Vox Populi, as Delivered by a South Senator

Graphic by Richard Denitto

By Gethin Binns

Senator for the Class of 2017

Good morning, afternoon, evening, or day, if you’re feeling particularly general about time. Greetings to ladies, gentlemen, and others, and welcome to the woes that infest our fine democratic system.

Before we launch into that, however, I’d like to preface this piece with a PSA: The South Senate is your elected body and your directly accountable representative to the administration at South. It seems to me as though more people need to understand this, and if you’ll bare with me to the end of this piece, then you will understand the rationale for this statement.

With all that out the way, let’s establish some cred; I am Gethin Binns, Senator for the junior class, and this is my first year holding a seat on the body.

I stumbled about during my first month at senate, bumbling through officer elections, ultimately withdrawing my name from contention after a genuinely embarrassing speech and the evident superiority of my competitor, the excelling Sam Fishman, and committee selections, in which I tried to take on two committees simultaneously, and, naturally, failed somewhat fantastically.

But that’s fine. Because I turned it around– I took the lead on the first resolution to be passed by the senate this school year, integrating my own ideas and those of my committee’s into a document that stood as a declaration of intent, a shining beacon of all that we could accomplish this year.

Things haven’t turned out that way.

Daniel Abdullah is doing an excellent job with the column in the Roar, but sadly I think his sophomoric optimism prevents him from fully disseminating the true extent of the malaise.

The situation is not great.

The truth is that South Senators either don’t have the time to commit to Senate or don’t know where their time should be spent. We have plenty of spirited debates in our meetings, a sure sign of the immense talent and potential latent within the body, yet very little of that translates into action, and less translates into constructive action.

If the Senate can push back on the idea that we merely won a popularity contest, or just managed to get our papers filled out in time for an uncontested election, then perhaps we will start to be taken seriously.

The most recent example of this would have to be the debate over varsity letters, in which a group of athletically interested senators raised the notion that Speech and Debate participants should cease to be eligible for varsity letters. Personally, I viewed this as an affront to the hardworking people of Speech and Debate. A varsity letter is a universal symbol of achievement and excellence; ask any Joe or Jane from off the street and odds are they understand what it is. It is, if one may borrow an expression, legit. It means more than any phony award it could be replaced by. To remove that symbol would be to inherently devalue the effort that people put into Speech and Debate.

This is beside the point. The point is that we, as a Senate, spent at least two meetings discussing this, only to pass a resolution, overwhelmingly, to maintain the status quo. Even if we had passed a measure similar to the one proposed, it probably wouldn’t have passed the administration.

The important thing is this: we spent time and energy debating something that, even if passed, would not have improved any single student’s educational experience. Believe me when I say that this is typical, and only barely preferential when compared to the standard program of nothing.

It is clear, therefore, that the senate lacks direction and mission. The Senate must be laser focused on improving the lives of its students, not bogging itself down in debates over time-wasting policies. I’m all for arguing and haggling over the details of a worthwhile policy, but when the senate may be effectively brought to a standstill as a result of some silly and obstructive legislation such as this, it is not difficult to see why people have lost faith.

I don’t think I’ve made that clear enough so far in this piece, but it really is important to realize just how competent and qualified these people are. Many of them have interned on political campaigns, and they all care deeply about the school. Every proposal they make is in some way towards improving the lives of the people in this school. I may personally view the varsity letter business as being unnecessary and detrimental to people, but those that proposed it did so under the advisement of their constituents and were further buoyed by a poll conducted that stated a majority of students were not in favor of non-athletic teams earning varsity letters. But compared to all of the other many worthy things we could be doing, like making noise and pushing forward with an improved sex-ed curriculum, to anti-bullying, more specific means of combatting stress, and a whole host of other endeavors that deserve our attention and effort, it wasn’t, in my view, up to snuff. South Senators do their best every day.

I, of course, am similarly unimpeachable. In collaboration with Mike Ryter, I passed a bill, the only one so far this session, built around the idea of faculty accountability on the subject of homework free weekends, hoping to crush all resistance to the policy underneath the rhinestone-studded soles of the iron jack-boots of the Senate.

Now, why would such an overt reference to fascistic authoritarians goose-step into this wonderful piece on our democratic body here at South?

Many of them have interned on political campaigns, and they all care deeply about the school. Every proposal they make is in some way towards improving the lives of the people in this school.

This is our reputation among some of the teachers for a relatively simple reason: Negotiating with teachers is difficult, especially when, as a group, we are given incredibly limited time to interact with them, and to address their concerns. The faculty council is the other hump of our bactrian bicameral relationship, and yet we have only had one joint meeting together over the course of the entire year. And when we did, our reasonable suggestion that Schoology should be used by every teacher in the school to provide up-to-date grading information and student-teacher contact was shot down.

Apparently, it interfered with the teacher’s ability to teach the way they wanted to teach. Well so do laws preventing punishment by means of a ruler to the knuckle, or, heaven forbid, the buttocks.

Heck, even without the faculty council, when we offered our reasonable proposal to make teachers accountable to their own department heads for violating the laws of our no-homework weekend policy, an issue that, according to polling, affects as much as fifty percent of students at South, we still received push back, on the grounds that this was somehow a power-grab. Veteran senators were afraid that we would somehow anger the faculty council, like a boogeyman, should we attempt to enact such a policy.

It got passed anyway, but the implication that Senate, of all of the people in this school, was somehow trying to take more than their fair share of the power pie is mildly absurd, especially considering the text of the proposal. This more or less constitutes another barrier to progress that shouldn’t have to exist. Just one joint meeting a term could solve all these issues. It would give the Senate ample opportunity to explain their proposals with context, and not be construed as mid-twentieth century right wingers.

All of these problems are solvable. If the Senate reached out to its constituents, the students, and asked them to testify, then surely the weight of the imperative for change would force some of our good ideas to be implemented- perhaps in a far more timely manner than they are right now. Perhaps we might get more facetime with the faculty, and with the administration. Perhaps we may have more than two contested elections next year.

If the Senate can push back on the idea that we merely won a popularity contest, or just managed to get our papers filled out in time for an uncontested election, then perhaps we will start to be taken seriously.

And that starts with public relations. I mentioned Sam Fishman and Daniel Abdullah before, and they are both doing or trying to do good work, but we don’t have a large presence. Our social media is limited to polling and two short updates, for the year, the latter of which only has two likes on Facebook. Outside of our column in the Roar, nothing we do is ever newsworthy. We don’t have a correspondent, from either school-wide outlets. We barely even exist.

This is basically my plea for you to inform us, to notice us, to pay attention to us. To talk to us. To know who in your classes are your representatives and talking to them if you have a problem with how the school is being run, because believe me, if the people in the Senate are given something they can work with, they will run with it to the ends of the Earth if that is what’s necessary to accomplish it.

Together, we can end this lack of productivity and relevance, and get back to where we were meant to be from the beginning, your representatives, voicing your concerns, to the people who can do something about it.

Right now we’re just playing badminton, bouncing ideas like shuttlecocks on Thursday J-blocks. For once, I’d prefer it if we were playing golf, knocking our ideas towards a definite goal.

Thank you for your time, I know this wasn’t short.

 

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