Let’s talk about accountability

By MYLES MAXIE

The Covid-19 pandemic has been eye-opening to me in a lot of ways. These trying times have shown me people’s compassion, their drive to initiate change and the beauty of those who inhabit Middlebury. However, they have also emphasized some of the continuing problems that exist in our community.

Amid the Covid-19 crisis, student mobilization surrounding grading systems, in particular, has been incredible. Determined to help their peers, students created petitions and reached out to their classmates to get insight into the nuances around the issue. Certain members of the SGA cabinet and senate took action in reaching out to students as well as this situation became broader; however, discussion as an entire SGA on this growing issue was originally limited to a few messages on our Slack messaging platform until the SGA senate met with student organizers on Sunday, March 29.

When members of the SGA leadership were initially approached prior to our Sunday senate meeting, they rejected a request from student activists to send an all-student survey to gather data on public opinion. This was based on the misleading grounds that it was against SGA protocol. There is no SGA guideline that states that sending out a survey to collect data is against protocol; if there were, it would be outlined in the constitution or bylaws. Additionally, it is not often that a student asks the SGA directly to send a poll to collect data on something that affects every single student on campus during a global pandemic. To say that “standard protocol” is why this didn’t happen is disingenuous.   

The same members then shifted the conversation to encourage these students to show members of the SGA sympathy for the behind-the-scenes work they may be doing during this crisis, instead of focusing on where we as a body were not satisfying the needs of students. Some senators took individual action to collect the requested data. In fact, many people reading this now likely received the email I sent on March 26 to most students with a survey attached, five days before the SGA sent out its official survey, to collect the data that student activists requested.

All of this said, it is disappointing that the initial course of action the SGA leadership chose to take was one of inaction. It was six days from when the #FairGradesMidd organizers reached out to us when the SGA sent out the all-student survey. However, this inaction is a common reality of the SGA senate as a body. That is why historically students have called it an elitist organization or another bureaucratic hoop to jump through.

What I care about most at Middlebury College are my peers. I care about their needs, I care about what affects them, I care about their well-being and I care about hearing their feedback. This is my personal alignment with the voices of students, as should be the alignment of any well-functioning SGA. 

Students’ issues are the fundamental reason behind the SGA’s existence. The cabinet does an amazing job of looking at what students care about and need, then acting on it. However, in being a part of the senate, I’ve realized the current state of the body has been focused on internal structure, infighting and self-appreciation. It focuses too heavily on the deflection of responsibility and questions of internal operation, all the while ignoring criticism. Sure, many individual senators have done an amazing job. This is not to take away from the hard work and dedication that they show. However, the SGA senate as a body needs a dramatic change in order to live up to its mission statement. 

SGA needs to be about listening to students and making changes that benefit those students. Representation isn’t about doing what is easy. It isn’t about pushing personal agendas. It is about listening to the community and acting in their best interest based on the information they provide. 

Especially in times as turbulent such as this, it is imperative to have student leadership that listens to the voice of the community. With students spread across the country, reaching out to others becomes an even deeper necessity. I will continue directly listening and representing students.  My goal moving forward, however, will be to ensure we have an SGA senate that is willing to do this as well.

Myles Maxie is a member of the class of 2022 and a Wonnacott Commons Senator.