New groups work to uplift student voices, aim for change

Madi Sherman, ’22, and Sarah Mayer, ’22, were inspired to create and organize Allegheny College Students for Change when their professor asked students to discuss the political climate of today, both on and off-campus, and to think about the solutions.

After that discourse, Mayer and Sherman sent an email to classmates and began organizing about 20 students around the issue of transparent communication from administration.

“What if we did more than just talk?” Mayer said. “What if we took a call to action? What if all these experiences that all students are having in different ways, can all be brought together in some sort of united student voice?” 

Since then, AC Student for Change launched their Instagram account, @ac_students_for_change, which now has over 350 followers, created a student survey and began drafting a petition of formal demands.

The group distributed a Google Survey to gauge student body issues, and received over 50 responses. The three questions were: What concerns do you have with current campus life? How would you rate the response of the administration to campus concerns that we have already been emailed about? And lastly, what demands do you have to create realistic change on campus?

 “We definitely noticed trends in what students were concerned about,” Mayer noted of the survey responses. “One of the biggest ones was student/(administration) communication. A lot of the students, especially this semester, have felt so out of the loop at what’s happening … and with that there came a lot of uncertainty and confusion. AC Students for Change is going to work on alleviating the transparency in communication.” 

Despite a number of survey responses, Sherman stated that she felt there were still more student voices missing from the draft of their demands.

“We wanted more student input because one, (AC Students for Change) is all white and two, we all align in political beliefs,” Sherman said. “Not every student’s experience is represented. We didn’t have the ability to speak for the whole student body.”

Mayer met with a few student leaders like Aliyah Coleman, ’21, who serves as the senior intern and intercultural advocate to the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center, to discuss the demands proposed by the Culture, Identity and Leadership Coalition for Administration. Some of the CILC demands ask for administration to explicitly acknowledge racial injustices, and calls for institutional action.

Mayer also connected with Allegheny Student Government President Abdikadir Lugundi, ’21, in the initial stages of the group’s development, and Lugundi stated that he helped to connect the budding group with resources to spread their message. 

“You have to create different avenues for people to be active and involved, but I fully support any student activism,” Lugundi said.

In their campaign for ASG executive office, Lugundi said he and Vice President Patricia Gaxiola, ’21, advocated for reforms to campus safety operations. 

“I just feel like we don’t know our Public Safety officers,” Lugundi said. “Why don’t I know his name, or who he is? Our plan is to make a Public Safety initiative where you can view who they are, their (biographies), and what the Office of Public Safety provides to students.” 

Both Sherman and Lugundi cited the Sept. 18 incident between Adrean Velez, ’21, and Public Safety officers as a justification for the need for more transparent communication and open processes for solutions between students and administration.

Lugundi said that ASG has monthly meetings with President Hilary Link and the Board of Trustees and has occasional meetings with Provost Ron Cole. ASG has only recently approved its cabinet positions, and its next stages are electing senate members to obtain at least a quorum so ASG can vote on agenda items such as club budgets. According to the ASG By-Laws, a quorum is defined as 50% of the existing body plus one. 

Lugundi noted that COVID-19 has played a role in the delay of how ASG normally operates, but he expects that senate elections will take place for the upcoming ASG meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20. 

The preamble of the ASG Constitution states, “Thus Allegheny Student Government will undertake the mediation and advocacy between the student body and administration to harmonize and further the aims of this ongoing mission.”  

Currently, ASG has a few explicit processes in place for student body representatives to have direct communication with administration. One is through the Campus Life and Community Standards Committee, which considers the overall quality of living on campus and has standing- in-honor code hearings and non-academically related conduct. The other is through the Council on Diversity and Equity, an oversight committee with the power of policy recommendations regarding inclusivity on campus. 

The “Formal List of Demands” created by AC Students for Change, received over 150 signatures of petitioned support and lists the improvement of communication between students and administration as their first demand, and reforms to Public Safety as second. The document also cites more institutional support to the IDEAS center, reform to the college’s zero-tolerance policies and a relaxation on COVID-19 protocols.

“ASG is a student governing body,” Mayer said. “We want to be a voice, a group of students that calls out problems that we see, also with proposed solutions. With that, AC Students for Change is more of a platform than ASG is.”

After formalizing the petition into their demands, AC Student for Change began conversations with administration through a series of forums hosted by administration from Oct. 7 to Oct. 9. The series was a space dedicated for students to voice their concerns regarding campus climate and culture. 

Mayer attended the Oct. 7 forum, and recalled 18 participants, including senior administrative officials, faculty and some students. She stated that the administration used a term called “radical listening,” and as a representative for the group, she said she felt the event was a time to share students’ experiences and feelings, instead of listing their demands.

“It really was intimidating because I was the only person talking the whole time,” Sherman recalled of the Friday, Oct. 9 forum. “Basically, I said I have friends who are students of color … and I’ve heard stories from them (about) how campus is not a good place for students of color. So I felt weird speaking for them … (It) makes me want to do what I can to make Allegheny better … This is not my movement, but I want to do what I can, not just sit in my room all day doing nothing.” 

On Oct. 14, the Administrative Executive Committee sent an email that addressed the concerns raised by students in the forums. The email listed “tangible and immediate actions” to better communicate to students, like a standing “Campus Climate & Culture Feedback Form” that students can choose to submit anonymously, more discussion based sessions for students with AEC and a call to strengthen existing avenues between ASG and the AEC. The email also addresses ways to better unify the campus, and announces that Director of Public Safety Jim Bassinger will meet with students and campus groups to work to build trust between them and the students. 

AC Students for Change also demanded the expansion of Pelletier Library hours, and according to the email from AEC, the new hours of library operations will be Monday through Thursday noon to 11 p.m., Friday noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Mayer and Sherman are in agreement about the work ahead for a new activist group. 

“What I’d really like is to get more student involvement,” Mayer said, “and get students into more leadership positions. We need to work more on our outreach and listening to students, and formulating more student concerns to present as needed. Our next step is getting more people, and getting more organized.”