With an email on Thursday, Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) opened voting on a new constitution, which BSG voted to pass at its weekly meeting this past Wednesday. Should this constitution pass, it will be the first major BSG constitutional change in a decade.
The changes range from the constitution’s language to BSG’s structure. More inclusive language and the creation of a new chair and committee for diversity and inclusion highlight BSG’s commitment to inclusivity. Another new position gives first-years and sophomores an opportunity to learn about BSG’s operation and develop leadership capabilities. Significant alterations to the composition of the assembly replace unfocused roles with specific positions that correspond to particular areas of BSG’s work on campus.
The idea to change the BSG constitution developed out of the first official Northeastern Student Government (NESGOV) Conference last year, hosted by Bowdoin. After seeing structural models of student governments at peer institutions, Alam, along with BSG Vice President for Student Government Affairs Benny Painter ’19, began contemplating alterations to the constitution that would improve BSG’s functionality.
“I don’t think we ever reflected on how our structure enabled us to work,” said BSG President Irfan Alam ’18. “We just accepted that our structure was the way it was, but we hope by changing the structure and improving it we will also simultaneously be improving the work that the BSG does for the student body.”
The first change involves the anti-discrimination policy in article 1, which outlines general provisions. The old BSG constitution prohibited discrimination against any student on the basis of “citizenship, economic status, ethnicity, disability, national origin, philosophy, political affiliation, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.” The new constitution adds “and/or gender identity” to this list. The constitution also establishes a chair of diversity and inclusion who will work with the College’s new senior vice president for inclusion and diversity. The chair of diversity and inclusion will serve on the executive committee of BSG.
The chair of diversity and inclusion will head the new committee on diversity and inclusion, also established in the new constitution. This committee will include the new sexuality, gender and relationships representative; the Multicultural Coalition representative; the McKeen Center representative; one development representative and one class president. According to the constitution, this committee will provide advice for members of the executive committee on programming and policy issues that relate to “the College’s mission to be both diverse and inclusive to students of all backgrounds.”
“People like the [Multicultural Coalition] rep didn’t feel they could delegate large, vast amounts of work that required us to think about diversity and inclusion to anyone on the Assembly because everyone was doing other things,” Alam explained. “I’m excited to see the BSG [as a whole] next year really think about ways to work on diversity and inclusion, but also have a team of people dedicated to thinking about these issues and be ready to delegate that work, too.”
Eager to avoid each year’s period of adjustment for the new assembly members, the new constitution also creates four development representatives to be selected by the executive committee from the first-year and sophomore classes. The new development representatives will be selected in the fall and will not have a specific focus, but instead will gain experience with the workings of BSG by sitting on multiple committees throughout the year, allowing them to focus on growth, leadership and learning.
Clarifying and focusing
In order to eliminate confusion, the new constitution replaces all references to “vice presidents,” except the vice president of BSG, with “chair.” For instance, the current vice president for academic affairs will become the chair of academic affairs.
The new constitution also aims to eliminate more ambiguous positions. The old constitution called for at-large representatives of the student body as a whole. Now, instead of eight at-large representatives, there will be nine representatives, each focused on a different area of campus administration, such as sustainability or safety and security. These representatives will be selected through a rigorous application and interview process by the executive committee.
Under the old constitution, the assembly included eight class representatives, which are eliminated under the new constitution. Specific class years will still have the ability to be represented in BSG. The new constitution allows for the class presidents, elected by each class year, to represent their class in the assembly, and they will be assigned by the executive committee to serve on one of four BSG subcommittees—student affairs, academic affairs, diversity and inclusion and sustainability—for the entire year.
President of the 2020 class council Nathanael DeMoranville has concerns about the intense workload that the class presidents may face under the new constitution.
“With the new BSG constitution, class presidents would have to sit on BSG—run the class council, and [in addition] we would sit on another subcommittee for the BSG—and that just seems like a big time commitment,” he said. “Right now, my role is to lead the class council … so I can really focus on that, and I worry that someone in my position would get stressed out.”
DeMoranville also has concerns about the degree to which the new Constitution would actually allow class presidents to collaborate.
“My impression of having the [class] presidents on Bowdoin Student Government is to more easily facilitate discussion among them, and I’m just not sure that the place [for that to happen] is Bowdoin Student Government,” DeMoranville explained. “I want to collaborate with the presidents about class council stuff, not BSG stuff, and that’s a big difference.”
To encourage constant reflection and evaluation of BSG’s functionality, the new constitution mandates a review of the constitution every other year.
“The idea is that you continue to refine and revise and not wait an entire decade for so much to rapidly change around the world and at our college to then decide to change the structure and think about the way the BSG is doing its work,” Alam said. “So that will hopefully be a way to continue this pattern of reflection.”