I am writing to encourage us to rethink the role of student government at Bowdoin and to articulate my vision for a better Bowdoin Student Government (BSG). In my brief time as a BSG representative this semester, it’s become clear that many of my colleagues and most of the student body are apathetic to BSG: in this past election, less than 17% of the student body voted and most executive positions were left unfilled. I believe that this apathy can be attributed to BSG’s lack of legitimacy with the administration and its lack of transparency, accessibility and engagement with the student body—two issues that are interconnected.
Let me explain! Without the support of the student body, the administration has little incentive to take BSG proposals seriously. Moreover, without the valuable ideas and input from the student body, BSG assembly has become disconnected from the pulse of campus. Student dissatisfaction with the spring concert embodies these critiques: BSG should not be a source of perennial frustration but an outlet for it.
In a recent conversation with Director of Residential Life Whitney Hogan, who graduated from Bowdoin in 2007, we talked about the vastly different role BSG had on campus during her time as a student. When I looked up statistics from 2012 in the Orient archives, BSG was radically different: more than half of the student body voted in elections and BSG enjoyed an 82% approval rating.
As I walk past the empty BSG board in Smith Union or look at the BSG website, which lacks pictures of any of its members, brief descriptions of their roles and meeting minutes more recent than 2019, I can see why the student body has lost faith in BSG. Even as an active student, I didn’t even know who the key executive members were, and now as an assembly member, it’s hard to say what their roles are.
I strongly believe BSG is destined for more; that BSG should be a public forum and space for advocacy where community members feel welcome to bring forward questions, complaints and demands; that BSG should transparently and visibly work for the student body and pressure the administration to change college policies and practices to better support its constituents. At the very least, BSG should not be an active source of discontent but a platform for change.
My faults with BSG can’t be blamed on any one individual. In fact, I acknowledge that the work of some BSG members often goes unseen. Unfortunately, BSG is impossibly mired in the complicated bureaucracy of Bowdoin, where change is slow and resistance is high. BSG representatives need training to better facilitate the continuity and efficacy of their work.
As we welcome a new administration under President Zaki, a new dean of students and an impressionable cohort of first-year Bowdoin students, I believe BSG is ready for an important and pressing transformation. This transformation will require BSG representatives to radically rethink their roles: striving to do better, work harder and dream bigger. But more importantly, it will also require our community, including our administration, to consider a normative shift in which we see the potential of BSG as an effective organization tasked with building community and ensuring that our college reflects its students. This starts with us.
Paul Wang is the ResLife-appointed BSG representative and a member of the Class of 2024.