The first step to a strong student voice, quite simply, is a place to talk, according to Rebekah Judson ‘12.
By helping plan the Swarthmore General Assembly (GA), which will take place this Thursday, 6 p.m. in Sharples, she hopes to introduce that place to Swarthmore. “It’s really just a space that’s being created,” she said Tuesday. “It’s not necessarily designed to be a protest against any particular issue.”
Judson is among a group of students who want to facilitate closer collaboration among different groups, social circles, and individuals at Swarthmore. As an open student forum, the Swarthmore General Assembly will take the first step toward clarifying what those collaborations might be.
While the General Assembly will use some techniques recently highlighted by the Occupy movement, Judson noted that the event isn’t about Occupy itself. Instead, she sees the GA as a template for collective action.
“Often, when students try to tackle a problem on campus, it’s done in isolation,” said Judson. “We think there’s a lot of benefit that comes out of people sharing their concerns, and having people form segments across campus student groups and social groups.”
The Swarthmore GA will adapt some of the strategies from the Occupy model. Judson says a “direct democracy” format will create an environment in which every person and idea receives equal billing. In the spirit of this “non-hierarchical” structure, the Swarthmore General Assembly will have no leaders, no platform, and no agenda beyond a basic outline of introductions and announcements.
Sara Blazevic ‘15, a student who has attended some of the G.A.’s planning meetings, would like to see the General Assembly integrate students who aren’t normally vocal in campus debates.
“It would be really easy to have a meeting with all the activist groups and all the green groups on campus–but those aren’t the only people with a stake in how the school is run,” she said, adding that many students may not even realize existing channels to share concerns and propose solutions.
The Swarthmore GA’s ability to promote their initial meeting has been hampered by concerns about upsetting the group’s non-hierarchical model. Before talking to the Daily Gazette about the General Assembly, the organizing group discussed it in a planning meeting to avoid falsely identifying any individual as a leader. In commenting on this story, Blazevic emphasized she was not a leader speaking for the group, but an interested member speaking for herself.
Though Judson recognized some of the issues associated with communicating outside the planning group, she stood by Swarthmore GA’s strategy.
“I think that it’s not a perfect model, but I think that some of those challenges—grappling with some of those challenges–[is] better than creating a kind of hierarchy and saying ‘this is what we’re doing, and you can join us’,” she said.
With no statement sketching the group’s next event, it is uncertain how the General Assembly will evolve following this week’s meeting.