PAGING PDS: Hard work of rebuilding Community Council

Student councils initially started as a way to give autonomy and democracy to teenagers, and the educational lessons thereby derived. But that’s not the only reason why student councils exist.

   Student councils initially started as a way to give autonomy and democracy to teenagers, and the educational lessons thereby derived. But that’s not the only reason why student councils exist.
   Beyond that, they’re excellent ways to organize and gauge the collective voice of the student body. They allow for representatives to articulate students’ plagues. Sometimes, however, councils are used as tools by the administration of a school.
   More than keeping students occupied, they can appease any sense of “unfairness” from school rules. In a similar vein, deliberative bodies like student councils rarely precede violent action. Mobs are dangerous things. Councils, in their faculty as a voice of the community, can not only forewarn but perhaps even abate a student revolt!
   Lastly, administrations might try to pass seemingly unfavorable rules in a student council and thereby divert the blame unto a Democratic student body. It’s been known to happen before, even at PDS.
   Community Council is Princeton Day School’s student-run legislative body. We’re called Community Council because we are the voice of the whole community. At PDS, our representative body is comprised of elected members from all three facets of our community: parents, faculty and primarily students. Fundamentally, we are a knowledgeable voice “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
   But we do more than represent the views of our community. The community is like a Hydra, whose needs are many varied and constantly emerging. It is our job as CC to listen to voices and feelings and complaints, and focus our attention on a few items of interest and pursue them. So not only do we represent the views of the community, but we also shape them.
   As president of Community Council, I’ve faced some existential questions.
   If you get rid of CC, would anyone notice?
   I think a few people would notice. I know I would notice. But not many would see a change in the Upper School, and fewer still would care.
   What does that say about council and its relevance?
   Community Council has taken a sad seat on the backburner of Upper School life. Through a series of shows of impotency, we as a body have lost the faith of our peers and of the administration. We’ve lost our meeting time, and place. It’s a sea of sorrows, but one that we can cross.
   I ran for the presidency because I wanted to enact change. My decision had been building for two years — I’ve been involved in Community Council since my freshman year. I found myself languishing in a frozen body without a spirit. Council lacked enthusiasm, and soon after, support. I knew I’d be able to inject the group with the necessary vigor to get it off its feet.
   I want my legacy as president of Community Council to be the person who made council relevant again. I want to be remembered as the man who started the second wave of council fever — a cultural revolution at PDS. This is a metaphysical change in that it requires the community to adjust its perception about council. The effects are not as visible as a leather-bound Honor Code book; it’s something that is experienced and felt, but rarely commented on.
   So far this year, I’ve been impressed with how tasking the job is. Council itself is more or less what I had expected. Leading council, on the other hand, is not at all what I had expected. The heavy work involved, the investment, the political lunches — these were all pleasant surprises. In addition, it’s been immensely rewarding passing legislation. The feeling of accomplishment, recognition from peers and faculty, and visible fruits of labor are all massively satisfying (if somewhat superficial).
   There’s always a flip side to the coin, though. I like being in control, and so it’s been very difficult letting go of that control when it comes to other people. Abysmal attendance and the lethargy of council members have been enormously exasperating. It is, however, something I can work on — being more charismatic and making council interesting was one of my goals!
   If I could change something unilaterally about CC, I would make council’s resolutions acknowledged and executed immediately by the administration. This would bring more power, interest and attention to Community Council: three things we sorely need.
   In essence, the administration can make council relevant by respecting it. They can give us our meeting block, and can honor our resolutions. They’ve already started on a good path this year by formalizing and reserving the dates for all future council meetings.
   The students can do their part by bringing issues they care about to council, and by taking part in the democratic process (including Town Hall meetings).
   Ultimately, of course, it’ll be council’s job to interest the community and show them how serious we are.
   ”Hic labor, hic opus est.”
   Navin Rao is a junior at Princeton Day School.