By Daniel Galperin (ChE ’18) and Monica Abdallah (ChE ’17)
On November 1, a Joint Student Council (JSC) resolution was passed that called for the conversion of all restrooms on campus to gender neutral. This followed months of discussions and a series of policy changes, enacted over the course of the past year or so, that have changed several bathrooms in both the Foundation Building and the NAB to gender neutral in an honest effort to make the campus and the community more inclusive, more welcoming, more aware of the diversity present at Cooper Union.
Many students from the engineering school felt that they were not consulted before the voting process or included in the conversations about expanding the number of gender-neutral facilities beyond the few that were previously established.
“Many students from the engineering school felt that they were not consulted before the voting process”
On November 16, the Engineering Student Council (ESC) held an open meeting to discuss its governance. ESC serves to be accessible to engineering students as an open avenue of communication between students, faculty, and administrators, as well as a context in which students can raise concerns and share their perspectives. Its shortcomings in the handling of this issue were alarming to many members of ESC and to students, so the forum was a way for ESC to gain insight on how it could have been more effective at reaching the student body.
Both supporters and non-supporters of the JSC resolution joined ESC members to share thoughts about how the processes of both ESC and JSC failed to adequately engage many students in the community. Dean of Students Chris Chamberlin was also present to answer any questions.
At the meeting, representatives and Administrative Chairs began by answering questions that students had about the inner-workings of ESC and the JSC. Students took particular interest in this portion of the discussion because it offered them insight as to how voting works and how the resolution was passed. Students asked how each of the three schools are represented in JSC. Administrative Chairs stated that there are approximately the same amount of representatives from the art and architecture schools, while there are a few more representatives from the engineering school.
Some students brought up how there are more engineers in the NAB than artists on average, so engineering students should have more of a say in changes regarding the NAB; conversely, art and architecture students should have more of a say in changes in the Foundation Building. This initiated a short discussion about the validity of the vote.
Students voiced concern that their representatives were not adequately representing them. While students thought that their representatives do not adequately engage them in general, representatives felt that students do not communicate their opinions effectively to them. Representatives were encouraged to approach more students in person and actively collect opinions, while students were encouraged to attend ESC meetings and reach out to representatives as concerns arise. At one point, Ad-Chairs and other experienced members of ESC reminded everyone that being a representative is more than just a title, and that it bears real responsibility. It is important to note that any representative that does not attend two council meetings, or fails to represent their section, can be voted out of their position.
“Representatives felt that students do not communicate their opinions effectively to them”
Students also pleaded that representatives express the thoughts and concerns of their sections and avoid allowing their personal opinions impact how they advocate for their section.
There was also mention of how to potentially improve JSC meetings. Suggestions included making the agenda of the meetings available to all representatives in advance so that they can better inform the student body of what will be discussed and what might be voted on. Others suggested that it might be wise to motion for a vote on a resolution at one meeting and actually vote on it during the following meeting.
According to the ESC website, the JSC constitution has not been revised since 1998. ESC Ad-Chairs stressed that while it is possible to make changes to the JSC constitution, any such changes should maintain the balance in representation between the three schools. For example, not voting at the same meeting at which a resolution is drafted was a change that many engineering students and representatives welcomed.
These are just highlights of what was a very productive ESC meeting. You are encouraged to attend future ESC meetings and always relay your concerns, to any degree of specificity that you wish, to your representative.