Op-ed: A letter from the undergraduate representatives to the board of trustees
When I first was asked to be an undergraduate student representative to the board of trustees, I was deeply humbled that my co-rep, Megan Wolf, and myself, were given the opportunity to positively affect the lives of our peers. Students previously in this position have played a critical role in hiring additional mental health counselors in Student Health Services, pushing for the creation of the new Sumers Recreation Center and founding the Office for Student Success. I was excited to have a chance to give back to the community that I have grown to love.
At the start of the year, Megan and I determined that our year-long project, in which we are asked to present a proposal on how to meaningfully improve undergraduate life, needed to emerge out of the voices of individual students. Through our conversations with student leaders, we attempted to listen as carefully as possible to understand the most persistent and detrimental struggles of different student communities.
In those conversations, we were repeatedly devastated to hear the stories of low-income students and underrepresented students of color who did not feel supported by our administration or the resources supposedly available to them on campus. We quickly learned many students at Wash. U. feel deeply dissatisfied with their undergraduate experience. Furthermore, we found those sentiments were exacerbated in the underrepresented and low-income student communities.
It is our belief that no Wash. U. student should feel as isolated, angry or frustrated with our University as many students do today. No student should have to spend three months trying to secure funding for a textbook. No student should be subjected to classist or racist remarks from their professors. No student should be forced to switch their major because their high school did not have the AP or honors classes necessary to be well-prepared for introductory classes at Wash. U. No student should feel like they are simply at our institution to improve our diversity statistics.
We acknowledge as privileged, white students, we cannot directly speak to the experiences of underrepresented students of color and low-income students. However, we want to emphasize we believe like the mental health and sexual violence crises facing our school today, the negative experiences of these student communities is an issue we all must face.
Our project intends to provide solutions that help better support all students, with a specific focus on better serving underrepresented students of color and low-income students. With our proposal, we hope to catalyze a holistic, institution-wide focus amongst faculty, administrators and students to make diversity at Wash. U. more than just a number.
We are attaching our proposal here so that any student may look at our recommendations. Though Megan and I will graduate in three weeks, you should feel empowered to reach out to next year’s representatives, Sam Messenger and Monica Sass, with questions about our role at the University and the implementation of our project. In addition, you can contact the administrators that we worked with directly to learn more about how we came to the proposal you see today.
Our proposal, far from being a full solution, is intended to start a much longer conversation at the Board level about how we can better serve the diverse student body we have recruited to attend our institution. Far from being an afterthought, the lives of dissatisfied and frustrated students, especially in the underrepresented student of color and low-income student communities, must be a priority for our administration.
Ultimately, we understand that this project is not enough to solve the myriad of emotional, financial and academic issues all marginalized student communities face at Wash. U. Our broader hope is students will take this proposal and be even more active in scheduling meetings with administrators and continue to advocate for their needs. One thousand voices are greater than the two that officially sit on the board, and we hope that future generations of Wash. U. students will be empowered to work closely with the representatives and communicate their concerns directly to trustees.