History of OSL clashes with student opinions

The Office of Student Life’s many departments help make change for student. From the creation of Clubs like the Gay-Straight Alliance and Political Debate Club to advocating for security cameras in parking lots, the OSL helps change students’ worlds. However, the OSL’s positions are appointed, not elected.

Rebecca Dickson, Reporter

Suzanne Buchholz, Senior Reporter

The Office of Student Life manages much more than what students may realize. With different positions, committees, offices and parts, the OSL can be more intricately designed than students may know. The three branches of the OSL include Student Government, Activities Board and Clubs Board. All of these are headed by Director of Student Life Sean Cooke.

Cooke received his position four years ago after working in the military and working as a student engagement specialist at Clover Park Technical College. He originally started becoming interested in working as the Director of Student Life when he was a student at Pierce College.

“I became a student body president here in this office, and I loved it,” Cooke said. “I was like 26 or 27 when I was a student leader here, and I was just blown away by the power of the experience and the way I saw it change other people. I felt like that was an experience I thought I would be able to facilitate for other students. It was the first time in my life that I found something I loved so much that I could see making it a career. Everything else seemed like it would be a compromise , like ‘It wouldn’t be so bad’. I always wanted a moment in my life where I was struck by a lightening bolt of inspiration that ‘This is what I want to do.’ That had never happened (before).”

Cooke was originally attending Pierce College Puyallup to take a few classes in order to improve his position in his career in the military. After he realized the military wasn’t his permanent career path, he decided to pursue a career in business, until he realized that he could eventually work as the Director of Student Life.

“I always imagined coming back and working at Pierce,” Cooke said. “I just wanted to come back and be part of the legacy”.

Cooke serves primarily as an advisor to the students in the OSL.

“This is their organization,” Cooke said. “All of these organizations, they are student organizations led by students. They choose the direction, and I’m there to advise them and tell them what I think will and won’t work.”

While the Student Government and Activites Board are granted a budget from the Student Activities and Tech Fee Committee, whose student representatives are approved by student council, clubs have a separate process to go through. This combined committee, chaired this year by The Puyallup Post’s Online Managing Editor Hannah Pederson approves the budget for each board.

“We apply for an annual budget for them, and then we teach them how to use it, and I do sign off on their stuff just to make sure no one wants to buy gold-plated volleyballs or something like that,” Cooke said. “I try and keep a level of control over that kind of stuff. There is advising happening when they are making those decisions.”

All clubs on campus submit a graphics request, funding request, room request and event request in order to have an event on campus. Any funding which they request comes from the Interclub’s Council, an organization under the Club’s Board which is voted upon by club leaders.

The estimated balance of funds for clubs for the 2016-2017 school year was about $30,000 as of Oct. 24.

From Oct. 24 to Jan. 10, about $13,930 in funds were awarded to clubs. Activities are approved and funds are provided through a democratic process during meetings of the Interclub Council.

“You go to the meeting and the clubs will present the stuff they’ve gotten cleared through everybody, and say this is what we want to do with the money, and the budget breakdown and this is why we should do it,” Ink Slingers Club President Morgan Pasquier said. “All the coordinators have a chance to ask questions and decide whether that money should go there. And we get an update on how much money we have left at every ICC meeting.”

Every request for funds must be presented before ICC and discussed with a clubs’ coordinator, whether it’s for an event or a small expense such as a plate of food for an event.

A few club presidents said they weren’t sure the democratic voting method was effective in making financial decisions. Gay Straight Alliance Club President Rhi Webber said they felt this method restricted people from expressing what they really thought about a proposal and somewhat coerced them to agree even if they felt it wasn’t a great idea.

“We do vote on how it’s being used, but I feel like people don’t feel like they can say no to it,” Webber said. “The club will come up with a proposition and then it kind of feels like you don’t want to be that guy who says no. Even if they can’t make any repercussions you don’t want to be a jerk.”

Political Debate Club President Madeline Hornbuckle said another aspect she thought affected the process was that the people involved with the voting process as well as the club presidents are within the same age group. The majority of them are Running Start students or generally young, and she said that no one wants to deny their peers of funds for activities.

“I honestly think that if they did ballots or something where you couldn’t see how other people voted, we wouldn’t feel the same peer pressure to say yes,” Hornbuckle said.

To make a proposal for a club event, a club president must attend an ICC meeting and explain what’s the event’s purpose, what’s needed to host the event and how much money will be required. Once approved, the motion is taken to a club’s coordinator for discussion and to file necessary orders. Additional paperwork is mandatory if extras such as food need to be ordered, and if it’s going to be a public event it’s required to order graphics to advertise it. This seems like a lot of paperwork to turn in and that it’s hard to schedule events in advance due to the process, Webber said.

“There’s a lot of deadlines you have to meet,” Webber said. “You’re supposed to turn in all these papers for your event two weeks before the next ICC meeting, and you’re supposed to have graphics out, you need graphics out and advertising two weeks in advance for your event. But you need the request in two weeks before that. So basically you’re wasting six weeks is what I feel.”

If paperwork isn’t completed on time or correctly, the club president has to redo it before it can be put on the agenda for discussion.

“They’ve blocked my paperwork before too, so I’ve had to do it again,” Pasquier said. “And I have been pushed back through no fault of mine.”

Some changes have been made to the way clubs are run this year. One change is that, in previous quarters, there was only one club’s coordinator to handle club affairs. This year, two more club’s coordinators have been hired, and a club’s president was also added.

In fall quarter, all clubs were required to hold at least one event per quarter in order to remain a club. This has been annulled in winter quarter, which Hornbuckle said was good as the requirement used up time and money.

“They got rid of that (requirement) thankfully, because a lot of clubs had issues,” Hornbuckle said.

“For instance, my club isn’t doing an event this quarter, because it’s my first time taking in-room classes and it’s a lot more work than I thought, so I don’t have time to do all the paperwork, because you have to meet with a coordinator and go over it and it’s so much work.”

Clubs can now request funding for events at any point, with no requirements for amount of events or whether it’s public or private.

Webber said the GSA is requesting funding for a panel as their next event, and Pasquier said the Ink Slingers Club was approved $600 for an Escape Room event exclusive for their club and to host a creative writing open mic event.

Club presidents have said they would like more transparency on certain procedures and issues involving clubs. Webber said they think the coordinators are transparent to a certain degree, but they still aren’t on the same level of understanding as most of the club presidents in making sure procedures and other information are clear.

“I know a lot of the presidents I talked to have trouble figuring out what paperwork I need to fill out, what’s going on in the office, have my things been ordered, stuff like that,” Webber said.

Pasquier said she feels coordinators should explain the reason behind certain new rules and regulations club presidents are expected to follow. One new rule being instilled is that club presidents are required to take a headcount of attendees at every meeting and report these numbers to the coordinators at the end of each quarter. For Pasquier, the reason behind this rule was never made clear.

“They didn’t tell me why, they just say you’re supposed to do that now and give it to them at the end of the quarter,” Pasquier said. “I’m wondering why that might be, what’s the point. It sounds like a lot of extra work for no reason unless they’re planning on doing something like hierarchy.”

Pasquier also said two clubs coordinators will be leaving their positions at the end of the quarter and two new ones will be hired, but that she hadn’t been informed of this change and had to ask about it herself despite working with the coordinators frequently.

Other aspects of how clubs are being organized have gained positive reception by club presidents. Hornbuckle said the board seem to be drawing in a lot of perspective new clubs, the most Pierce has had in a long time.

“I think they’re actually doing a really great job with getting people interested in creating their own clubs,” Hornbuckle said. “They’re talking about how this quarter they’re going to have 20 or 30 clubs total, which is really amazing because last year they didn’t have that many and in years before that they had next to none.”

All positions on the ASPCP Government, Activities Board and Clubs Board are appointed, not elected. For some students, this is quite surprising.

According to a previous edition of The Puyallup Post, volume 3, issue 9, originally the ASPCP Student Government positions were elected. After some debate, the OSL wished to change the system to the appointment system. In order to do this, the OSL would need to change their constitution, which would require a student vote. According to volume 3, issue 9, “Students voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the election process.” However, due to a lack of voting from the student population, as 11 percent of students voted, the change was made regardless.

Recently, some students have been questioning why the positions aren’t elected like they are at Pierce Fort Steilacoom.

Cooke explained that the OSL changed to appointments for multiple reasons.

“I would love for (student government) to be elected,” Cooke said. “I want students to have the government that best represents their interests. The situation we are having and the reason why the majority of community and technical colleges especially across the state have switched to a selection process versus an elected process is that they can’t get students to run. They can’t get students to run and they can’t get them to vote, and when they do have elections, it’s often people running uncontested. And so, whoever decides they want that position and they want that power, they become the leader of the entire student body, which has led to, I would say probably in many cases, not the best representation that students could have.”

Cooke said the OSL tried many different options to get students to run and vote for positions in the OSL, including student forums, student debates and even handing out candy bars to those who would come to vote.

“Nobody comes except for the people who are actually debating. I don’t know why. We tried really hard to promote it,” Cooke said. “Students didn’t care. They didn’t participate. And I would argue candy bar democracy is not democracy.”

Instead, all OSL Officials are selected through an appointment process. This process includes interviews with previous OSL officials, students-at-large, the Student Engagement Specialist, and the Director of OSL.

“They were able to choose students who exemplified exactly what Pierce College represents,” Madison Martin, ASPCP president, said.

After the individual interviews, selected students are put in groups for group interviews. Cooke said this is because teamwork is important to the OSL’s goals and mission.

“If you want a government that represents students, yes, I would love to have elections. But the conditions that I think would need to be in place in order for elections to be successful just historically haven’t been there. And it’s not just us. It’s so many community and technical colleges across the state have switched because they’ve elected students who act like tyrants or disappear after three weeks, or engage in a wide variety of behaviors that are less than beneficial to the students that they serve.” Cooke said. “And in seeking to find solutions to these problems, more and more of them have gone to a selection process and have been much, much happier as a result. Ultimately, what the Office of Student Life is here to do is to insure good service to students. We find that we’re getting it so much more through the selection process.”

Currently, the OSL is working towards creating many events, as well as getting different changes to facilities on campus, including the addition of security cameras in the parking lot.

Martin works with administration to achieve these goals and others.

“I lead student council meetings and student government meetings. And I sit on several other committees (such as) S&A Tech fee and the Executive Cabinet with the Chancellor. I do monthly meetings with the president of the college and I do one-on-ones with all of my team members,” Martin said. “My entire intention is to make sure that I can manage the student voices in a way that fosters inclusion, diversity and equity.”

Specifically for goals such as installing security cameras, Martin works with many different groups, including facilities, the Board of Trustees and the president.

“We are recognizing the struggles with speaking with so many people because we have to approve it through so many different groups, it becomes hard,” Martin said. “Administration knows what we are trying to do and they are supportive. It just takes a lot of time.”

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Rebecca Dickson

History of OSL clashes with student opinions

by Rebecca Dickson time to read: 10 min