Imagine having the chance to be neighbors with your congressional representative; to see the President grocery shopping; to grab coffee with the mayor. In the larger political world, this level of accountability and accessibility is hard to come by. However, on our campus, this is a feasible—if not expected—reality. The Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) is the avenue for just that: student voice and action in the realms of student life and culture.
As liberal arts students, we are often told that we must use our privilege in education to make impacts on our communities at every level. Yet, as it currently stands, many students place themselves at odds with or out of the loop of the BSG. How can we expect to make change in our future communities if we can’t manage to do the same in our closely-knit and active residential setting? Many claim the BSG is ineffective, or worse, an arm of the College. However, despite its current reputation, our student government has a storied and impactful history.
During the 1963-64 academic year, the BSG spearheaded the drive to liberalize campus by urging the College to abolish its compulsory chapel attendance policy. Three years later, in June 1966, the policy was removed from the College’s bylaws. During the same decade, as the Vietnam War raged overseas, the BSG endorsed a letter to President Nixon in 1969 urging him to end the war.
Beyond this political activism, the BSG has enriched the lives of Bowdoin students by giving students the opportunity to stream an ever-changing number of movies through their Polarflix service, providing additional printing funds to students in need and connecting students to the Brunswick community through free taxi rides.
These examples are just a small selection of the actions that the BSG has taken in the past, and they go to highlight the potential that the BSG has if Bowdoin students engage with the representative body.
Whenever we find ourselves dissatisfied with our Bowdoin experiences, we may have the tendency to idly complain about the administration’s failures and see their solutions as beyond our reach, residing in far-off boardrooms full of stuffy suits. However, acknowledging the BSG’s radical and influential past reveals that the person with the power to solve Bowdoin’s shortcomings may be sitting next to you in your seminar. Once we force ourselves to see the BSG and its members as avenues for change that live all around us, a quick Janet Lohmann dig may begin to feel lazy and short-sighted.
The BSG is often viewed by students as an extension Bowdoin as an institution. In an era of our campus where more and more student life is feeling co-opted by the College offices, it is tempting to disparage a group of students who are viewed as supporting this influence and overreach. The BSG is not the institution, but our strongest avenue of engaging, shaping and pushing back against it. When we disparage the BSG, we are not speaking against “the man,” we are speaking against our own power.
As a body that exists to represent the voices of students, it is important to realize the power student governments hold. Composed of student voices, with weekly meetings with administration, the student organization serves as a voice of the student body, whether you choose to add yours to the mix or not. The BSG sits at the intersection of institutional and student power, but it isn’t an in-between power; rather, the organization is situated squarely to represent the voices of the students. It is meant to be the voice of your class and our school.
We all cross paths with our representatives daily—in class, in the dining hall or even in the mirror. The BSG is already in place, and Bowdoin’s history has proven the system’s potential, so invest in it. If you have complaints, voice them. If you have access to representation, use it.
But who cares? F**k student government, right?
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is comprised of Sophie Burchell, Lucas Dufalla, Michael Gordon, Juliana Vandermark, Maile Winterbottom, Halina Bennet and Seamus Frey.