After four years here, one Dartmouth phenomenon I’ve never been able to fully understand is Student Assembly bashing. I understand that your standard Assembly is wholly inept, and the hallmark of a successful administration is usually not causing any big disasters. But mocking the Assembly for these vices overlooks the fact that most student organizations on campus also struggle to achieve their goals.
For example, consider the demonstrations being made for College staff health plans. For a good week, the organizers had the attention of a sizeable percentage of students. They advertised heavily and held a demonstration with decent turnout (for Dartmouth). Not bad. But then what happened? Where have they gone? I hope they didn’t believe that one standard demonstration and a petition was going to get the College to reevaluate its spending cuts. The organizers failed to translate the public momentum they had into discussions with the administration. Or, rather, they didn’t know how to translate their discussion into action. The Assembly gets a bad rap, but it’s not the only organization with this problem.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in discussions about why student groups are as ineffective as they are, and the only conclusion I can come to is that it’s not the institution’s fault, it’s the students’ fault. We’ve become exceptionally bad at acting on our problems. We’re great at talking about them (and even talking about talking about them), but when it comes to solving them, we freeze up like a deer in headlights, patiently waiting for injury instead of doing something proactive.
You might think that I’m trying to make some critical commentary about the kinds of activism students engage in today. Our generation’s activism is a different kind of activism than our parents’. But activism is still comprised of both discussion and action no matter how you do it. We’re just exceptionally poor at using the institutional channels at our disposal as vehicles for action on the issues we presumably care about.
This inefficacy truly comes into view in the ongoing sexual assault debate that campus is having. We have guest speakers like Jackson Katz, who came to campus last Tuesday give the same messages “men should break their silence on the issue,” “we need to change how we talk about this issue” and then we publish a nice news piece about them in The Dartmouth and leave it at that.
It’s not as though we’re not trying to find a solution isn’t that the point of the countless campus discussions we have on the issue? The problem is that we aren’t looking for solutions in the right place. Student and administrative leaders maintain a vain and desperate hope that one of these discussions will yield an epiphany that will solve all of our problems. How many forums do we need to have before the community figures out that’s not how this problem is going to be solved (assuming the problem is solvable in the first place)? The student body fundamentally doesn’t know how to act on the issue of sexual assault.
Instead of waiting for an idea to spontaneously emerge out of the vacuum, why don’t we task an Assembly committee (or other existing and relevant administrative body) with generating ideas? And I don’t mean how Assembly usually does it, with the subcommittee getting a 24-month mandate and publishing a two page report at the end. The members should come up with a solution and bring it back to the student body quickly, at which point we will either vote for or against it, or make amendments to it until it is favorable. Any child could tell you that’s how a government works. Lawmakers don’t wait for constituents to bring brilliant ideas for bills before them. These days, citizen-inspired legislation is more of a heartwarming ideal than an accurate description of reality.
The College has taught us to become much better debaters than doers. I won’t pretend to speculate on why that is, but the evidence is right there in front of us. So please, Student Assembly, I’m begging you to stop orchestrating the discussion that we no longer need and start orchestrating some problem solving.