Dear Student Body,
I address you as a concerned senior who wants to see this university assume its intended role as educator, protector, uplifter, and home. I have been urged to write this editorial due to recent events but these thoughts are not new to me.
A surprising number of you came up to me in the past week and thanked me for my words at the town hall meeting. The gratitude, you said, was because I presented alternatives and insight rather than just roasting the school unproductively. Many of you even expressed discomfort with the rest of the meeting. I do not say this out of hope for prolonged praise — “Look! I said something smart” — no, I say it out of necessity. There is a reason hundreds of you attended that meeting, and there is also a reason hundreds of you left feeling dejected, further removed from the cause, and flat-out frustrated.
I respect the voices of each person who spoke that night and their well-deserved right to express their grievances. The manner in which the town hall happened was the only way in which it could have. However, it is time to pose a few questions. Assuming that the hundreds of people who attended and the thousands of people who signed the petition did so out of the feeling of being wronged, how come that massive collective feeling has now faded into the lost echoes of a few private conversations and Facebook posts? Where is the mobilization? Where is the fight for what is right?
Anger has and always will be a political mobilizer. But when dealing with powerful institutions, anger without rationale can be detrimental. Perhaps this topic is wrought, but when applied to the situation at hand I believe it can be incredibly enlightening.
The average student here feels some type of loyalty to the school; maybe they’re overflowing with meliora spirit, maybe they’re tied down financially, or maybe they just have the typical expectation for future career success. Whatever the case, each student has placed a great deal of trust in this school. For this reason, getting the average student to challenge an institution they’ve invested in is not going to be an easy task despite the injustice they feel. This would mean placing their investment of a lifetime at stake, and I do not blame their hesitancy.
So when the average student, feeling wronged but not sure about what to do, attended that town hall and only saw yelling, angry, sometimes flagrant people roasting the face of their investment (a far too pitiable face) perhaps they saw anger without rationality and began to withdraw. I can’t say with certainty what that student was looking for, but if I were to hazard a guess, it would be a tangible and rational movement that they could stand behind. Albeit a few weeks late, I would like to present that to the student body now.
There are four stakeholders at the University: faculty, students, alumni, and administrators. (This includes the Board of Trustees.). As it stands, only the administrators play a role in the decision-making process of the University. To break that down further, only very rich, predominantly white lawyers, businesspeople, CEOs, bankers, realtors, and doctors have a say in the major decisions of this school that affect us all. The Board has 44 members, 11 of whom are women and few of whom are non-caucasian. The board members are the only people with power over President Seligman and they acquired this prestigious position with money. My question is why doesn’t the Board represent all of the school’s stakeholders rather than just the top 1 percent, with objectively very-far-removed experiences from the people their policies most directly affect? Many other universities (Cornell, Duke, Brandeis, and more) elect students to their school boards, yet our school can’t include us on even one simple policy committee. Where is the logic in that?
Perhaps if President Seligman had more young women at the table, they would’ve been the ones to save him from the embarrassment of comparing this situation to an irrelevant “Rolling Stone” article. Perhaps, if there were more people of color at the table, the school wouldn’t be so inept when it comes to implementing policies that protect students. Finally, perhaps if there was a diversity of voices at the table, the Jaeger case wouldn’t have been an echo chamber of similar people reaffirming themselves with similar self-preserving judgments, and righteousness would’ve emerged instead.
So, student body, I’m not asking you to pick up a picket sign and charge at the administrators with a slur of curses (though this anger is granted). I’m just asking you to think about what you deserve as a customer, as a student, as a human being, and how you’re going to get it. If you’re coming up short, I can get you started.
A group of us recently started a group called The Meliora Movement. Our goal is to pressure the University to take preventative (not retroactive) measures to ensure that all the voices of this school are represented and heard, while also holding it accountable for preexisting policies. We want transparency, we want representation, and we will fight for it through whatever means necessary. Our first order of business: getting the representation we, the faculty, and the alumni deserve on the Board of Trustees. We are passionate, calculated, and inclusive, and we are ready for change.
In sum, what urged me to say those words at the town hall meeting was that in the face of vast, seemingly hopeless anger, I saw a possibility for change. We don’t have to exist in a world where alternatives are unimaginable. In light of our country’s current government, it’s more important than ever that we realize the power dormant within us.
I want us to imagine better. I want us to reclaim meliora.
Correction (9/27/17): The original version of this article erroneously cited research by a professor claiming no member of the Board of Trustees had a PhD. This is inaccurate — at least two members do. It has since been updated.