In Defense of Student Government

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Baltimore School for the Arts is a school built around its students. From the CCAT to the 7th floor art studios to the black box theater, BSA is constructed, both in structure and concept, around the idea that a school should serve its students’ unique needs and interests. Because of its specialized mission, BSA attracts students who are not only incredibly talented, but also particularly self-motivated and passionate about both their arts education and their communities. Given the tight connection between the school and the students it serves, it comes as a great surprise that BSA has no student government. BSA, a school established to mold to its students’ needs, has no official channel for students to affect change in their own education. To put it simply, the lack of student government is nothing short of an insult to the school’s very mission. There is no channel for students to band together to make positive changes in their artistic and academic environments, no way for students to learn the leadership skills vital in the world of a working artist, no forum to discuss shared concerns in the community, and, perhaps most importantly, no single point of contact between the student body and the administration.

“Students aren’t facing the same problems as adults,” says Daisy, a junior at Francis Scott Key High School. Daisy, an active member of her school’s Student Government Association, asserts that student government helps to bridge the gap between how students see their education and how administrators view it. “Personally, I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills and communication skills because you’re not only communicating with your peers but also your teachers… It betters you for leadership skills and communication skills- basically everything you need later on in life.” Daisy also praised student government as a way for students to address larger community issues and learn important interpersonal skills.

Student government has been an important part of many big city schools for years. According to Harry Huntley, president of Poly’s student government assocation, “SGA has taught me how to effectively manage and organize people and events. I’ve learned what types of people work best on certain projects. For instance, when to have someone who’s more idea-focused work on an initiative, then someone who can really design the project well, and then bring in people who will carry it out. I’ve also made a lot of contacts and really good friends.” If student government has been so helpful and so important to other prominent city public schools, why wouldn’t we want to carry on that tradition at BSA? SGA has worked time and time again in city schools as a vehicle for school pride and activism within the school and the community.

On the other hand, it should also be mentioned that BSA has an environment that is very different from other city schools. BSA’s unique environment, far from rendering a student government superfluous, is just another reason why we need a student government. The truth is that no one understands the struggle of a BSA student better than another BSA student. Balancing the academic and art work load with social obligations, home obligations, and the countless other obligations and interests that students have is a art in and of itself. Says government and history teacher Christina Duncan-Evans, “The demands here at BSA take over your life, take over many students lives, in a way that I don’t think we have yet gotten our hands around or our minds around.” Who better to represent the voice of the students than the students themselves?

“Student government at BSA could fix many of the problems with student-to-administration communication that we currently have,” says Ifetayo, a junior actress, “I think it’s a must, and it will change the whole dynamic of BSA. We have a lot of student freedom in this school artistically, but not so much academically or politically. Having a student government that works directly with Dr. Ford, Ms. Evans, and Mr. Askey would be great because there would be a student voice that would represent the amazing students of BSA.” The need for a student government is no more apparent than in the recent proliferation of suggestion boxes in the bathrooms. At first the boxes seem like a good way to crowdsource suggestions and give administrators an idea of the concerns that students have. Unfortunately, the statements posted in response to student concerns come in two flavors. The first is the vague, bureaucratic response in which concerns about the new food policy or overwhelming school work are deferred or avoided. Students are assured that the school is working on the issue, but no change seems to come from it. The second flavor of suggestion box answers are the misguided rebuttals to “funny” entries. While it’s true that students do submit vulgar, insulting, or nonsensical concerns in the boxes, that is no reason for the administration to trivialize real concerns that students have by coming up with clever comebacks. These responses are at best tongue-in-cheek and at worst demeaning and pandering. With a clear, focused point of connection between the students and the administration, we would not need suggestion boxes. The administration obviously cares about the thoughts of the student body, but if we want to get serious about student concerns, we need a student government.

There is, of course, also the question of how effective a student government would really be at BSA in practice. After all, many student governments claim to give a voice to students but wind up being no more than glorified party planning committees. If the student government here winds up functioning as it does at many other schools, with a focus on fund raising and party planning, is it really an important addition to the student body? At many schools, student government does not have the power to tackle real issues, but that does not have to be the case here at BSA. Our Student government does not have to be like student government anywhere else; it must mold to fit our specific needs. Argues Ms. Duncan-Evans, “Student governments tend to look the same… I think the real need here at BSA is a stronger student voice in student life…One of the things that happens naturally but I think can be done more systematically with a student organization is the student self-care.” Student government at BSA can be a fluid organization, one that can change based on the needs and wants of its members and the student body at large. William Hornby, a junior vocalist, has also expressed concerns about diversity and inclusivity in terms of student government. These concerns, however, should not stop us from giving serious thought to SGA at BSA. The solution to our needs and these concerns is not the continued absence of a student government. The solution is a self-reflective and conscious organization that can work through problems and work towards the common good of the student body. Yes, it may be a challenge to create an effective, diverse, inclusive student government, but the attempt to face these challenges rather than turn away from them is both imperative and hugely beneficial for the student body.

Quite frankly, BSA is behind the times in its lack of a formal channel for students to affect their school. That’s not to say that students in BSA do not have a strong voice – we definitely do. The fact is, if we want to affect real change, whether that be an honest conversation about the food policy or a broader one about how we can help our community, there is no one official channel or organization that wide support can coalesce behind. Even more than the voice that student government can give to students inside of BSA, student government can connect our students with students across the city and the state. Said Daisy, the student representative from Francis Scott Key High School, “It’s a bigger network, your SGA could network with a larger meeting for BCPSS schools and MD Schools… If you want to be more active not only as a student but as a member of the community, SGA is the way to go.” The fact is that students here at BSA have incredible talent and the drive to make real positive change in the community, a potential that unfortunately is realized in instances few and far between. Student government can be a real way for BSA to be an active member in its community and in school system that has a lot of issues that need to be addressed.

On top of all of this, creating a student government is more important now than ever, especially considering the school’s new commitment to the strategic plan. By continuing on as we have with no centralized and coalesced student voice we risk demeaning the very values that we wish to champion. SGA encourages leadership, innovation, collaboration, and most of all is a way to bring more of real world experience into the lives of young artists. If we want to transition into being a school that equips students to deal with the current art world, if we really want to give students what it takes to make it as an artist, the leadership and communication skills offered by a student government are an absolute must.