Sagehens Must Engage

Last Tuesday afternoon, I was counting down the seconds to my registration time, when the website suddenly stopped working. I freaked out, because I thought my Internet access here in Dakar had broken, but no: It was just the portal.

As long as I’ve been here, we’ve had problems with the portal. The school says Jenzabar says it will fix them. Instead, in the latest update, Jenzabar switched the seats listing from the number of seats taken to the number of seats available. If you’re confused, so were a number of people.

Thanks, Jenzabar.

Probably like most people, I only care about the portal for a few days every semester. Every semester, I get really frustrated, then forget about it.

Sadly, this is not an effective way to make anything better. I think a lot of issues on campus are treated like this. Something happens, people get frustrated, maybe we yell at the administration, then we forget about it or file it away somewhere until, surprise, something happens again.

What are some other frustrating issues? Last year, students complained about the terrible communication when the school fired 16 workers. If communication has improved since then, I haven’t heard about it, which makes me believe that it probably hasn’t.

Also last year, residents in Mudd, Harwood, and Lyon residence halls, myself among them, were faced with an annoying construction project that was supposed to have been finished over the summer. I heard the school forgot to get permits from the city and then forgot where the water lines were. How do we prevent this from happening again?

And if you tried to go to Snack at the beginning of the fall semester, you probably heard that Dining Services ran $900,000 over budget last year. That’s ridiculous, and I hope they have systems in place to fix it. I also hope these systems don’t consist solely of killing Snack, which probably was not the source of the overrun.

So I think there are some things we don’t deal with very effectively.You could make the argument that it’s the administration’s fault, and that they should just do things better. I’ve both heard and said this before.

There’s another argument to be made: We as students should be more engaged. Robert Putnam, the guy who wrote Bowling Alone, argued that the best predictor of effective institutions is strong civic engagement.

I don’t think we’re very engaged on some issues, or at least not in an effective way. Note that on other issues we are very engaged: I’m not trying to belittle anybody’s accomplishments.

But let’s look at a typical response to something frustrating. We complain to each other, in person and on Facebook. Sometimes we write op-eds! Maybe the administration says that they understand our frustration, or ASPC brings it up at a session before forgetting about it. And nothing happens.

What’s a better solution? I don’t know. Engagement is difficult. It might involve ASPC being more representative, or more willing to try to do things—like putting a printer in Mudd-Blaisdell last year. I don’t even remember who my class representative is this year, and killing the yearbook and raising salaries do not count as doing things. It might involve a more nuanced look at the accountability we ask for from the college and an attempt to define improvements in terms of small concrete steps rather in than broad proposals. It could require campus media to take more of a watchdog role and cover updates, or the lack thereof, on stories that happened a while ago.

Maybe none of that is feasible because we’re too busy with schoolwork. I don’t know. But I know there are some pieces of the experience here that frustrate me, and it also seems that nothing much happens about them.

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