Student leaders get a seat at the table
Student senators have been advocating for the Beloit College student body for decades, an opportunity that could be hard to find at a large, public university.
Each year, two students from each class are elected to represent their peers in the Academic Senate and attend monthly meetings alongside the college’s faculty and staff members. These students have the ability to vote with the same weight as faculty members, a power that speaks to how student judgment and opinions are valued at Beloit. In addition to attending senate meetings, each student is assigned to an academic committee that meets weekly (excluding the Judicial Board which meets as needed).
“Most of the small, private colleges that I went to and have worked at also had students involved in college governance,” says Associate Dean of Students Joy de Leon, who coordinates the student senator elections and committee placements. “But I don’t know of any that allowed students to attend the faculty governance meetings and have a vote equal to a tenured or tenure-track faculty member.”
In light of that, Beloit’s student senators take their appointments very seriously and attend as many of the meetings as they can while striving to keep the best interests of the student body in mind.
“Having student senators says that the college [and administrators] value student input,” de Leon says. “The students are involved in a lot of decisions, from groups on specific topics to student government to students who attend the Board of Trustees meetings.”
Introducing some of the student senators for the 2021-22 school year:
Angelo Buff’23, Bartlett, Ill.
psychology major from Bartlett, Ill., describes himself as reserved, but when an email searching for student senator nominations went out this year, he figured, “Why not? I’ll apply.” Already, he says the initial meeting was very informative and he trusts the staff and faculty more. Being a student senator, even for only a couple months so far, has provided him with a better connection to Beloit’s staff. “Scotty B (a nickname for President Bierman) has already reached out personally to congratulate me,” he says.Angelo Buff’23, a
He is still new to the experience of being a senator, but Angelo looks forward to learning more about what he can accomplish in his position. His membership on the Admissions and Financial Aid committee mostly involves dealing with finances and promoting the college. There is only so much he can do as a student in regard to finances, but ideally, he hopes to make the financial and hiring processes clearer for students and more accessible overall.
Angelo finds that being a part of the decision-making process is a big deal for him, and the fact that the college includes eight students among their senatorial body is quite significant. Making sure that the voice of the student body is heard is one of his primary concerns. He plans on taking into account the opinions of as many students as he can. “I’m going to try and have my vote not come from me: It’s going to be how I can best represent people,” he says.
He also hopes to tackle the distance between the student body and the college’s inner workings. He sees it like this: “You look at Beloit College and you see the blue letter ‘B’ and think that’s [who is] charging you for school, right? When in reality, it’s this interconnected group of people who discuss things and want the best for everyone.”
Josie Czuj’25, Downeast Maine
“Education has been very empowering throughout my life,” says Josie Czuj’25, one of two new student senators from the first-year class. “I want to be involved in making sure everyone has that same [empowering] experience, including in higher education.”
Josie works alongside Bella Robinson’25 in the Curriculum Oversight and Administration (COA) committee, which focuses on approving and reviving new course offerings. Within the committee, the students are able to vote and offer a unique point of view when it comes to decision-making. COA is in the process of discussing a replacement for Beloit’s Liberal Arts in Practice requirement within a structure that’s more focused on career readiness.
In meetings, she pushes herself to remember that she does not have to simply sit back and let other people do the talking, but that she was elected to the position to advocate for the student body. Additionally, she reminds herself, “I do have good ideas, along with my fellow academic senators, and we have the privilege to make those ideas known.”
Her goals for this year include building her public speaking skills and confidence and gaining a deeper understanding of how higher education functions. Josie hopes to represent her class well, and she plans “to keep student mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of [her] mind when thinking about academics on campus.”
Elsa Schroeder’23, St. Paul, Minn.
Having been a student senator in the past, Elsa Schroeder’23 decided to run again because she wants to continue “to help make Beloit a better space for students.” Taking note of all the unrest caused by the pandemic, she plans to tackle issues by bringing what her peers have to say to the attention of the decision makers in the senate body. She is thrilled to finally be meeting with people in person again.
Through her position on the Admissions and Financial Aid committee, Elsa enjoys the opportunity to be part of the conversation. Discussions in the committee include the admissions cycle and different approaches to admitting students, such as whether the college will be test blind or test optional moving forward. The committee also reflects on successes and failures of past cycles to determine what works and what does not.
Elsa remarks that it is a big responsibility to be part of the decision making process, but it is also “a privilege to take student perspectives to the floor.” Often, she feels that a body of faculty and staff may unintentionally forget to consider how certain decisions will impact the student body. Therefore, even small insights that the student senators have to share are important.
Asa student senator, Elsa has gained communication skills and acts as a bridge between the student body and governing faculty. Elsa emphasizes once more that bringing student voices to the forefront of the conversation is her primary intention, alongside her hope to continue “analyzing major issues in the college and [consider] how they might be solved.”
Hope Smith-Taylor’22, Chicago, Ill.
For Hope Smith-Taylor’22, being a student senator is nothing new. Having previously been a senator in both her sophomore and junior years, she says she has “always been passionate about speaking out for [her] peers” and enjoys being a student leader. One of the major takeaways from her experience has been gaining “a sense of responsibility, leadership, and honesty,” and also an understanding that those in charge of the college always have the students’ best interest in mind.
Hope has been on the Judicial Board (“J Board,” for short) during her three years as a student senator, a committee which tackles confidential cases and disputes on campus. She feels that having student senators on J Board is important because they provide a unique perspective and are able to imagine how it might feel in the place of a student accused of wrongdoing. In addition to two staff members and a moderator, Hope is working alongside Jagvi Dey’24 this year.
Hope shares from experience that the senate body regularly deals with finances, approves new courses, and organizes events. More recently, student senators were able to participate in the decision to switch back to semesters from last year’s mod schedule. Hope feels that being a student senator allows her to get to know her peers and the faculty members. She says that the faculty and staff value students’ opinions and that being a part of the decision making process “makes [her] feel important and that [she] can be trusted.”
For her final year, Hope plans on “making sure campus is more comfortable and accessible for new students.” She feels that the social aspect of campus is not what it used to be due to the pandemic’s lingering impact and wants to make campus feel more involved and welcoming this year and beyond.
Farah Tolu-Honary’24, Freeport, Ill.
Like several of her fellow senators, Farah Tolu-Honary’24 has held the position of student senator before. She feels that it is an honor to be representing her class, and she chose to run again because she “wanted to continue with the work that [she] had started [last year].” That work includes projects within the International Education Committee and the social sciences disciplinary group.
The International Education Committee meets weekly to discuss how to make study abroad more accessible to students, in particular those of underrepresented communities. Generally, the process is quite lengthy, requires a lot of essays, and is expensive, which Farah says can act as a deterrent for students who want to participate. One of the ways she hopes to combat this is by helping to make study abroad affordable so everyone who wants to has a shot at going.
On the other hand, the various discipline groups meet to talk about issues relating to college academic departments, including the arts, humanities, and the hard sciences. More specifically, they seek to improve the college experience by reforming and adding new courses. Farah says that as a student senator she sometimes finds herself working on small projects, such as those in the discipline group, and other times the projects are big, like the senate decision to make winter break last longer last year.
Farah says being in charge of making decisions can be a little overwhelming at times because she wants to make sure her decisions fully represent the student body. To overcome this, she reaches out to students through a Facebook group to get opinions directly from the source. “I definitely want to make sure that I’m getting out there,” she says, “and that people know who I am and that they feel comfortable telling me about something they’re concerned about.”
Jagvi Dey’24, Kolkata, India
Jagvi Dey is one of two student senators on the Judicial Board, a committee that tackles confidential cases and campus disputes. Her interest in student leadership positions and curiosity about the inner workings of the college led her to run for the position last school year. After thoroughly enjoying the experience, she decided to run for the position once again.
She recalls from last year that meetings with the entire senate, including students, faculty, and staff, can be imposing. The meetings tend to run long and the discussion topics do not necessarily pertain to the students’ interests, but Jagvi notes that the students are at liberty to speak at any point.
The Judicial Board consists of a moderator and two student senators (Jagvi and her fellow senator Hope Smith-Taylor’22) who act as a jury with two faculty members. Though not able to divulge any specifics regarding the board, Jagvi provides examples of what cases they may encounter, such as issues regarding academic honesty and student disagreements. Jagvi says she hopes “that no one is ever in a situation where they have to come to [the Judicial Board].”
Jagvi says her experience as a student senator has equipped her with the ability to communicate with and advocate for others. She sees it as her duty to do well in her position. Having been elected by her peers also means a great deal to her. “Knowing that a lot of people are trusting me and these are my peers, I feel very loved and appreciated, and that motivates me to work harder,” she says.
Bella Robinson’25, Hartford, Conn.
With interests spanning across philosophy, music, the arts, education, and journalism, Bella Robinson feels that as a student senator she will be able to “act as a connector for [those] different disciplines and groups of people.” She says it feels good to be a part of the decision-making process because she is able to speak up and have her voice heard, something which she feels should be available to everyone.
In the Curriculum Oversight and Administration committee, Bella is a part of the process which passes regulations on the curriculum and oversees the revision of the liberal arts requirements. One of the new programs her committee is working on would offer international high school students the opportunity to take courses for college credit and gain an early college experience.
Bella feels that a primary goal of the entire senate is to “balance the Beloit motto of inclusivity and finances so the school can continue,” a reminder that alongside the college’s fundamental needs, the student body is always a high priority. Maintaining that balance is one thing Bella plans to work toward, in addition to tackling sustainability issues and policies regarding the Native American mounds on campus.
As a student senator, Bella hopes she will be able to lay the groundwork to increase representation within the senate. The body itself is not particularly diverse, but she plans to “seek out the opinions of people who don’t look like [her], who have different identities than [she does] … and try to bring that to the forefront.” She feels that a lot of students, especially first-years who are new to the College, can be hesitant to speak up for themselves. Bella hopes to take their opinions and ideas and turn them into action.