Students gathered this past Friday, March 4, to discuss what is known and unknown about student government at Hampshire College. In attendance were representatives from student groups, the current Hampshire Student Union (HSU), other elected boards and committees, and some members of the general student body. The Re-Radicalization of Hampshire College (Re-Rad) student group organized the event, a town-hall style meeting where many learned that our current constitution was last ratified in 1998—nearly twenty years ago. Did you know we have a constitution? Those in attendance wondered what student government at Hampshire should look like. Questions, revelations, and hopefully the beginnings of some answers proliferated in the Prescott Tavern over the course of a two-hour open discussion.
The current student government is the Hampshire Student Union, created around four years ago. Its structure was explained in-depth with the help of Hamp History members Frank Anthony and Avalon Mercado and HSU members in attendance, along with the history of student governance at Hampshire College. Student governance has been in an almost constant state of flux and unmet expectations from its inception.
An older iteration of the student government, called the Community Council, was meant to be student oriented and based around the idea of on-campus residences as “states.” Two representatives—one student and one faculty member—were to represent Dakin, Merrill, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott. However, by 1976, this vision had been abandoned and the student government shrank accordingly. A recurring issue within the Community Council was a misunderstanding of its purview. One facet of Hampshire’s student government is that it ultimately functions as a mechanism by which students communicate what their best interests are to the Board of Trustees. In the case of the Community Council, participation gradually declined, especially among faculty, until its dissolution by the administration in spring 2012. The HSU was born out of the need for a student government association at Hampshire as seen by the administration.
However, in the last few years of its existence, the HSU has seen its sprawling committees and boards shrink in membership and participation, mirroring its predecessor’s demise.
“In practice, the HSU has spread itself thin,” said student Dylan Eli. “It relies on a lot of participation from the get-go.”
With many Hampshire students already involved in various student groups, leadership positions, hobbies, and studies, it can be seen how attempting to access the HSU in its current state may seem daunting. Some students openly stated a complete lack of knowledge regarding participating in student governance. A combination of a lack of coordination between the HSU and the community and a lack of reliable outreach methods were determined to be primary causes of the current state of the HSU—still alive, but do we know if it is breathing?
Questions abounded. How many students are in the student government system? How many can there be? When are elections held? The discussion ultimately turned to how those gathered imagined an ideal, working student government at Hampshire. A government that represents the student’s voice in all its complexities when making decisions; a government granted democratic legitimacy by the larger community of students, faculty, staff, and administrators; a government that facilitates communication between various communities at Hampshire that are all impacted by its interactions with the Board of Trustees.
One problem that may see a solution in the near future is communication. Students discussed the perception of a lack of student activity at Hampshire—originating most likely from the absence of a “student center” traditional to most colleges and a decentralization of advertisement methods for student group events. Fall 2016 will see the full implementation of CollegiateLink by Campus Labs as one of Hampshire’s information technology resources. CollegiateLink will act as an online portal for student group administration and interaction, replacing various functions currently accessed through Hampedia, AdAstra event space scheduling, FundCom’s Zoho forms, paper forms from the Campus Leadership and Activities office (CLA), and communicating in-person or over email with various campus offices. Outreach will also be made simpler as student groups will have their own pages on Hampshire’s CollegiateLink for discussion, meeting reminders, and event advertisement, mirroring the function of Facebook Groups.
The assembly was a physical reminder that Hampshire students are willing to invest time and energy into questioning and confronting institutional structures: between thirty and forty students packed into the Prescott Tavern. In the end those in attendance resolved to continue questioning the state of student government at Hampshire College within their various groups and communities.
Student groups interested in community input advertised their meeting times which are included below. Attendance and communication is encouraged to allow for more transparency and openness of information at the college. Ultimately, there needs to be more between students, administration, faculty, staff, student groups, and student government. More relationships. More dialogue. More connection.
“There’s a disconnect between the community and the government,” said student Gabriel Shapiro. “We have a lot more power than we give to ourselves.”
Re-Rad meets Tuesdays, 6pm, in the back room of the Airport Lounge.
HSU meets Mondays, 7pm, in the back room of the Airport Lounge.
Hamp History meets Sundays, 7pm, in FPH 107.
FundCom meets Mondays and Wednesdays, 5pm, in the FundCom office in the Airport Lounge.
HYPE meets Fridays, 5pm, in an FPH classroom as space permits.