By Sophie Steinberg
The importance of student government is often overlooked, and it is mischaracterized in TV shows and movies as a popularity contest. However, recent issues — racial tensions, sexism, high stress levels, and last year’s dress code controversy among them — have made it clear that some form of student representation is needed at Beacon.
Mr. Van Pelt was new to the school last year and was surprised that such a progressive school lacked a strong student government. Ms. Ratcliffe and Mr. Van Pelt helped to launch the new organization, which allows students to contribute to the leadership of our school, while also teaching them about activism and civics. Although many schools rely on a traditional representative government, Beacon’s Student Government is set up as an after-school club. It serves as a forum for student concerns, rather than as a group of elected decision makers. Thus, Beacon’s student government is open to everyone.
The club’s decision not to elect a specific President or other formal officers is another Beacon-specific innovation geared toward avoiding a superficial, unhelpful student government. Mr. Van Pelt was worried that holding elections “might result in people voting for their friends… or that it won’t accurately represent the makeup of the student body.” Instead, he is encouraging students to create a government that people want to be a part of, and which serves all students.
According to the club’s members, each meeting features a discussion based on prominent issues raised by the student body. There is also discussion of what it means to be a representative body and how to best address student concerns. Members can also bring their personal ideas or pet issues to the table, and address prevalent concerns among the students and faculty. Mr. Van Pelt encouraged the club’s founders to include representation from students of every race, religion, and sexual orientation. This commitment to inclusivity and diversity should provide a wide range of voices and perspectives so that the government best serves every member of the Beacon community. Mr. Van Pelt’s goal is to make the student government self-sustaining so that it can operate without a faculty advisory to lead the meetings.
However, the real challenge is finding a committed group of students who are willing to consistently attend meetings. Most of the student government members so far are interested in politics and social justice, and use the club as a platform for their voices. Mr. Van Pelt hopes that even students who are not interested in joining express their concerns to members of the student government as the club becomes more active in the school.
In order to succeed in representing the Beacon student population, student feedback is crucial. To that end, the club has placed a suggestion box near the common area on the fourth floor. While Mr. Van Pelt confirms that there have been at least 50 suggestions submitted so far, one member — who chose to remain anonymous — said the “response has been underwhelming.” That club member believes that “people would be more aware if the club had a figurehead” in the form of a President. In the meantime, the club continues to encourage students to fill out an online survey –for which the link is provided below — so that they can gain more information about student concerns and preferences. After the survey closes, the club will analyze the results and put their insights to use in their role as student advocates. Finally, the student government hopes to publish the data as part of a dialogue between the club and the wider Beacon community.
In the future, Mr. Van Pelt hopes to bring in various activists to speak to the club and conduct workshops on organization and advocacy. The club may be just getting off the ground, but it is already on its way to making a difference in student life.
Student Government survey is live at beaconsg.weebly.com.