Maybe there’s hope for student involvement at the New School after all. Two students from the New School for General Studies (NSGS) have made it their mission to bring about changes to their program through the formation of the Bachelor’s Program Student Union (BPSU). It is the first student governmental body devoted to serving students at NSGS, and its first meeting was held on February 25.
The origins of the BPSU go something like this: At an open forum held last semester between NSGS students and their new dean David Scobey, many took the opportunity to voice often heard complaints regarding the state of affairs at the school, including familiar concerns like poor advising, the lack of a homogeneous community, and of course, inadequate student space.
Among those at Dean Scobey’s forum were Vanessa Maruskin and Hannah Arnett, both students in the Bachelor’s Program at NSGS. Both women attended the meeting because they were frustrated at the lack of effort going toward improving student services at their school. After meeting each other at the event, Maruskin and Arnett came to the conclusion that something had to be done to improve student life at their institution, even if they had to do it themselves.
So Maruskin and Arnett decided to submit a proposal to the administration for the formation of NSGS’s very own student-led organization, a first for the division. Their proposal was accepted with enthusiastic support
from Dean Scobey, President Van Zandt, and the administration, and all of Maruskin and Arnett’s hard work and effort culminated in the first-ever meeting of the BPSU last month.
Food and drink at the inaugural BPSU meeting included around half a dozen bottles of wine, a cheese plate, and a spectacular hummus spread that included tabbouleh and grape leaves, all compliments of funding the duo had allocated from the administration for the organization (“Dean Scobey was incredibly helpful,” Maruskin noted). The affair drew around a dozen students from NSGS; though a relatively low number, it was still a promising turnout for the first meeting, and all of the participants were eager to discuss issues they saw as a hindrance to their education at the New School. The evening’s biggest point of order, however, was the perceived lack of social and study space given to NSGS students by the university.
To say the least, an inadequate amount of centralized space is granted to students in General Studies programs. So much so that, when discussing the issue and comparing NSGS to other divisions, Maruskin and Arnett made it sound like Lang and Parsons students had all the free space in the world at their disposal. Anyone who goes to Lang or Parsons would know that this is far from the truth, but comparatively, General Studies students do suffer from a lack of academic space.
However, the two BPSU leaders had done their homework, noting how the W 12th St. building’s 5th and 6th floors were originally designated to serve as a “student social home,” particularly for students in the adult education program now housed at NSGS, a place where students could meet, network, and study together.
That space is long gone, instead occupied by the bustling pedestrian traffic of students from Lang and other divisions rushing to class. Students at the New School for General Studies have consistently found themselves on the periphery when it comes to the university’s priorities; can one even think of a specific place on campus designated for use by NSGS students? These kinds of issues are why Maruskin and Arnett decided to start the Bachelor’s Program Student Union.
“The number one complaint we hear about is there’s no community, or a lack of community [at the New School],” Maruskin said. “We hope this group will put something together where we can work in a communal sort of way.”
The university community generally ignored the University Student Senate’s Town Hall on Social Justice, held on December 1 at Tishman
Auditorium. The event was plagued by poor attendance, which could only be explained by a lack of public interest in its message. Regardless,
the initiative taken by the USS was still an example of how our student government at the New School does attempt to raise awareness about
issues that pose real consequences for the student body. As we head into the Spring semester, it would be encouraging to see student
representation continue to take similar measures that would aim for the betterment of the university community as a whole; measures benefiting
both the student and academic experience at our school. But from what we’ve seen so far, don’t hold your breath. A glaring lack of
organizational will at the university to propel such efforts forward make this look unlikely.
A lot of the responsibility for this shortcoming falls on the students themselves. Not only are we the ones who elect our representatives, but
we’re also expected to work with them in addressing matters that relate to our educational experience at the New School. If the public response
to the USS’ town hall was anything to go by, such student involvement has been absent for the most part. Common criticisms against the
university leveled by the student body are unwarranted if the students themselves don’t have the motivation to bring about change. More
students should attend USS meetings, Lang Student Union meetings, and the different gatherings taking place around the university’s multiple
divisions that influence and improve school policy in a variety of areas.
Increased student involvement would go a long way in altering an atmosphere of dissatisfaction from students toward the school’s function
and organization. This, of course, is not likely to happen. We’re far too concerned with our own individual preoccupations, not to mention our
studies, to bother; but it’s not entirely our fault. The perceived lack of cohesion amongst students across all divisions of the New School is
very real, and when any institution is unable to foster an air of inclusiveness in its community, you get results like a town hall on
social equity held in a near-empty Tishman Auditorium.
The importance of this lack of community cannot be overstated; it undermines efforts to garner support for positive measures, like an
effective diversity initiative or reform of the New School’s sexual assault policy. It is a sense of collective momentum which enables the
realization of such efforts, something we desperately could use as a student body. We’ve seen it before throughout the history of the New
School, with occupations and sit-ins used as a method to exercise student power and get the desired outcome. While such drastic measures
may not always be necessary, the same motivation that fueled these ideas is much needed in the university’s present climate.
The USS, the Lang Student Union, and our other bodies of student representation have power; they have size-able budgets and motivated
leaders who are more than willing to hear what students have to say about our experience at the New School. So maybe we shouldn’t be asking
what our student government can do for us in the coming months, but what we can do for our student government, and indeed, for our university.
We wondered what could possibly account for such a lukewarm response to the town hall, which was held to promote a discourse on the university’s inability to provide a thoroughly diverse academic and institutional experience for its students. But then my friend said something that I found uncompromisingly honest: that many of us attend the New School so that we don’t have to deal with these issues. We come here to absorb and take advantage of all that New York City has to offer; we don’t want to bother with a closed campus, weekly football games, or any real sense of community other than that which the city provides us. And in this respect, we really couldn’t give a damn about the issues relating to that same neglected community here at the New School.
This apathy is a shame, because the New School student body would be wise to recognize that regardless of whether or not we desire any sense of communal togetherness at this institution, the issues that the USS confronted through their leak of the report affect everyone that attends this university. “Desegregating Diversity: From Myth to Mandate,” was only sapped of controversy after it was ignored by both the student body and administration alike. If anyone bothered to read the report, they would realize that our school suffers from not only organizational shortcomings, but academic ones as well, which have a direct impact on the education we receive.
These inadequacies go beyond the color of skin or sexual orientation of those who make important decisions from within the New School administrative hierarchy, or that of the professors and faculty who teach us in the classrooms. When our curriculum ignores or lacks focus on the work of racial, social, and sexual minorities, it is at the expense of a thoroughly modern, unprejudiced, and universal academic experience.
Many of us came to the New School because we wanted to receive a progressive, open-minded education that promotes distinctly liberal-minded values and ethics; values like those which prompted the founders of this institution to provide a place where students could “seek an unbiased understanding of the existing order, its genesis, growth, and present working.” It is a travesty that we now find ourselves full of nothing but indifference towards issues which relate directly to ensuring that tradition endures.
The 65-page report is not revelatory in its message; the lack of organizational support for LGBTQI students and faculty, as well as those of color at The New School has been apparent to many who’ve taken a good look at the services — or lack thereof — that the university provides. But the report’s release is important because it aims to bring about a community-wide discussion on these problems pertaining to social justice and hopefully draw enough attention and interest that positive change actually does occur on these matters.
Make no mistake: The USS isn’t trying to position itself against the administration. They don’t want to appear as some rogue body that’s just trying to screw the bigwigs up top with this leak. Their motives stem from the fact that they think this report can dramatically change not only The New School, but higher education as a whole in this country. It directly challenges the institution on a “lack of tenured and tenure-track faculty of color,” “absence of senior leadership of color throughout the university,” and the “very limited resources dedicated to planning, coordination, evaluation and oversight of current ‘diversity’ efforts.” Student Senator Chris Crews told me in an interview after the report’s release that he was shocked to come to The New School for Social Research for his graduate studies after completing undergraduate studies at a small university in Ohio, and find that his tiny school in Appalachia had more services available to the LGBTQI community than we do at The New School.
That’s why the USS leaked the report last week, and why they held the town hall: to spark the discussion at the university about what it can do to ensure that in the future it provides an academic environment that promotes an atmosphere of social equity for all its students.