By Meghan Pearce
Special to The Denisonian
A new wave of empowerment is motivating Denisonians: a wave of forward thinking and change-making. It is becoming increasingly obvious that a fresh perspective on what it means to be engaged citizens has overtaken our campus. The time has come to embrace these changes.
I am a firm believer that leadership is a process. We can undoubtedly see how our campus has progressed due to the continuing development made by our college leaders. We have administrators, faculty, and staff who seem reenergized to help students by openly welcoming difficult conversations, proactively seeking out student grievances, and continuously praising our efforts. More prominently, I have seen a drastic change in the way that we have developed as student leaders, gradually shifting in the ways in which we talk to each other, solve campus issues, and hold each other accountable for upholding our campus values.
Last year, President Weinberg committed his time to listen to Denisonians share information about their experiences. This year, he has been at the forefront of creating spaces for our community to engage in meaningful dialogue with each other. One of the largest takeaways from these gatherings has been the realization that when we get to know each other and understand how our various organizations and communities function, we gain a stronger sense of collectivism and appreciation for one another.
Therefore, it is no surprise that many of our institutional structures are changing to accommodate these cultural shifts; cases of student activism outside of the structure and scope of institutions. A student movement called ‘Call to Action’ was formed from a desire to have a space to discuss ways to make proactively brainstorm ways that individuals can act for community advancement. Bryan LeBlanc ’15 organized a solidarity march based on inspiration to protest issues of national and international concern. Several student groups came together to discuss how we should handle matters of bias and hate speech and are continuing to engage in conversations about the practice of our campus values.
Again, many of these movements have been removed from the “traditional” groups that are held responsible for making changes on campus like the DCGA or various administrative departments. To me, thinking that one student organization or the “administration” can take up every single issue that campus is faced with is unrealistic and outdated. It is not the job of one entity to be the final decision makers for a multitude of diverse and forward-thinking people.
As Denisonians, we already know that to serve, lead and ultimately make a difference, we have to rely on each other for support. Structure is not always negative, and in more ways than not, our campus institutions help facilitate community building. We have seen them change this year with the development of partnerships and relationships between students to advance their shared goals and hold joint events. More than ever, there has been a shift to hold combined meetings between organizations, expand the range of community service opportunities in multiple campus communities, share our artistic abilities, and exhibit our commitments to teamwork in the athletic arena. With our existing structures, we are able to flourish in our own abilities and help others achieve their goals.
This kind of community building did not come from DCGA. It did not come from “administration.” It was always ours. We have student groups and organizations that fundamentally act as mediums through which campus can communicate and problem solve. Publications like the Bullsheet and the Denisonian create spaces for us to engage in sharing information. Programs like D.U. Lead, LeaderShape, and Break Away give us opportunities to engage in conversations off campus that may not have been possible in spaces on the Hill. Even our classes and guest lectures provide us with space to think critically, ask questions, and piece together thought-provoking information.
However, does this mean that DCGA is irrelevant? Absolutely not. As outlined in the DCGA Constitution, “The purpose of this association shall be to ensure direct student participation in campus governance, to protect the rights of the students of Denison University, and to determine the legitimate needs and desires of the students and manifest them in policy, institutional action, and campus cultural change.” As this publication so rightfully pointed out, “DCGA is today just a middleman standing between ideas and their realization.” To this, I would agree—that DCGA’s purpose is to be a representative body of all students; to help foster student ideas into institutional change.
It is foolish to think that the purpose of the body is to be the focal point of change and decision-making on campus. Ideas originate from people’s philosophy and manifest into institutions. It is not DCGA’s place or purpose to be a figure of ultimate authority. But it is our place to understand student desires and ensure that the ideas of students are carried out as best as possible. As the ancient Greek democrat Pericles explained, “We are the ones who develop policy, or at least decide what is to be done; for we believe that what spoils action is not speeches, but not going into action without first being instructed through speeches.”
We were elected by students to represent student opinion in the best way possible. But representation cannot exist without the representatives being invested in and listening about the lives of their peers and community members. That is why the fifty senators that comprise DCGA are members of our community who carry out this fundamental purpose through their other actions on campus beyond their label of “senator.” They are June-O, Aug-O and D.U. Lead facilitators. They are our tutors and classmates. They are Greek brothers and sisters. They are University Programing Council members and S.H.A.R.E. advocates. They are employees, interns, and job seekers. They come from around the world – from Granville to California; The Netherlands to India. They have organized protests, lobbied for causes, and facilitated conversations among community members.
We all have a history that has developed in both predictable and unpredictable ways. But as our campus is recognizing this year, our pasts play an essential part of looking forward to a bright future. It is no surprise that DCGA has some work to do to make sure that we are embracing the way that we look forward as a campus. But per the advice of Pericles, we need to listen before rushing into action. We must take into consideration all of the communities that we represent to ensure that we are congruent with our aggregate community. At DCGA’s meeting tonight, we are taking a pause from policy and discussing the direction of our organization and the values that drive us. This will not be the last conversation we have of this nature.
Leadership is a process and change very rarely happens spontaneously; it takes time to grow. We cannot expect that singular events like a productive meeting or even a protest will fix every problem overnight. We can expect that with diligence and persistence, a commitment to uphold our values, and a willingness to understand each other, we can continue progressing and empowering each other to turn our amazing ideas into action.