Campus ConversationOpinion

Op-Ed: University role in student governance by Leslie Webb

Photo by Mackenzie Hudson
From Leslie Webb, Vice President Student Affairs & Enrollment Management and the SAEM Leadership Team
[Leslie Webb, Student Affairs, faculty/staff, studio]
Portrait by Priscilla Grover | Courtesy Boise State

In recent weeks, many complex social issues have come to a head and caught some in our community off guard. This message seeks to clarify Boise State’s position on free speech and freedom of expression, as well as our leadership’s relationship to student government. It also serves as a challenge for all in our community to be involved in the life of our institution by becoming a learner, finding your voice, and advocating for positions you believe are important.

Boise State is a microcosm of larger society. We experience the impacts of a global health pandemic, racial violence and strife, economic recovery, and political divide. Our students are immersed in these converging pressures and are navigating them, as are we all.

Students are facing myriad challenges during this politically charged time. How students navigate these issues as peers is often difficult and riddled with complexity. We remain steadfast in our conviction to uphold and honor student voices, in their differences and in their entirety. We advise. We support. We challenge. Let us be explicit, we aim to bring folks together to find common ground, to sift through nuance, to come to an understanding. We spend our time in between, as mediators, convenors, and bridge builders.

As always, individuals and organizations must want to be part of this effort, and to achieve that end they must want to discover meaningful common ground. People don’t always want to be in dialogue, and, if they don’t, that is their choice. When they don’t, however, they are still welcome to speak up and speak out. The platform a university provides permits all of those voices. In a democracy like our nation, however, some positions don’t “win.” Just as our elected officials must present their ideas in their communities and win over the majority of their voters, in the democracy of our student government — which shifts in its values and goals from year to year — some students’ perspectives will not win the day. However, those students are not powerless. They can still speak, organize, strategize, and build structures for a better future for themselves and others. Student government elections happen annually, each spring, and we encourage all students to engage in this process.

Our students, supporters and critics, are working through their perspectives on third-party vendors and their values. Our students from all political perspectives are working through issues related to speech activities. Our students are working through how, when and if to support the most vulnerable people in our society. Our students are working through how to interact with or access agencies such as healthcare, police and law enforcement, armed forces, fire fighters, community-based advocacy agencies, international relief efforts, and others. Our students are working to fight for basic needs and self-sufficiency. Our students are working to uplift a full range of voices while staying true to the values of respect and fairness. Our students are working to increase support services for mental health, for veterans, for commuter and non- traditional students, for rural students, for parents. Our students are challenging the notions of “cancel culture.” Our students are working to find meaning and reflect upon their experiential education – their internships, their Work U experiences, their service learning experiences, their clinicals or student-teaching assignments, on- and off-campus employment, their practica and externships, their club and student government leadership experiences. This is all a learning experience intended to build career and community readiness. They fail, they learn, they go back into the fray stronger.

And we support them in all of this. We are a bridge to encourage dialogue and offer support, but one that our students must walk across themselves. That is ultimately the purpose of student governance; students govern students. To intercede would be to undermine the agency and sovereignty that students established in the creation of the Associated Students. Sometimes it is difficult for us to resist intervening, because we see struggles, challenges, hardships and disagreements, and we might even have our own personal opinions about issues. Those opinions, however, are not the drivers for our actions as their mentors or advisors. Our students are independent adults who have chosen to engage in higher education to learn, grow, and become the next generation of business, social, and political leaders. Part of that learning process is working through these difficult challenges themselves, just like they will be called to do by their peers when they assume those future roles.

We keep our mission and purpose in mind – to help students make a living and make a life. As in every year, their issues mirror our nation’s issues. We are a university community that upholds the lived experiences of our students, honors collective and individual voices, and provides a foundation where students can come together to talk about the most divisive issues with respect for one another.

We prepare our students for life beyond The Blue – life beyond their collegiate experience. We believe our students must develop the knowledge and skills and turn those elements of their education into a compelling story for an employer or a graduate school committee. What they choose to do here — how they make the most of their college experience — is up to them. We believe in them and their array of voices, and we stand by them as they immerse themselves in their disciplines, embracing discomfort by exposing themselves to ideologies and viewpoints that differ from their own.

[Photo of the ‘B’ in front of the Boise State Administration building]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter
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