“That’s crazy!” “Wait, you have Internet shut off at your school?” These exclamations echoed in Chaffee hallways on a Sunday afternoon on January 31, 2016. In an effort to learn and share experiences with student leaders from other schools, the Loomis Chaffee Student Council hosted a historic unconference with student council representatives of various prep schools including Choate Rosemary Hall, Canterbury, Deerfield, Westminster, Williston, Ethel Walker, Suffield, and Berkshire. Covering topics ranging from disciplinary procedure to dance rules and coffee shops, student council representatives split into different rooms and immersed themselves in heated discussions of school policies, culture, and student council initiatives.
“We want to get the vibe of what other schools are doing, understand what Loomis does well and doesn’t do well, and see how we can improve by talking to student leaders from other schools,” said Hannah McCarthy-Potter ’16, StuCo girls’ vice president. Echoing Hannah’s point, many other representatives from other schools expressed a desire to share information and bring changes to their own schools. “I think we really don’t get to interact that much,” commented Claire Petrus, the chair of student council at Deerfield Academy. “I’m excited, because I think each school brings a unique perspective about boarding school life, and there is always something to learn from one another.” Mpilo Norris, sophomore class president from Choate, also shared his excitement and teased, “We wanted to do this at our own school, but Loomis beat us.”
As representatives shared experiences and compared different school policies, frequent “oohs” and “wows” resonated in each discussion room. “When [a Loomis representative] said that the Internet would cut off at midnight, I was like, ‘What? You have your internet cut off?’” said Nate Gordon,the student council president of Williston. “If we suggested [the internet policy] at Williston, we will get impeached.”
Many officers were also surprised to find similar challenges faced by different student councils. “The biggest surprise for me is realizing that [student council representatives from other schools] are in the exact position as we are,” reflected Gordon, as he and representatives from Choate lamented the difficulty of communicating with students and eliciting feedback. August Donovan ’18, boarding boys’ StuCo representative, confirmed the common gripe by saying, “[the student council] does have open meetings all the time, and we all send out minutes if [student constituents] don’t go, but a lot people don’t read those anyway.”
The unconference essentially provided a platform for student council representatives to share successes and failures of their council initiatives. For instance, representatives from Choate introduced their coffee shop fundraiser, while officers of Westminster elaborated on their winter carnival contest. Despite the variation of sizes and culture at different schools, student council officers were eager to adopt ideas that they learned from other representatives. “I think two things that I would like to bring back [to Williston] are open student council meetings and student participation in faculty meetings,” said the president of Williston. “Being able to get more ideas from students and to have student voices in [faculty meetings] would be very valuable to our council, and may help us accomplish our goals.” Sam Roy ’16, StuCo president plans on addressing issues such as gender divide and on facilitating talks on healthy relationships.
As various policies and initiatives were thrown on the table, the conference proved very informative and enlightening. “Honestly, a downside of the conference was that everyone got to put information on the table, but there was only a chance to share, rather than to discuss why [policies] work and why they don’t,” reflected Sam.