By Victoria Gill-Gomez
Washington College students and members of the Student Government Association are beginning the new Student and Town Advisory Committee in hopes of using student voices to strengthen the current relationship between Chestertown and the College.
“I think it will be extremely beneficial to have an organized group that can connect with town leaders and make sure both the student’s voices are heard and the town leaders’ voices are heard,” Service and Community Relations Committee Senator sophomore Samantha Jarrett said.
SGA Secretary of Service and Community Relations sophomore Meagan White has been a key voice in introducing the formation of this committee. Her passion for collaboration between the town and the College spurred from her work freshman year as a member of Councilman Tom Herz’s campaign.
According to Jarrett, her collaborative work with White in their SGA Service and Community Relationship Committee — which White runs during senate meetings — originally conceptualized the Student/Town Advisory Committee and later “decided to separate our committee [roles] from the Town committee so another committee can focus more on connecting with Chestertown and Kent County,” Jarrett said.
“I believe that when a college is in a small town such as Chestertown, it is extremely important for the school to have a positive relationship with the town and the town leaders. Since most students are not from Chestertown, it is important for us to recognize that this is not our town to take over, and we have to work well together with town leaders to figure out how the school can best assist Chestertown — especially in the times of COVID[-19],” Jarrett said.
Chestertown recently created the Equity Advisory Committee where members volunteer to represent each ward, with additional committee members nominated by Mayor Chris Cerino. Their responsibilities, according to White, are to find the best ways to implement possible legislation efforts related to education and advocacy.
At the moment, Chief of Staff Victor Sensenig has served on the Equity Advisory Committee, a 16-month program for the town’s larger Chestertown Unites Against Racism effort, since its inception on Oct. 19 of this year and first meeting that was held on Nov. 10. Sensenig said the primary responsibility of this committee is to “provide a point of connection to the College in case there are any resources of knowledge, expertise, or volunteering that can assist the Town to reach its objective. The focus here is on serving the Town.”
After attending the previous town hall meeting, Sensenig said he left with a better understanding of the ultimate objective of the Student/Town Advisory Committee, this expansion of equality and until, by proxy, helps enhance the student experience.
“I think students can play a critical role in the Town’s efforts here, as they do in all our efforts to support a diverse and inclusive community at the College. I have heard that interest expressed from multiple people, from students and from Town leaders,” Sensenig said. “We are very early in this work and haven’t determined the best way to channel student involvement through this committee, but a line of communication with the SGA’s Secretary of Service and Community Relations makes sense as a starting point.”
While the committee is open to having students sit within the process there are sets back with logistics. According to White, even if a student representative is approved there is a likelihood that they will not have voting rights.
“While I am still going to pursue having that…there’s a lot of stuff to work out on that. This kind of made me think…there is still a way that I can create this type of student’s voice for the town that is not necessarily for what the town has proposed,” White said.
The goal is to have both students and SGA senators meet once a month to “identify and actively seek solutions for tension between the town and the students.” The hope is to take those conversations and solution building in these student meetings and present them to the town council or the mayor himself with quarterly reports.
“What’s more important is having students in a group that is actively seeking to address these situations in a productive way and presenting those to the town to figure out how we can actually make them happen,” White said.
The committee was established around a month ago, according to White. The first meeting will be held on Zoom, a link will be sent out by White via email, on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 5 p.m. This is an introductory meeting showcasing the goals for the semester and then later on kickstarting those goals.
“Anyone is welcome to join…This is a student effort, this is not a one-person, this is our entire student body coming together to try to work on this relationship, and we need as many voices as we can,” White said.
“I have made more connections virtually than I have in-person,” White said. “What I am hoping is that people realize that ‘yeah, we’re virtual’ and that in the spring even if we are back on campus, town hall meetings will continue to be done virtually — for health reasons — but being virtual doesn’t disconnect us. I really want people to stay connected—, work on those relationships, so that when things do kind of [an] essence of normalcy…we’re not behind, we’re ready to jump in feet first, and push those relationships even harder now that we are back to in-person [activities].”