Student Council: Building Leadership and Sharing Students’ Voices
Mohammad Tanvir Anjum ’25 spoke to On Campus Reporter Halley Le ’25 about the mission and journey of Bennington’s newly-established Student Council.
Bennington’s first Student Council in over five decades was established in Fall 2022. In their first active term, the Council achieved important milestones in their mission to improve the experience of students on campus.
In a collaborative effort to represent the interests and concerns of the student body and to allow students to partake in policy-making processes that impacts the Bennington community, Bennington Student Council (BSC) was established in September 2022. Since then, the Council has delivered two policy proposals to the president and received positive responses from the school leadership.
Mohammad Tanvir Anjum ’25, a representative of the Student Council, shared how this body of student government was first incubated.
“The Student Council started from the process of shared governance. The College is accredited by the New England Commission for Higher Education (NECHE) every 10 years, and in the previous accreditation process, a concern came up that students and faculty members have limited means to voice their opinions,” said Anjum. “Since then, the administration, staff, faculty and students have worked collaboratively to initiate shared governance on campus.”
The efforts resulted in the formation of the Shared Governance Task Force, which aims to provide structures through which governing boards, administration, staff, faculty, and students can engage in policy and decision-making together.
“A Student Council is an integral part of shared governance. There is also a Staff Council, and another similar institution for faculty members,” explained Anjum. “Finally, there is a Board of Trustees who oversee and take input from all of these groups.”
The first effort to create a Bennington student government was spearheaded by student representatives in the Shared Governance Task Force, namely Muhammad Ammar '24, Tom Evans '24, Sam Henriquez '22, and Sofia Salusso '23. In 2021, with the support of faculty member Eileen Scully, they initiated a tutorial, Reimagining 21st Century Campus Governance (APA 4696).
“In the tutorial, interested students gathered and researched how student governance is structured in higher education institutions in the 21st century. They also looked into Bennington’s previous student government, which disbanded in the 1970s,” explained Anjum. “Their goal was to propose a model of student governance that is suitable for our campus community.”
The blueprint of a student government designed in the tutorial kick-started Bennington Student Council. Initial members were elected from previously existing structures that pertained to students’ experience on campus, which includes a Program and Activity Council (PAC) representative, a Budget & Events Committee (B&EC) representative, a House Chair representative, and a Student Educational Policies Committee (SEPC) representative.
“These representatives were pre-elected to serve as liaisons between the Student Council and their own committee. The two PAC and B&EC representatives actually volunteered to withdraw to make BSC more democratic, as PAC and B&EC were small organizations that did not necessarily represent the interest of the large student body,” explained Anjum. “Seven more representatives were elected from the student community in a school-wide election. Our cohorts officially started with nine representatives, and Muhammad Ammar '24 also stayed as a consultant and non-voting member.”
After half a term, the Student Council welcomed two new members. One was elected from the Class of ‘26 to ensure representation of first-year students in policy-drafting. BSC now has 10 members, each bringing a unique perspective and expertise to the table.
“We work together to discuss the issues we observe and the changes we want to see on campus,” said Anjum. “We would draft a policy proposal to express our concerns or needs, and submit [the proposal] to the President’s Office, who has to reply to us within 10 business days. So far, we have sent out two proposals, and both received positive responses from the president and the school administration.”
The First Milestones
The Student Council’s first proposal calls for an increased stipend or additional financial assistance for First-Generation, Low-Income, or Working Class (FLoW) students for Field Work Term (FWT). Moving away for an internship or professional working experience could create financial strain on some students, so BSC hopes that the school could provide assistance in addition to the $500 Field Work Term stipend FLoW students currently received.
In response to the proposal, the College leadership is now working with the Student Council to create more support structures for students regarding Field Work Term.
“There have been supplemental need-based scholarships that students with a registered FWT could apply for. The scholarship was launched this winter, but it is also being renewed in summer 2023 to serve a larger population of students. Some students will receive an additional stipend ranging from $1,000 to $250, depending on their financial needs and what their FWT requires of them,” elaborated Anjum.
“The Student Council gave a part of its budget to add to the supplemental scholarship,” revealed Anjum. “The Provost’s Office also made a very generous donation of $10,000; however, this is not a permanent solution, and we are currently working with the administration to come up with more sustainable resources for students over coming years.”
The Council’s second proposal asked the school to be more transparent about their budget and expenses, and administration has agreed to disclose relevant information regarding the College’s financial decisions. A meeting between the Business Office and the Student Council has been scheduled to discuss detailed information.
On the creation of these proposals, Anjum remarked: “Members of the Student Council had policy priorities that they declared during nomination. When the Council got to work, everyone put their policies on the table and decided which issues were the most urgent to address.”
Proposal number three is now in the making, and Anjum revealed that this proposal is aimed to improve the residential experience of Bennington students.
“My favorite experience working in the Student Council is the discussion,” remarked Anjum. “It's always a productive discussion because everyone shares perspectives from different angles. The council itself is really diverse: we have many international students, but also many domestic representatives, so I can see the views from all sides of the campus. Dissent is necessary for a conversation, but going through the dissent and getting to a unanimous decision is a really enjoyable process.”
How each member has an area of expertise and interests and utilizes their strength to dedicate to the mission of BSC is also remarkable.
“Samuel de Sousa ’24 was behind the success of our first proposal. He came into the Student Council devoted to improving the FWT experience for students, and he has contributed a lot of data on students’ financial situations, which we presented to the College’s administration,” said Anjum. “Umang Malik ’25, who has an interest in student affairs and education, is working on the third proposal with me, which I believe can bring a significant change to our residential life.”
Anjum also shared some of the challenges the Student Council faced.
“Collecting quantitative and qualitative data from the campus community and representing students’ needs in a holistic manner is no easy task; however, the primary challenge we face is time,” said Anjum. “We're all students. It is difficult to do the work on top of our classes and credits and internships, and a lot of effort is expected from us. Our mission is relevant to our campus community, but it may not be directly academically relevant to a lot of members, which means it takes an additional chunk of our time.”
However, members of the Student Council overcome this challenge because of their devotion to the mission.
“I think it is important for students to be at the same table as decision makers. Our opinions matter, because the decisions being made will shape the experience we are having as undergraduates. I care about our campus and our student community enough that I am willing to put in the time and the hard work,” said Anjum. “This is the ground that the ten of us in the Student Council share, and [amplifying students’ voices] is the common cause we all fight for.”
Bennington Student Council will continue to work with the College leadership to improve the experiences of the student community, and more policy proposals will be submitted in Spring 2023. In the long run, the Council hopes to provide an avenue for students’ voices to be heard and for students to engage in decision-making on the same level as administrators.
To read Bennington Student Council’s full proposals or contact members of the Council for any inquiries or concerns, students can visit the BSC website.