each Whitman student with a kitten.
By spending a weekend developing personal goals and the skills needed to reach them, the ASWC Senate took the first step towards creating a productive year — and a closely bonded community with which to approach it.