POWER’s existence shows school’s blind spots

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • March 31, 2016

At issue: A new student justice group is formed.

Our take: Why did the system put in place fail these students? 

In Tuesday’s faculty assembly, a motion passed for new professional development for all faculty across the college, and it pushed for Emerson to devise a stratagem for those identified as being involved in bias issues.

The motion was presented by POWER—Protesting Oppression With Education Reform—which is a new student justice group formed to facilitate more inclusivity across academic departments in part as a result of a student walk-out that occurred last April. Last spring’s demonstration addressed student concerns about diversity issues on campus and raised the question of a need for cultural competency classes. 

To ensure this event resulted in real change, POWER works with the ad hoc faculty assembly cultural competency committee to re-assess the aforementioned issues. Collectively, POWER put forth concrete, clear, and attainable steps in Tuesday’s meeting to mend the college’s failings and push towards progress. 

According to co-founder Nathaniel Charles, POWER’s creators wanted an organized structure to address campus issues and they succeeded. Every academic department has a representative from the group, and these representatives review progress (or lackthereof) done regarding cultural competency. 

If that set-up sounds familiar, it’s because the Student Government Association is fashioned in a similar way. It too has representatives from each academic department. And it too was created to address student complaints on campus. Unfortunately, the fact that a group like POWER was needed suggests that SGA is not fulfilling—or capable of fulfilling—that job. 

Student government has a hard job, and Emerson’s SGA isn’t above the challenges that plague other undergraduate legislatures. Student presidents and senators are tasked with representing their peers in an organization that is largely toothless: It cannot lower tuition, cannot unilaterally hire or fire, so it cannot implement long-term change. Our SGA succeeds at giving money to worthy student-run causes, but mostly ineffectual at the rest. That’s no one’s fault, it’s just a reality of the institution.

POWER, however, unbound by a constitution or by the college’s administrative oversight is doing the work SGA ought to have made progress on far sooner. This isn’t to say that SGA under Emily Solomon hasn’t been active—in January, these student leaders discussed proposed revisions for both the United States and global diversity perspective classes in an open meeting. But it’s incumbent upon an organization with the responsibility to formally represent the student body to have a leading role in these conversations, and right now that’s not the case.

The onus isn’t only upon SGA of course—all Emerson students have a part to play in making sure we’re being educated from a more equitable coursework. POWER has been a leading voice in reform, and now that they’re taking their concerns to the school’s board of trustees (a group that seems to be overwhelmingly white and male), we all ought to lend our voices in solidarity.