By Alice Herman
Two years ago, President Raynard Kington issued the “Charge to the Task Force on Residential Learning,” a call for the comprehensive analysis and diagnosis of issues relating to the residential experience at Grinnell College. In the charge, Kington noted the increasingly visible issues of substance use and mental health, as well as “parental expectations for accountability” in the College’s adherence to laws such as Title IX, Clery and Title VII. The charge included a request that the Task Force re-articulate the meaning of “self governance.”
In response to Kington’s “Charge to the Task Force on Residential Learning,” the Task Force has released the draft of a document defining self-governance as it applies to the College. The page-long treatise, titled “Grinnell College: A Self-Governing Community,” was sent to faculty, staff and students in an email last Wednesday. Andrea Conner, co-chair of the Task Force on Residential Learning, requested in the email that campus community members submit revisions and critiques of the draft in an attached poll.
The College’s drafted document, which attempts to articulate the relationship between the “self” of “self-governance” and the community at large has been critiqued for its use of overly-collectivistic language. Under the section of the document titled “Self-governance requires accountability and commitment to the community,” the collectivist tone is particularly salient:
“Self-governance is marked not by license but by the responsible use of freedom … for self-governance to be actualized the community must supersede the individual.”
Task Force Co-Chair Paul Hutchison wrote in an email to the S&B that “a few people have pointed out that the use of ‘supersede’ can imply a stronger idea than we intend to communicate there. We appreciate that feedback and based on what I’ve heard so far I am sure we will revisit and reconsider our wording there.” He added, however, that “people who have sought me out to talk about the document have been generally positive and thankful for the work the Task Force has done.”
SGA President Anita DeWitt ’17, who sits on the Task Force on Residence Learning, said that the document meant to point out the fact that self-governance is as much about community as it is about the individual.
“The reasoning behind [the report] is that there is no definition of self-governance, and without a definition, how could it work? I think a big part of the idea of self-governance is feeling like you are a part of a community, and I think that’s why so many people don’t care about self-gov. They don’t feel like they’re part of this,” DeWitt said.
She added, however, that aspects of self-governance may seem redundant.
“How much do we really need official self-governance? How much is self-governance just saying, ‘Be a good person, be intentional about your actions’? Self-gov will never be dead to me, because I’m always trying to be a good person,” she said.
Hutchison, on the other hand, emphasized the necessity of a formalized doctrine of self-governance not due to a lack of community, but rather, “a common problematic interpretation of self-gov as the absence of rules or rule-enforcement,” and cited the year one report by the Task Force.
“A pattern we see is students interpreting the ‘self’ in self-governance to refer to just the individual rather than to a community that is self-governing, or to an individual who is a member of — and responsible to — a broader community. A 1999 Institutional Research survey of the ‘student concept of self-governance’ characterizes the dominant student understanding of self-governance this way: ‘The ‘self’ in ‘self-governance’ refers to individuals, not to halls, floors, or the student body as a whole. Its salient feature is an absence of rules and/or rule- enforcement.’”
The last paragraph of the document elaborates on the issue of rules and conduct:
“To uphold the safety and orderly function of our self-governing community, policies have been established to prevent actions that would infringe upon the rights and well-being of others, would cause disruption to others or the community, would endanger persons or property, or that would be in conflict with the principles of our self-governing community.”
Perhaps the plurality of intentions shaping “Grinnell College: A Self-Governing Community” reflect the Residential Task Force’s year one report which remarks on the highly personal nature of self-governance, commenting that “this area of evaluation is more introspective than the others.”
For students interested in the development of the document, Conner urged students to contribute, writing in an email to the S&B: “We encourage S&B readers to read the document on SharePoint and provide feedback in the form provided.