Letter to the editor: ASOC must face our challenges

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To the Associated Students of Occidental College,

To be clear, this includes all 1,988 of us and even those who came before us. This is a collective address for the good of the current and future student body. ASOC has challenges and all of us should care.

Let me first make plain what I and other leaders, both in and out of official roles, have expressed clearly. The work of sacrificing time and labor for the good of the student body is exhausting. This is no new truth; those willing and able to commit to causes have always done so at a huge cost. At Oxy, we’ve seen this labor carried by the most marginalized, often causing personal and collective toil on those who could go without such a burden. All members of our student body should address this in whatever direction we go next.

If you don’t even believe the direction that we go next is of any importance, I’d call that big BS. As a student body, we have the authority to collectively lead advocacy efforts, offer relevant programming, and govern and administer thousands of dollars in funding. This responsibility is underscored by our legal structure: ASOC is organized as a nonprofit, separate from the college’s administrative structure and finances.

If this isn’t convincing enough, my platform of shared governance has opened up real opportunities for students to be engaged and informed in making decisions at Occidental. Take for example the implementation of student representatives on the college’s Budget and Strategic Advisory Committee (BSAC), “a multi-constituent financial advisory group that aims to discuss the larger financial issues of the college as they pertain to planning and budget.” Or turn your attention toward the new ASOC-Office of the President Task Force meetings where students, administrators and faculty are invited to a working session to tackle pertinent issues such as resources for first-generation students and queer/trans students of color. These are just a couple of examples of the opportunities available. Search committees, advisory councils and committees continue to grow in number and impact.

Still, we have a long way to go to establish ourselves as a legitimate and unified student front. We spend a copious amount of time dealing with the actions of other long gone, well-intentioned people. Whether good or bad, we bear the burden of these choices, just as someone will bear the burden of ours later. We have a responsibility to dispose of ideas that have not worked for us and take control of our narrative.

We lose momentum as a student body when we are unwilling or unable to imagine past what we’ve already known. Understanding this causes me to urge us in a different direction.

We must invest in building up our structures and processes, our principles toward community, our knowledge base and our practices of individual and collective accountability. In building all of this up, we can begin to substantially tear down forms of oppression that exist within the Oxy community. If we aren’t interested in doing the best version of this that we can, we are interested in wasting time.

As I finish up my last semester at Oxy as ASOC president having observed, participated in and reflected on the cultural and political defaults of our community, I feel confident in this vision. I remain committed to strategically building students’ capacity to craft the institution we have wanted. There are three core elements to my call to action.

1. ASOC’s student government needs a restructuring that is informed by the past decade of institutional memory and experience. This history motivates us to consider topics relevant to diversity and equity, as well as sustainability. A reconfiguration of the branches is essential to establishing a student leadership front that is sensible, cohesive and unified. Our cultural club leaders and student organizers must also be more fluidly integrated into our structure and given meaningful opportunities to be supported and have their causes advanced.

2. Those who have not been engaged with our efforts must no longer sit back and remain idle. While everyone has varying capacities to be involved based on a number of factors, I am convinced that everyone can contribute in some way and at the minimum, be informed. I’ve developed tools like the Project Planning Document in order for everyone to monitor and contribute to live updates for different projects across the student body. I’ve also built the Guidebook so that any student can get a baseline understanding of how two important areas of Occidental function. Everyone should regularly access these documents.

3. We must continue to advocate for increased student decision-making power in all affairs at Occidental. ASOC has taken the lead in gathering a wide range of perspectives on how to best accomplish this. Our satisfaction as students is predicated on our ability to be present and actively engaged where the College’s leadership is taking place.

I look forward to embracing your critique and commitment as we, collectively, continue to mobilize and care for one another. Best of luck this semester and see you soon.

Jacques Lesure is a senior Resistive Education in Theory, Research and Policy major (IPS) from the east side of Atlanta and serves as ASOC president. He can be reached at jlesure@oxy.edu.