King’s Independent is no more
Editor's Note: Hannah Gulledge contributed reporting to this article. Financial District, NEW YORK--Abel DeVries ('17), member of the House of Ronald Reagan, has decided to shut down King's Independent, a group he founded to advocate for student interests on the Council—that is, to supplement elected House representatives.
In early January, DeVries scattered small pieces of paper around the school that asked, “Do you have a real voice in student government?” These advertisements had been met with confusion. Abigail Salvatore, a senior at TKC, commented upon seeing the flier, “What the hell is that?”
Despite obvious communication errors (#KING’SINDEPENDENT did not manage to trend, as it was cut off by the apostrophe), DeVries began talking to students and faculty about a sincere concern: that students outside organizations and House leadership do not know their rights as students and often go unrepresented by House leaders.
In a February interview with the EST, before his decision to put an end to the group, DeVries provided an analogy: think of King’s Independent as the House of Representatives; the current Council is the Senate. The two parts support each other by occasionally challenging the other.
DeVries presented an argument that resembles the children's game of "telephone" to explain why House presidents do not sufficiently represent student interests. “Each link on the chain reduces the message,” he said.
DeVries wanted to place a representative on the Council to account for school-wide interests—as opposed to House-specific interests—and to “strengthen House and school identity.” He'd been planning to collect signatures from the required 25 percent of the student body in order to draft an amendment to the Constitution.
A Council meeting DeVries attended on Jan. 28 strengthened his conviction that the Council is concerned with broad House issues (budgets and competitions, for example). What “individual interests” are going unrepresented, you may ask? Devries offered examples of campus renovations, and the broken charger station on the sixth floor. He explained that these issues are not House-specific, and the Council is not likely to address them.
Andrea Lopez, President of the House of Thatcher, who currently sits on the Council, says that the Cabinet is “a medium for exactly what [DeVries is] talking about.” The Cabinet is comprised of the Student Body President, Director of Events, Director of Finance, Director of Communications and Director of Student Organizations and “represents the general needs of the Student Body.” The Council is comprised of the Cabinet and House Presidents.
In response to Abel’s primary concern that House leaders do not properly represent the interests of the student body, Lopez said, “even if Abel thinks that’s inadequate, that’s exactly what the Council is for because they represent the entire student body.”
So what does the Council discuss during its meetings? Constitutional amendments have dominated the discussion lately, Lopez noted. Miscellaneous campus updates are of varying content and often relate to organizations or athletics. The discussion at any given meeting also “depends on what [event] it’s after,” Lopez said. “After competitions, we’ll always debrief.” Presidents describe the experience within each of their Houses, including the reactions to rules and dynamics of the competition, and a consensus is sought as to “what was justified."
Annie Smith (’17), member of the Events Committee, agreed with Lopez. “The Council already meets so often and has such long meetings,” Smith said. Smith explained that students can already assemble and raise concerns about on-campus issues and asked why we would need another representative body. “Student involvement is great, but is it an issue that needs to be brought up on the Council or does it need to be brought up in a different area of the school?”
At a Feb. 18 meeting of the King's Independent, DeVries announced to the eight students in attendance his plan to pack the Council meeting on Feb. 25. But a week later, the only non-Council members to show up to the meeting were DeVries and former SBP candidate, Fermin Villalpando.
Regarding his decision to shut down the group, DeVries said in an email that he "did not have the resources to establish and maintain a 'group.'" He mentioned that his perspective on student government had changed, too: "I decided that I can most effectively advocate for the ideas of King's Independent in my House and through individuals in our school."
Note: When the article was originally published the term "Telephone Argument" was attributed to DeVries and the attribution was later removed.