Campus Senate may be back in business. The student body’s elections of Ben Douglas ’18 as Campus Senate student co-chair and Emily Margolin ’17 as the senior class representative, announced on Oct. 20, mark an attempt to revive a governmental body that has not met once this semester.
Last semester, a reevaluation of the organization’s role showed its exact function was not clear. This semester, with the student co-chair position vacant, Senate has been unable to meet. Last week’s election — which garnered 190 student votes, according to Student Council Vice President of Student Life Emma Mairson — indicates the potential for Senate to make a comeback.
Newly elected student co-chair Douglas said organizing the first meetings of the new body will be crucial to making Campus Senate a viable organization. His priorities include addressing issues regarding mental health and community engagement.
Senior Class Representative Margolin hopes Senate can address the concerns of students and student organizations and provide space for collaboration between group representatives. Margolin anticipates discussion of the College’s party policy and Title IX policy, among other issues.
Whether Douglas and Margolin are able to make progress in their new positions will shed light on the effectiveness of the revamped Senate structure, which decreased membership and introduced a representative from Staff Council (an elected body that represents Kenyon staff members).
Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt ’97, who is interim faculty co-chair of Campus Senate, said last year’s reevaluation intended to clarify the purpose of Senate and the lines of communication between Senate and other decision-making bodies.
Heidt believes Senate can address issues of general concern to the campus, since it is “the only body on campus” that includes representatives from the faculty, the student body, the staff and the administration.
“The big thing we were doing in the spring was working on reorganizing ourselves and trying to recreate Senate in a way that would make it more functional within the College” she said. “So that it would have a clearer idea of what it was meant to do.” Last semester, former Dean of Students Henry “Hank” Toutain described the body as “dysfunctional,” due to his perception that the organization was ineffective in their current role.
Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92 thinks the new organizational structure of Campus Senate will provide a more viable structure for the campus. Both Bonham and President Sean Decatur sit on Campus Senate.
“I would like to be as directly involved and connected to Senate as I can be,” Decatur said, citing the smoking policy as an issue Senate might tackle due to its impact on all Kenyon community members.
Kaylin Allshouse ’19, the sophomore class representative to Senate, feels a revamped Campus Senate will be more viable because they are fewer members than Student Council, meaning each rep has to demonstrate a significant commitment to the job.
“Because Student Council is so large, I feel like it would be hard for anything to move through it and get done,” she said. “With Senate, because there are only four or five [student] members, it’s easier for us to push our class agendas and to really focus on one or two things at a time and give it our all.”
Allshouse echoed student co-chair Douglas’s attention to mental health issues, and added that she would like Senate to prioritize sustainability on campus.
Colin Cowperthwaite ’18 served as student co-chair of Campus Senate last academic year and is currently studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. In his absence, he hopes Senate can strengthen the relationship between student leaders and administrators and, ultimately, revive itself.
“I know plenty of people who think Senate is a dying, even useless, institution,” he wrote in an email to to the Collegian.
“If students, or faculty and staff for that matter, are not troubled by the idea of letting administrators alone decide what this campus should be, then perhaps Senate deserves to go away,” he added. “I, for one, am troubled by that idea and I think others should be, too.”