“We never really leave our roles,” says Eva Catanzariti ‘21, Vice President of William Smith Congress. “What we want to do is take issues that students care about on campus and take them out of just conversations with friends, and bring them to the next level where we can figure out how can we support you going forward and advocating on this issue.”
Support, inclusion and fostering communication were the reoccurring themes in the Herald’s conversation with WSC VP Catanzariti and President Sophie Ritter ‘21. The two, along with the rest of student government, are spearheading several initiatives this semester to make student government a more inclusive space for students to voice their concerns.
Both joined student government in the hopes of having conversations with fellow students and helping those students make the changes they want to see. Ritter said, “I liked being able to feel like I was making a change on campus … even if it’s a small change, I liked feeling like I was part of the process of making a change.” Catanzariti echoed those sentiments, saying, “There are definitely a lot of issues I hear people talking about on campus, but they weren’t really taking those issues to the next step where we actually really discuss them formally and decide to go forward with solutions. It’s a good space for evaluating what the problems are and how to go forward in a place where I feel like a lot of the times we tend more to just like vent about issues than actually game plan around them.”
The first step to making WSC more inclusive will be a re-examination of one of its guiding documents, the WSC Constitution, which Ritter is in the process of revising. She said, “Our constitution hasn’t been rewritten in a few years and it’s due to be rewritten so that’s something that’s been in the works since last semester. You have to go through every piece of it and it has to all be voted on by the student body once it’s been revised. We’re going to start hosting meetings probably within the next few weeks for people to put their input in to what they want changed in the constitution.”
The two, in conjunction with the rest of WSC and Hobart Student Government, had a suggestion box installed in Scandling Center so students can leave comments for their representatives if they can’t attend the meeting or want to remain anonymous.
Inclusion is extremely important to Catanzariti, who emphasized student government’s role as a link between their peers and the administration, saying, “A lot of the student body doesn’t participate either because of the inconvenience of the meeting times or the reputation of us not being a safe space, so we want to make sure that because we have been elected to represent all student voices, we should be listening to all students’ voices and bringing that forward when we have our meetings with administrative officials.”
The largest program that WSC is spearheading is organizing regular meetings with cultural clubs to address the historical whiteness of student government and ensure that the voices of students of color are heard. Catanzariti said, “We’re aware that when you enter the [current student government] room it’s not a diverse room and we’re entering with that knowledge and trying to figure out how to fix it.” She continued, “We don’t just want to be an inclusive space in the meetings. We want to use those meetings to make campus as a whole a more inclusive space, and the way we do that is to promote these conversations about race, gender, et cetera, issues that are still prevalent on campus but are becoming less discussed.”
Something else student government has been doing to make sure students’ concerns are addressed is bringing in speakers to answer students’ questions. Catanzariti elaborated on this program, saying, “That is one thing that’s awesome is having speakers come in to actually address students’ concerns. We’ve had Marty [Corbett] (Director of Campus Safety) come in to talk about the blue lights. We’ve had David McCandless from Sodexo come in and talk about food problems. Title IX came in to talk about Title IX issues.” Catanzariti says this is helpful for figuring out how big an issue is and whether WSC can solve it.
“When people bring things up we try and go directly to the source,” agreed Ritter.
Catanzariti’s role as vice president also includes semesterly meetings with the alumnae network where she updates them about the issues facing students on campus. She anticipates her next meeting with them will include a conversation about the coordinate system and said, “The main thing I’m trying to convey to the alumnae is that they need to be with students more, listen to students more … They don’t like that they’re out of the loop.”
Just as Catanzariti’s role as VP allows her to communicate between students and alumnae, Ritter’s role as president allows her to form a similar relationship with the deans. She meets regularly with Dean Salter to plan events such as Founder’s Day and other events that might benefit the student body. Ritter is also using her role to bring more awareness to the coordinate system conversation to the deans, saying, “We’re working on co-sponsoring a coordinate conversation with the Dean’s Office, so that’s something that’s in the works. We’re just figuring out a time when we could have a meeting open to students to come and discuss their opinions on the coordinate system.”
Despite the unique challenge of working with a coordinate student government, the two see joint student government as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Catanzariti says, “I don’t really think you can go to those meetings thinking WSC represents just William Smith students and HSG is just Hobart. We have an understanding that we collectively represent the whole school.” Ritter agreed, saying, “If anything it gives more people opportunities to have their voice heard, because if you have more people in positions where they’re out and speaking to people, then it gives more people opportunities.” She continued: “We’re constantly collaborating with [Hobart]. There are things that we do individually if it’s something that only William Smith students want to talk about, like in the coming weeks we’re going to have a meeting with Title IX that’s just WSC because some students expressed they didn’t feel comfortable with Hobart students in the room, so that’s an opportunity that we have to make a safe space for women.”
Both women emphasized their willingness to speak to and help all students achieve the change they want to see on campus. “I think that’s really our main goal, being the voice of all students on campus because that’s our mission statement, that’s what we’re about,” asserts Ritter.
Some upcoming events where students can connect with WSC include Founder’s Day in November, their tabling events in Scandling Center and upcoming meetings they will host with President McGuire, Title IX and the cultural clubs.
If William Smith students want to get involved with WSC or have a comment or concern, they are encouraged to leave a comment in the new student government suggestion box, visit the WSC table in Scandling Center or follow and reach out to @williamsmithcongress on Instagram.