By Simon Yellen ’21
While an Interschool student government has the potential to benefit students, the current Interschool Student Council is being run without the knowledge or consent of the students it claims to represent.
The creation of a larger government for the Interschool provides a unique opportunity to create a government that can serve students for years to come. Let’s not squander it.
During this year’s late spring and early summer, an entity known as the Interschool Student Council was formed. The Interschool is defined as “a consortium of eight independent schools working cooperatively to develop programs and activities involving students and teachers from the participating schools”. It consists of the Brearley School, the Browning School, the Chapin School, Collegiate School, the Dalton School, the Nightingale-Bamford School, the Spence School, and Trinity School, eight private schools in New York City.
The first mention of the Interschool Student Council (ISC) that I saw was in an email forwarded to the Collegiate Upper School. That email portrayed the ISC as a way for the individual student councils of members of the Interschool to meet and share ideas on how to run their respective governments. There also was a brief mention of community-based events, but it wasn’t the focus of the message.
This message, sent in December 2019, was the only mention of an Interschool student government disseminated to the collection of student bodies during the school year. What makes this fact so problematic is that most student government elections happened between December 2019 and the end of the school year. Assuming that students knew about the ISC, they would be voting for their respective representatives with the knowledge that they would also be part of a larger interschool group.
However, the role of the ISC drastically changed after the school year ended. In an email sent to the Collegiate Upper School (similar versions were sent to the other schools), members of the Collegiate student government described the ISC as having a much larger role than... . This email described the ISC’s plans as follows:
To create academic proposals that improve student life across the Interschool
To address mental health concerns throughout the consortium
To confront the pervasive lack of accessibility for students of color, queer students, and low-income students, as well as putting plans into action for the upcoming school year
To support the work of and provide a broader platform to student-led affinity groups in the Interschool
These roles show a desire by the ISC to have a significantly larger effect on the lives of the students than originally proposed. While I believe in the mission of the ISC because a larger student government can improve the lives of students, I am opposed to the lack of transparency surrounding its creation. Disclosure after the fact isn’t enough. The larger student body should have had a say in the structure and function of the ISC while it was still malleable. In fact, this idea isn’t new to the members of the ISC. I have continuously stressed the importance to members of the ISC of creating an open forum for students who believe in student governments to discuss their respective visions. This forum would be built on the idea of consensus—a decision would not be made behind closed doors. Yet, whenever I brought this proposal forward, it was brushed aside.
The reasoning behind the ISC’s actions is that they are quickly moving ahead with their agenda rather than taking the necessary time to build a foundational structure. This is not only bad management, but it is also selfish. While moving forward with an agenda might help them and current students, the lack of structure will cause the ISC to quickly become ineffective. It would be a disservice to the students that come after us to leave them with a broken organization.
I have never been satisfied with the way Collegiate’s student government was run. If I were given the opportunity to have a say in its creation, I would have done things differently. While I didn’t have that opportunity, a similar one is upon us now. We must make the Interschool Student Council into a lasting organization that will benefit students like us for years to come.
One may think that an Interschool student government wouldn’t have any real power. It is that thinking—that lack of imagination—that causes the issues we now face. Yet no one can be faulted for that behavior. When one tells themself they can’t do something, their body is scientifically proven to be less inclined to take the steps necessary to achieve that goal. Just take a look at the four-minute mile. Though seen to be physically impossible for years, when Roger Bannister broke that barrier, others soon followed. It wasn’t that faster runners didn’t exist before; it was simply that no one believed it was possible, so it never happened.
A similar situation is present with student government. Many of us believe that student governments can’t do anything useful for us. We must cast aside that belief. We have been given an unprecedented opportunity to create a larger student organization in our own images. To squander that opportunity not only hurts current students but students in years to come. I urge the students in the Interschool to come together, to create our own government: a government that will actually help and fight for students, not just current students but those that pass through the doors of our schools years later.
My opinions of the Interschool Student Council do not reflect those of the schools it consists of or the Interschool itself.