Bennington has been without a long-term functioning student government since the 1990s due to the presidency of Elizabeth Coleman. This has been and continues to be a major disappointment to the student body but luckily that disappointment has the potential to end this term. A new shared governance program is being formed through careful deliberation between students, staff, faculty members, and members of the board including a student council for student governance. I sat down with members of the team creating this student council, Sofia Salusso and Muhammed Ammar, to ask them some questions about this process.
The topic of the importance of a student council came up first and Salusso explained, “there’s a lot of valid frustration from the student body and there has been for a long time in regards to how we communicate with the administration… which has led to a lot of resentment”. She went on to say that student governance, “will give us an established and clear way of communicating.” Ammar further explained the reason why the student council has significance to the administration by saying, “there is an accreditation that the college is looking to receive… so that represents a huge opportunity for us… the college has a versed interest in the cause so that it can help them get an accreditation.” This lack of accreditation is what began the efforts to create shared governance in general on the Bennington College campus. If successful, Salusso hopes that, “[the student council] can maybe realize some of the things that this school advertises as being true that maybe aren’t true…it’s just going to be those small inconveniences… hopefully, those feelings won’t be able to build up anymore.” Ammar agreed by saying, “once there is a student government in place and there is more student input in decisions, my hunch is that administrative matters will also be more streamlined… There will be [fewer] issues in the first place coming up for students when students are involved in the decision-making process from the get-go.”
One student that is excited about the opportunity for self-governance is Tanvir Anjum. Anjum states that, “It’s something I’ve been looking for since I came here.” Even though Anjum is a freshman, the need for a student government has already become clear to him. “I think it’s a really great initiative… to represent the interests of the whole student body,” Anjum says. In response to a question about the necessary priorities of a student government, he continued, “I think a student government is a good place to start… I know that… the president will be required to respond to any demands that are put forward by students… in a proper manner with proper reasoning. That should be a primary concern.” The student body seems excited about the opportunity to voice their concerns to the administration and to be able to hold them accountable for their actions.
Salusso on how the student council will work:
“Simple I would say… There are going to be four members that are elected by the body we already have in place from PAC, SEPC, Budget and Events, and House Chairs… There will also be five other members that will be elected by the student body, one of them is specific to the freshman class, and together that group of nine will… be available as a conduit between the student body and the administration.”
Thomas Finegar is a fourth-year studying morally ambiguous characters in theatre through acting and psychology while writing a thesis on the topic this year. Along with being one of the Editors-in-Chief of the Beacon, Thomas is a Drama SEPC representative and a co-leader of the improv team. He is incredibly excited to be working with the Beacon this year and can’t wait to get publishing!