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Westminster students form student union unaffiliated with institution

Sophomore Char Crear expresses her opinions regarding group structure at the Westminster Student Union meeting Jan. 28 in the Center for Centers in Bassis Student Center. Students shared their opinions on the first draft of the union itinerary, where they were able to actively vote on its ideas. (Cat Taylor)

The student organization Westmini Students Speak Out announced their “tuition-protest specific coalition” has moved to a “broadly defined student union,” according to the group on Instagram Jan. 16. Now called the Westminster Student Union, they seek institutional change, community care and mutual aid. 

  Generally, a student union advances a sense of community, unifying the institution by embracing the diversity of students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests, according to the Association of College Unions International. 

ASW is also defined as a student union. However, Westminster College Student Union notes it is unaffiliated with the institution. 

“Based on what [I’ve] heard it’s non-hierarchical, non-institutionalized which is really key,” said ASW Vice President Kenzie Campbell. “Essentially, our goals are the same at the end of the day, which is to represent student voices in the most effective way possible and make real change; and also hold our administration accountable because college is for the students, and that’s who they have a responsibility to both retain and do right by.” 

Westminster Student Union is non-hierarchical, meaning it is not divided into levels of status. It means no one has power over anybody else, according to Faith Staley, a sophomore justice studies major and student union organizer.

In an Instagram post, the Westminster Student Union stated its position. 

“We are willing to work with ASW, but we think it’s important to maintain independence,” the union wrote.

A student organizer provided an example to the union’s newfound role. 

“Being unaffiliated with the institution gives us the opportunity to be a little bit of a watchdog,” Staleysaid.

Westminster Student Union met with President Beth Dobkin, Provost Debbie Tahmassebi, and Dean of Students Karnell McConnell-Black Jan. 10 to discuss potential cooperation for decision-making in the future.

It was effective in helping the union convey its ideas, hold the institution accountable, and review the processes where student voices already existed and where there were gaps in it, according to Campbell, who was invited to attend the meeting by President Dobkin.   

The first meeting of the Westminster Student Union was Jan. 28 in the Center for Centers in Bassis Student Center. 

 Before it began, students cooked pasta and shared it among the group, which is a part of the union’s goal to fight against food insecurity. 

“Today, we solidified our organizing structure,” said Staley, who facilitated the meeting. “We based it off of the Emerson College student union [and] the information they’ve given us.”

Similar to the Westminster Student Union, Emerson College Student Union is a non-hierarchical group that focuses on how tuition increases affect students’ lives in addition to other issues. 

“On a broad scale, this is about the systemic injustice we see in higher ed,” Staley said. 

Westminster Student Union’s goals have inspired some students to join.

“It feels really good to be a part of the student union,” said Tabitha Edson, a sophomore public health major. “I think that this is something that has been missing from Westminster for a long time and it is an important part of addressing many of the problems that students face.”

The union has good ideas about things it wants to change on campus with the best interests of students, including those who are underrepresented, according to Edson. 

The union’s next meeting is on Feb. 12 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Center for Centers in Bassis. Dinner will be provided and is open to anyone who is interested. To get involved, students should contact “Westminster Student Union” on Instagram or email student union organizer Lia Knox-Hershey. 

“To be part of such movement ensures that I am also a part of the great work that happens on campus in a diplomatic way,” said Prashanti Limbu, a sophomore environmental studies major. “I feel very happy that I am being supportive and learning to see how things work when students come together and makes me feel that my voice is being heard.” 

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Cat Taylor is a junior communication major with a minor in art. For a year and a half, she worked as a communication coordinator for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion where she co-created the social media campaign, “We Are Westminster” that discussed unconscious bias. In her free time, she can be seen drawing, playing video games and drinking a significant amount of coffee.

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