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Letter to the editor responds to alumni concerns about Scot Council

Olivia Proe

To the editor:

As incoming president of Scot Council, I would like to take this opportunity to address the concerns some of our alumni have voiced regarding the new governing body. I am proud of the governing body that students have worked so hard to create, and strongly believe the creation of Scot Council to be a critical change undertaken with due diligence. 

Campus Council (CC) is relatively young in the grand scheme of Wooster’s history, having just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. It was borne out of student dissatisfaction with the governing system at the time. Accordingly, students overhauled the constitution to create a new system to address structural inefficiencies and underrepresented voices. Now, 50 years later, it is time for another change, one that will accomplish similar objectives.

While I was not a member of the Oversight Committee that drafted the Scot Council constitution, I firmly believe it was created in good faith to better serve Wooster students. These representatives from both Student Government Association (SGA) and CC pulled from the best aspects of each governing body to streamline our current system, making it more accessible and welcoming to students who have not served before.

I disagree with alumni concerns that the Oversight Committee did not take student opinions into account while drafting the Scot Council constitution. The Oversight Committee spent months consulting various student groups across campus, seeking input about the new governing body. Oversight also hosted numerous panels where students were encouraged to address concerns — ultimately changing the scope of the constitution to ensure that it has the same powers that Campus Council formerly held after students offered feedback. Scot Council will still have the ability to make policy changes, allocate funding to student organizations and approve charters — all powers that were clarified in the constitution thanks to students who contributed to the Oversight process. Had Oversight received significant opposition from students about overhauling the dual system, the taskforce would have ended the process; in fact, student opinion favored creating this new system.

Based on feedback from students, and from my own prior experience serving on SGA, the dual system of SGA and CC was not working well. There have been almost no contested elections on SGA the past few years — and oftentimes so few students were interested in running or stepped down before the end of their term that both bodies had to run emergency elections where students were selected by application, rather than elected, to fill seats. In fact, SGA saw nearly a 50 percent turnover of senators during my first term. 

In contrast, the new election system under Scot Council has garnered such incredible student turnout that every seat is filled or hotly contested. I am especially pleased that we have four students running to be the new First-Generation/Low-Income (FGLI) Representative, showing that we have filled a need that was not previously addressed by SGA or CC. Having one governing body removes confusion around elections, which encourages more people to run. With more people running for fewer seats, the new system offers more democratic representation. 

I am sure that Scot Council’s constitution is not perfect, and I anticipate bumps along the road while we navigate the new system. We will remain open to constructive criticism and peer input while we refine our constitution to best suit the needs of the student body.

I hear the alumni who are frustrated with changes. You are individuals who poured your hearts and souls into SGA and CC, and I sincerely thank you for your commitment to making Wooster a better place. We are doing the same and following in your footsteps to make positive changes to our home. Ultimately, I am sure we agree that we all want the best for the students we serve — and I believe that Scot Council is the way for us to accomplish that shared goal. 

Sincerely,

Olivia Proe, former SGA Advocacy Chair, President of Scot Council ‘21

Sam Casey, former SGA Vice President, Vice President of Scot Council ‘21

Rishika Todi, former CC International Diversity Representative, Treasurer of Scot Council ‘22

Maggie Dougherty, former SGA Class Senator, Secretary of Scot Council ‘21

Srushti Chaudhari, former SGA Class Senator, Chief of Staff of Scot Council ‘22

Emilee McCubbins, former SGA President ‘20

Nick Shereikis, former SGA Vice President ‘20

Carly McWilliams, former SGA Secretary ‘22

Isaac Weiss, former SGA Treasurer, former Oversight co-chair ‘20

Matt Mayes, former CC At-Large Representative, former Oversight co-chair ‘20

Emmy Todd, former CC At-Large Representative ‘22

Amber Rush, former CC At-Large Representative ‘22

Jill Munro, Former CC Faculty Representative, Director of International Student Services

Grace O’Leary, former SGA Student Services Chair ‘20

Abigail McFarren, former SGA Outreach & Diversity Chair ‘22

Anna Medema, former SGA Advocacy Co-Chair ‘20

Jennifer Grossman, former SGA Advocacy Co-Chair ‘20

Abby Donohue, former CC Selective Service Organization Representative ‘20

Marco Roccato, former SGA Class of 2020 Senator

Saralee Renick, former SGA Class of 2022 Senator

Oria Daugherty, former SGA Class of 2021 Senator

Devon Matson, former SGA Class of 2021 Senator

Lillian Dunning, former SGA Class of 2021 Senator

Yuxuan Ke, former SGA At-Large Senator ‘20

Doug Morris, former SGA At-Large Senator ‘22

Lilia Eisenstein, former SGA Class of 2022 Senator 

Ivan Akiri, former SGA At-Large Senator ‘22

Alumni express concerns over new student government, Scot Council

Jordan Griffith

Members of the Board of Trustees,

We write to you as a collective of former members of Student Government Association (SGA) and Campus Council (CC) regarding the proposal to merge Campus Council and the Student Government Association into one novel organization. The following letter enumerates our concerns that the proposal weakens students’ access to administration, that the proposal weakens the tradition of collaboration that CC and the SGA represent, that the process of developing the proposal was undemocratic and that the time frame presented for successful reform is unrealistic and places an undue burden on the student leaders of the College. Ultimately, we ask you to reject the proposal so that proper time and care can be afforded to the important issue of improving these governing bodies. We stress we are not opposed to reform, as evidenced by the significant reforms we advanced in our time as leaders. We also came to understand the principle that change requires investment, careful planning and adequate time.

Wooster has been uniquely ahead of the curve in embracing a stakeholder model of campus governing as a result of extensive student activism in the 1960s. This proposal would have Wooster abandon our cutting-edge structure of giving staff, faculty, administration and students an equal seat at the table. It minimizes a format for students to bring concerns directly to representatives of each part of the campus in weekly, public and accountable forums. We value the efforts of administrators to be accessible, but no administration-led initiative can match the access that these two bodies provide, even in their current, imperfect forms. We are concerned that this new proposal would restrict the students’ ability to bargain as equals with the Board, the administration, the staff committees, and the faculty committees.

Every student-led initiative, protest and collective action in recent memory at Wooster has been designed to bring student voice to the table. If Wooster is to proceed with this new system, we roll back the efforts that our peers took to build a stronger community that includes all parts of the campus. Fundamentally, this proposal reduces student input in important decisions at Wooster, divides the community and is inconsistent with the principle of “independent minds working together.” We reiterate that we do not reject reform, but we propose that reform requires care and planning, two elements that have not been central to this process. Further, reform should be progressive, improving on the progress made in the past.

The hastiness with which the Oversight Task Force (Oversight Committee) has executed this process raises red flags. In just one semester, the group submits that they have fully and comprehensively assessed the efficiency levels of both SGA and CC and found them so inadequate that the only reasonable path forward is to eliminate both organizations. SGA and CC voted on the proposal in question merely two school months after announcing the intention to completely overhaul the existing bodies. We further understand that while developing the new organization’s constitution, the advocates for the proposal often responded to critique with hostility, focusing on minimizing input for the sake of expediency. We also understand that the committee refused to provide drafts of the proposed constitution during forums designed to solicit feedback. It alarms us that the people who will feel the direct ramifications of this overhaul have largely not had the chance to ruminate on the changes or provide meaningful feedback. Indeed, the opaque and rushed process behind the proposal seems out of alignment with Wooster’s prioritization of collaboration and community engagement.

In response to the Oversight Committee’s claim that the structure of SGA and CC is ineffective, we strongly disagree and respectfully point to several student-led projects and accomplishments from our tenures. Students leaders in SGA and CC created gender neutral housing which has helped the College remain competitive amongst its peers, made strides to improve student safety on campus, developed meaningful free-expression guidelines that encourage the intellectual growth of Wooster while recognizing the inherent dignity of every member of our community, reformed budgeting processes to ensure groups can contribute to a stronger Wooster community, developed new sustainability projects that reduced coffee cup waste by thousands each year and created a new College tradition that helps seniors reflect on who helped shape their time at the College. These are just a few in a long list of accomplishments made under the leadership of SGA and CC. While these governing bodies are not without imperfections, they have still contributed to the betterment of the College while working to improve their functioning.

Because of the time we spent as leaders of the SGA and CC, we are acutely aware of the merits and disadvantages of the organization of Wooster’s two elected governance organizations. We do recognize and encourage reform of the two governing bodies to ensure that the voices of the campus constituencies are heard and translated into action. Further, we respect and appreciate the motivation of the committee to improve Wooster. However, the proposed reform does not take mind of the significant time, effort and care necessary to successfully improve governance at the College of Wooster. Finally, considering the myriad new issues Wooster will have to face in light of COVID-19, we believe that the Wooster community will be best served by the established leadership of CC and the SGA unburdened by the need to rebuild itself from the ground up.

In this spirit, we advance the notion that while continued reform is necessary, reform must be carefully planned and take mind of the work that is necessary to make reform successful. We the former leaders of CC and SGA believe that this plan is not ready for the Board’s seal of approval. Ultimately, the purpose of this letter is not to defend the status quo, but rather to encourage that changes are made with an abundance of caution and care with the aim of building a stronger, more collaborative and more equitable community. We encourage the student leaders of Campus Council and Student Government Association to continue to evaluate where the bodies are ineffective and to work to effect positive change for student governance.

Sincerely, the undersigned

Annabelle Hopkins, Chair of Council 2018-2019, Senator 2016-2018

Monét Davis, President of Student Government Association 2018-2019, Senator 2016-2018

Jordan Griffith, Chair of Council 2017-2018, At-Large Council Member 2016-2018

Jordan Ouellette, Vice President of Student Government Association 2017-2018, Senator 2014- 2017

Jack Johanning, Chair of Council 2016-2017, Vice Chair of Council 2015-2016

Spencer Gilbert, President of Student Government Association 2016-2017, At Large Council Member 2015-2016, Senator 2014-2017

Ben Taylor, Chair of Campus Council 2015-2016

Sayantan Mitra, President of Student Government Association 2015-2016, Vice Chair of Campus Council 2013-2014

Josh Foerst, President of Student Government Association 2014-2015, Senator 2012-2015

Elliot Wainwright, Chair of Council 2014-2015

Molly McCartt, President of Student Government Association 2013-2014

Reagan Kazyak, Student Government Association Vice President 2018-2019, Senator 2016-2018

Robert Dinkins, Vice Chair of Council 2018-2019

Marina Dias Lucena Adams, Vice Chair of Council 2017-2018, International Council Member 2017-2018

Theresa Spadola, Vice Chair of Council 2016-2017, At Large Council Member 2015-2016

Robin Emmons, Selective Organization Council Member 2018-2019

Christian Betre, International Diversity Council Member 2018-2019

Stachal Harris, Racial and Ethnic Diversity Council Member 2018-2019

Ethan Barham, Racial and Ethnic Diversity Council Member 2017-2018, Student Government Association Senator 2015-2018

Vrinda Trivedi, Gender and Sexual Diversity Council Member 2017-2018

Aaron Roberson, Racial and Ethnic Diversity Council Member 2016-2017

Heather Smith, Gender and Sexual Diversity Council Member 2016-2017

Geo Tramonto, Selective Organization Council Member 2015-2016

Matthew Hartzell, At-Large Council Member 2017-2019

Garrett Layde, Senator 2018-2019

Callie Ogland-Hand, Senator 2016-2018

Kenyon Moriarty, Senator 2017-2019

Juwan Shabazz, Senator 2018-2019

Gabe Wasylko, Senator 2018-2019

Global and International Studies panel aims to help students better understand current pandemic

Laura Haley

Chief Copy Editor

On April 28, the Global and International Studies (G&IS) department hosted a roundtable discussion titled “Contextualizing Pandemic” via Zoom for current and admitted students from the class of 2024. The meeting featured G&IS professors, Matthew Krain of the political science department, Amyaz Moledina of economics and Margaret Ng and Christina Welsch from the history department and was hosted by Dean of Admissions Jennifer Winge. The panel was intended to help produce a better understanding of the current pandemic through historical, political and economic perspectives via the professors’ presentations and accompanying slides. The topics discussed ranged from human rights concerns to the U.S economic state and strains on global organizations. Each professor led a brief presentation related to their field of study and how it is tied to COVID-19. 

To begin the roundtable, Welsch discussed epidemics that spread throughout the British empire in the Indian Ocean in the 19th century and their relation to larger societal issues. She mentioned that “responses to pandemics are not equal and they reflect societies in which those responses are made.” 

Screenshot from the virtual panel.

From there, Krain highlighted the rhetoric of the current pandemic and how the words used to discuss and respond to COVID-19 are tied to issues of human rights, stating, “sometimes that language [of securitization] gives countries or leaders an opportunity to do things that otherwise wouldn’t be acceptable during peacetime.” For example, he highlighted the recent centralization of power by Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, under the guise of a response to the threat of the virus. Krain explained that global leaders may be inclined to frame pandemics as a security threat as a justification for authoritarian accumulation of power. 

Ng then discussed prior epidemics and history in China, including the 1910 Manchurian plague and the 2003 SARS epidemic in order to contextualize the current situation. She compared these epidemics with COVID-19 and the responses to them,  especially after 2003 with the emergence of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. She also showed pictures of the social distancing measures being taken by children in China today, and compared them to historical methods of maintaining social distance, such as attaching sticks or planks to the head to make sure that others stay a certain distance away. In the current example, children are attaching long balloons to their heads, as well as wearing masks, to protect their health and others. 

To wrap up the panel, Moledina focused on COVID-19 and the economy, specifically by highlighting that those who experience financial distress live in areas with a disproportionately high number of cases and fatalities from the virus. He mentioned that, although “COVID-19 is a public health crisis, not an economic crisis … there is no economy without people.” In conclusion, he stated, “Our economy today really relies on connections and the way we combat this disease, in the absence of a cure, is actually disconnection.”

The panel concluded with a few questions from those watching virtually. Regarding a question about how COVID-19 will impact our global organizations as countries begin to open at different rates, Welsch stated, “We think of the 21st century as a period of increased globalization and increased movement, but there’s another story where it’s a period of decreased movement, of the creation of boundaries and borders through immigration restrictions and passport controls.” 

A final question was asked: “do we anticipate similar measures [to China] being implemented in schools in the U.S?” Ng responded, “I think the College has been working very hard to think through some of these possible measures. But one thing that I think we might see becoming the norm will be what has been the norm in most East and Southeast Asian countries which is the wearing of face masks; not because they are sick, but out of courtesy so that they do not infect other people. I think that will become the norm in North America for at least the next year or two.” 

 Concluding the panel, each professor welcomed those with questions, especially admitted and undeclared students, to share them via email.

Academic policies change for 2020 Spring Semester due to COVID-19 pandemic

Waverly Hart

Editor in Chief

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the move to online learning, the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) has made several major changes to the academic policy for the 2020 Spring Semester. 

Many of the changes relate to a student’s ability to pass/fail a class. One of the primary changes is that students are able to pass/fail any and as many courses as they would like, even those in their major or minor, which is usually prohibited. According to The College of Wooster website, “courses elected as Pass-Fail for the Spring Semester 2020 will not count toward the maximum number of Pass-Fail courses that a student may take at Wooster.” Additionally, the deadline to pass/fail and drop courses has been extended to the last day of classes, May 1, at 4:00 p.m. Independent Study will retain a standard grading system, but there was a one-week grace period where students could submit their projects past the deadline without a petition.

Dean of Curriculum and Academic Engagement Bryan Karazsia, co-chair of EPC, said the changes were made so students could have flexibility and hopefully adapt to the changes in learning and class structure.

“The main reasoning is because our context is completely different than what any of us expected when the school year began… than when any school year begins,” Karazsia said. “We wanted to build as much flexibility for students into our policies as we could do so, reasonably. Any student may always petition for further exceptions, but we also try to build a system that minimizes the need for students to petition.”

The process for students petitioning is different as well. There is now a more streamlined petition process for course additions, drops, grade changes, and double major proposals. All petitions will be completed online. 

Because of the circumstances , Karazsia said these changes were not made in the usual fashion. “These decisions were made rapidly, and not through typical channels, due to the rapid evolution of circumstances pertaining to COVID-19,” Karazsia stated. “The timing of societal evolutions coincided with our Spring Break period, too, which contributed to the unique processes of decision-making.”

Basliel Ababayehu ’22 is on EPC and was part of the decision process to make these changes. He believes these changes will make online learning more equitable for all students. 

“These policies attempt to maintain equity as some students will experience varying degrees of stressors due to their location, reduced family income or access to learning tools while also recognizing that this is a generally stressful period for all students,” Ababayehu stated. “These policies ensure that students can remain in their major or graduate on time despite a momentary underperformance due to COVID-19.” 

While the changes made represent  major differences to Wooster’s academic policy in a traditional semester, some colleges went a step further and have decided to automatically make all their courses pass/fail for the 2020 Spring Semester. Karazsia said the College considered this, but decided against it.

“Ultimately we wanted students to have the autonomy to choose what works best for them,” he said. “Of course, our advisors are here to help students think about what might be in their best interest, though the decision is the student’s … Our policy on ‘good academic standing’ requires all students to have a semester and cumulative GPA at or above 2.0. There are students who are working very hard to increase their GPAs to return to good academic standing (which can have important implications for federal financial aid and other opportunities), and we wanted them to still have the option of earning their grades. Other students may be trying to increase GPAs for other reasons, and again, we wanted students to have that option. Ultimately, we wanted students to own the decision, and we are always here to help students navigate their academic decisions.”

Ababayehu says he is happy with the speed and flexibility with which the College has implemented policies. “I think this is a very welcome move for students because it offers flexibility,” he stated. “This is beneficial for all students because the students who were happy with their grades can keep them while those most affected by the virus can choose to continue learning without fear of a lower GPA.”

A quick-fix solution isn’t the way to plan commencement

Brandon Borges

Contributing Writer

The uncertainty of COVID-19 has severely impacted administrative planning across the world. International, national, state and even local administrators of all organizations are currently at the whims of the virus, with events of all types being postponed for an arbitrary date in the future. This patchwork planning style is no different for the administration of The College of Wooster. I understand the massive difficulties in planning for major traditional events during this time period and recognize that it is in the best interest of all during this time to not have events such as commencement at the previously scheduled time of early May. I also understand, at least somewhat, that degrees and transcripts need to be sent out to us so that we have at least that aspect of post-Wooster life out of the way. The current plan for the ceremonial commencement, however, strikes me as a major misstep disguised as the “best-case scenario” for the event.

The current plan is to have the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 during the Black and Gold weekend of next semester, planned for mid-October of 2020. Several individuals, like myself, decried the timing of the event, posting a date within the summer. The College, understandably, responded that based on the current orders within Ohio, large gatherings such as commencement could not be planned for the summer, and thought of Black and Gold weekend as another time that would make the event “special” for the class. So much about this date in particular, still, makes it a choice that ranges from awkward at best to disastrous at worst, starting with the October 2020 date that is seemingly both too late and too soon. Students at this point in their lives will be pursuing job opportunities, if not already within an occupation. Asking for a free weekend at a time when the job market will still be so bleak and undefined may be too much for many individuals to undertake. This does not account for any of the senior class who will have to leave the country at some point before that date. If large gatherings are to be one of the last social activities allowed within the country, international travel to and from the U.S., which currently holds the highest count of individuals infected with COVID-19, would be nigh impossible for any student, especially for a single weekend.

Black and Gold weekend is traditionally an event that hosts all types of alumni and admissions events. Having traditional events for the senior class would go one of two ways. One scenario would see the cancelation of those alumni and admissions events, which would be a puzzling decision for the College given the amount of potential revenue available during the weekend. However, that event would be the preferred alternative to having all the events occur. Hotels and other housing in the area would be packed to the brim, and the campus would have its resources stretched to its absolute limits. Plus, think of events such as the Independent Study march occurring while confused first-years and parents watch several grown adults day-drink.

At a time where some colleges are thinking of continuing remote classes until 2021, choosing Black and Gold weekend for commencement is a decision that seems to be a quick-fix solution to an uncertain future event. It’s equivalent to putting pink duct tape over a herniated disc, a misguided and frankly off-putting solution only concerned with the optics of an administration limping and waiting for the hospital to empty the ICU of COVID-19 cases.

Decisions are made by those who show up

Oria Daugherty

Contributing Writer

Over the last year, the College has started to undergo a lot of changes in a lot of different areas — we have begun the Master Planning process to plan for the next decade of Wooster’s future, the planning for the Lowry renovation has begun in full force and the College is in the process of moving from two student governing bodies to one. These are big changes, and the entire student body should make their voices heard in these processes, yet most do not.

There are countless meetings, planning sessions and Q&A sessions about these issues. The Oversight Committee planned several sessions to hear about what the student body wanted the new student governance to look like, and yet the meetings were almost exclusively attended by students who had participated in one of the two existing bodies in the last several years — very few students outside of student government came. Similarly, something like a half-dozen sessions have been held to field suggestions, questions and comments about the Lowry renovation, and yet at the most recent presentation, I was the only person in a sea of chairs set up in the Pit when the meeting was set to start at 5 p.m. I know that students are busy — I know practice, rehearsal and study groups prevent some students from attending these meetings. But to have one student available out of 2,000 feels unlikely. (I will say that other students showed up shortly after, though the group never exceeded 10.)

I believe it is the responsibility of the administration, the student government or whatever group plans these sessions to ensure there is variety in timing, so that different parts of the student body can attend different sessions. It is also important to send out the information about the meeting time and place sooner rather than later, and that is something that has been done poorly in several instances. However, it is not the responsibility of those planning the meeting to beg students to attend and give feedback (which they essentially are — trust me, being the only student in a large, empty space with President Bolton presenting directly to you from a large projector clearly set up for a crowd is less than a comfortable experience). The student body should care enough about the future of the College and the future students that will attend to show up to at least a few of these meetings. While it can be hard to invest time into something like the Lowry renovation, which most of us will never see as students, we should care enough about the improvement of the College to show up.

I decided to write this not only because I saw how poorly attended these events are, but because I catch my peers, my friends and myself making regular complaints about how things are on campus. Students complain about a lack of representation in student government bodies, but do not attend meetings about government. Students complain about the design of Lowry, the dining services available and the dysfunctionality of the Alley, but do not attend Lowry renovation meetings. Feel free to complain. We all do; I do. But my request is this: when given the opportunity, direct those complaints productively, to someone who is looking for student opinions. You might just be able to prevent a couple complaints for the classes that come after you.