Embracing the RPI community’s smarts

Administrators short students of responsibility

During my time as an RPI student from 2005–2009, I was privileged to have numerous opportunities to learn, grow, and flourish not only in the academic halls of Rensselaer, but in the Student Government Suite as Grand Marshal, on stage of Mother’s with my fellow Idiots, on the volleyball court alongside student athletes, and as a protest leader on the steps of Sage Dining Hall during Uprise at Five. These diverse leadership experiences left an indelible imprint on my sense of self and brought me closer to the RPI community by building empathy, compassion, and camaraderie. The unshakable bond created through shared experiences means, seven years after graduation, I still call my RPI peers amongst my closest friends, friends who I know will support and guide me through the rest of my life. Every student at RPI deserves the opportunity to take part in rich leadership activities, all grounded in and supported by an independent Student Union.

The Uprise at Five protest in February of 2009 was precipitated by a series of poorly implemented and poorly communicated policy actions and was co-led by my peers in student government, Residence Life, Greek life, and many other student communities, as each felt shut out of the creation of policies that governed the very communities to which they belonged and cared so deeply about. I’m saddened to see recent events on campus mirror so closely what we experienced seven years ago.

As Grand Marshal, the argument I often heard from administrators was that current students don’t have the foresight, expertise, nor depth of knowledge in student life theories and practices to know what’s best for tomorrow’s students. In hindsight, this logic is still bunk. I currently support the largest effort to expand computer science to K–12 students in the country, and the very ethos of my work is human-centered design—I take great pains to co-design all policies and practices with end-users not only to ensure buy-in, but to ensure we’re creating policies that truly meet the needs of the people we serve.

My hope is that the Board of Trustees and the RPI administration will take a human-centered approach and carefully consider the calls of today’s student leaders and alumni. RPI students deserve a clear pathway and connection to the administration, the Board of Trustees, and the freedom to independently operate the Rensselaer Union.

Kara Chesal ’09