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Where have all the voices gone?

This essay is a part of the Student Government series, a weekly column from Thomas Finegar.

In the early years of Bennington College, the entire community of students, staff, and faculty could all fit in the Commons theatre. The student body held regular town halls to provide space for opinions on issues regarding the efficacy of both cultural and educational systems on campus. This traditional event remained a cornerstone of Bennington’s self-governance until The Purge, conducted by Bennington President Elizabeth Coleman and previously discussed in this column. Coleman replaced it with The Symposium meetings where students could voice their opinions about her restructuring plan.

The Symposium meetings dissolved after the implementation of Coleman’s plan, and have not been replaced thus far. Students have attempted to initiate a revitalization of these meetings since their dissolution, most recently in 2016 when the student body executed a community-wide town hall alongside the town of Bennington to openly discuss the relationship between the college and the town. 

Throughout the many, short lived initiatives to recreate a student government at Bennington, the leadership teams that drove those initiatives have all chosen to begin with a simple town hall meeting. The forgotten tradition of these meetings at Bennington College has consistently been recognized by the student body as the most effective way to initiate self governance.

Earlier this week, a group of student leaders announced that a town hall will be facilitated on the 24th and 25th of October from 2-4pm, open to the student body but not to faculty or staff. This move further recements the town hall as a cornerstone of student governance at Bennington. In line with precedent, the purpose of this town hall will be to hear initial ideas and input from the student body about the foundation of a new student government. 

The leadership team is made up of outspoken students, many of whom have already stressed the need for student government as a response to unprecedented lack of student voice. One of the leaders involved with creating this town hall stated, “In order to create a student government with longevity, it is essential that it is democratic from the point of inception. We will do this by involving as many students in the process and product of student government as possible.” For the purposes of transparency as a journalist, I will mention that I have been lucky enough to participate in the planning of this townhall and its facilitation as well.

This town hall was conceived not only from precedent but from the success of recent events in which student voice has been elevated. Multiple student-led rallies have been held this term, the significance of which is evident across campus. A student who wished to remain unnamed mentioned that “rallies are where our sh*t is actually getting done.”

The upcoming town-hall will take on a different structural form, but still draws inspiration from the past rallies that have been so successful in promoting student voice. The town hall will focus on facilitating a conversation among students where individuals can express their opinions about what a new student government would need to look like. 

The event will be held on October 24th from 2:00 – 4:00PM EST on Zoom (link coming soon) and October 25th from 2:00 – 4:00PM EST on Zoom and in-person. More coverage of the event will be reported in the following weeks.

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