As the year draws to a close, a new crop of student representatives prepare to take the reins of the Associated Students for the 2011–2012 school year. One of them, future AS President Anna Ellermeier, will be taking charge after what has been a busy year for current president Colin Watrin. The AS Review sat down with both to talk about the state of Western and its future.
The AS Review: What will be the challenges for the AS president next year?
Anna Ellermeier: I think that one of the challenges is going to be, as we move further into the budget process, and things become more complicated, I think one of the challenges the president is going to face is being able to communicate what’s going on at the university level and what’s going on at the state level to students in a way that makes them feel like they can affect change within that process, and that the president needs to be constantly communicating with students in ways they can understand.
Colin Watrin: I agree, I think the budget is the biggest thing affecting Western right now. The changes that are happening, they’re going to occur, and whether the students feel involved in that process or not will rest on the Associated Students and the president, and they’ll have to take steps to have forums and really try to make sure the process is understandable for students, because it is a confusing one. I can say having worked with the administration that they’re figuring it all out at the same time that everyone else is, so there’s not this golden answer out there.
Ellermeier: And also working with AS employees and other organizations and figuring out, as our university changes, how does our organization change and how do we adapt to the changing times? I think we have an opportunity to make the AS more impactful and more important to students’ lives.
Review: With the majority of board members next year being female, what do you think that reflects?
Watrin: I think having been on the board the last two years, with last year being an entirely male board and this year having one female member, I think there will be a different perspective that has been missing. The nature of any government is that it ebbs and flows, whether it’s right and left or democrat and republican and, you know, change is good in government, because without change you get stagnant. You don’t grow. And there’s so much more to it than just gender. I think the fact that we have an entirely new board with no returning members will be more important than gender; it will be the experiences people bring that will be far more important.
Ellermeier: To me, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the type of students we have in these positions. Gender is something that definitely affects your perspective and it affects your experience in the world, but I think it’s a very small component. You can have a man as president, like Colin, [who] is just as committed to women’s issues and women’s rights as I will be as president. To me, what’s more important is what kind of leaders we have elected to the board and also what kind of process we have in the elections.
Review: Do you think students know enough about what the AS president does?
Watrin: No. Whenever I try to explain to students or they ask me what I do as president I always have a difficult time, because it is very encompassing. There’s so much that this position does; it would be hard for a student to understand. It took me six months to learn how to do this job! But I don’t think we should expect students to know every little thing the president does, that’s unreasonable; I don’t think we can even say that about our nationally elected representatives. But I think the important thing is making sure students know they can use the president as a resource, someone they can go to if they have a concern … And there could be more effort on behalf of the AS and the board to reach out to students and let them know that they can use us as a resource.
Ellermeier: I agree with Colin … by and large students don’t know what the AS president does. Do I think it’s important to know what the AS president does? Yes, in as much as how the AS president can be of service to them. And also on a broader scale, I feel confident that I go to a school where we do have such strong student leadership within the administration, I think that is something students need to know.
Review: Colin, what is one proposal or initiative that you really wanted to implement this year but couldn’t?
Watrin: One thing I wanted to work on but didn’t get a chance to is to reform the student senate. Maybe “reform” is not the right word, more restructure or empower. I think that they could play a much larger role in the AS and on campus, and compared to other schools our senate is pretty small. The amount of authority they have is very minimal, and I would like to see the AS start to move in the direction where the student senate is given more authority. Ideally, the representatives or the chair would be elected by the student body, giving them that authority to make decisions because really the reason they can’t make decisions now is because they’re not elected. But if we were in a position where the chair was elected or parts of the senate were elected, we can elevate their role.
Review: Anna, what is one proposal or initiative you would like to implement next year?
Ellermeier: I would echo what Colin said, but trying to change the student senate so it’s more of a representative audience, where it can be a liaison between the students and the government. The other things I would like to see happen is to make the board of directors more visible. I think students would be really receptive to that right now because as we go through the budget process, students are going to feel it and they’ll need somewhere to go. And meeting students where they’re at, too. I think it’s important to have our office hours posted, so you can come into our office whenever you want, but as president I would like to be going to hall councils and clubs, and maybe use social media in a way we haven’t seen AS presidents use before. I feel like the whole board learned a lot campaigning, and I think we can use the skills to get people to vote for us to get them to give us feedback on what they think. And also working with other schools on the legislative front. If we are going to be successful in lobbying for higher education, we need to start viewing higher education as a statewide issue and as a nationwide issue and not just a Western issue.
Learn more about your AS Board of Directors online at as.wwu.edu/gov. You can also stop by the board office in Viking Union 504.