Recently, several sophomore board members of the Pomona Student Union (the PSU), a nonpartisan organization that hosts events on campus covering a range of topics, met to discuss possible improvements.
Events put on by the PSU are usually organized by one board member, who comes up with a topic, chooses speakers and deals with essentially all of the logistics, PSU Board Member Ben Bleiberg PO ’15 said.
The PSU has a clear structure: first-year members of the PSU—usually sophomores—are board members and comprise three committees, which are run by one or two chairs—generally juniors—who work under the executive board.
Bleiberg said that he saw several areas in which the PSU has potential for improvement and decided to discuss them with other sophomore board members.
“The reason I wanted to meet with just the sophomores individually is because we don’t have the experience that everyone else has, so we see things with fresher eyes, for better and for worse,” Bleiberg said. “There might be certain aspects that we don’t appreciate as of yet, but there are also some things that we haven’t gotten used to so we can step back and say maybe this isn’t as good as it should be.”
After discussing ideas for changes to the PSU, board members presented them to the executive board, where they proposed several ideas that involved restructuring of the PSU.
Some PSU board members found the current structure limiting in terms of communication between board members and the executive board.
“It kind of puts a bottleneck between us and our executive board,” Bleiberg said of the committee organization. “For us it feels inefficient, but it’s making the executive board’s lives more efficient.”
Another concern discussed was the type of speakers invited to speak at the PSU’s events.
“The main thing that I would like to do with the PSU is reduce the number of events with outside speakers so that we can bring in more well-known speakers,” Bleiberg said. He also said that money represents the most limiting factor in this area. “For a student-run organization, we have quite a bit of money, but by the standards of an organization that puts on events, we have very little.”
Board members suggested that the PSU strive for feedback from students and more events with student speakers. Bleiberg said that more student speakers at smaller events, rather than lesser-known speakers, could allow the PSU to reserve more of its budget for “brand name” speakers at large events.
Allocation of funds becomes difficult to discuss within the PSU due to a lack of transparency regarding budget details.
“Some of our funding comes from an anonymous donor who gives under the condition that this anonymous donor remains confidential, and that the amount that is our budget also remains confidential,” said PSU President Gabi Hybel PO ’13.
While only the five members of the executive board—Vice President of Operations Hannah Yung PO ’13, VP of Outreach Leah Connor PO ’13, VP of Development Josh Rosenberg PO ’13 and Director of Finance and Communications Milia Fisher PO ’13—know the donor’s identity, the donor does not have a say in the way the organization is run, Hybel said.
Hybel said that the PSU has made changes every year, especially because it is a relatively new organization. It was founded in 2003.
“The PSU is constantly changing and constantly improving,” Hybel said. “By no means is this a new conversation.”
Hybel said that lines of communication have improved since her time as a board member, but she acknowledged that some members feel that there is a wall between them and the executive board. She has worked to change that in several ways, including holding individual meetings with board members, she said.
She also said that while members wish for larger events run by groups of students, working in that fashion previously proved challenging.
“We’re trying to find new ways of approaching that without repeating mistakes we’ve made in the past,” Hybel said.
Another constant debate within the PSU is the interpretation of its mission statement. The PSU website states: “The Pomona Student Union is a nonpartisan student-run organization committed to increasing the level of honest and open dialogue on campus; we challenge assumptions and present a multiplicity of perspectives through speeches, discussions, and debates on important issues.”
“Too often at Pomona, we are fed with just one ideology, and it becomes easy to agree with that ideology, but when we go out in the real world, we need to learn to have discourse under refuted opinion,” Connor said.
While some board members believe that speakers representing nearly every possible view of an issue are necessary for an event, others feel that speakers need not span as broad a spectrum, Hybel said.
The topics that the PSU covers have also changed significantly over the years. Although there are a large number of political events due to the upcoming election, the PSU now tries to cover more art and science topics, in addition to the more traditional events that focus on politics and economics.
The PSU will seek input from students in its annual survey sometime before the end of the semester. Hybel said that students are encouraged to send e-mails to any member of the PSU or to contact members through the PSU website.