NW: You sent out an email recently outlining your major goals, tell us more about these goals and why you identify them as priorities.
JW: Well, you can check that out at PrincetonUSG.com!
NW: You’re a commercial enterprise?
JW: [Laughs] No. But it’s just a way to get the name out there. We’ve been doing some branding—we’ve even got a logo. We’re really trying to get the USG out there. There’s a lot of work to be done but we’re trying to make it easy for people to find information.
NW: What’s the importance of branding for something like the student government?
JW: When I was a freshman, I think there was a bit of a disconnect between the USG and the student body. [Students were saying] “Where is the USG? The USG is irrelevant”. I [often heard from students] that the USG wasn’t necessarily attentive to student interests and concerns—that wasn’t necessarily true because the USG has always been doing stuff. We’re still getting a lot done, now we’re just trying to communicate it better.
NW: So would you think that the primary difference between your administration and those of the past is communication?
JW: Not necessarily. I do think that there were communication issues in the past, but I wouldn’t say we are doing the same thing as past administrations and definitely not the same amount of projects, both [in terms of] accomplishments and projects tackled…We’re a lot more responsive to the Prince, to you guys, to anyone who seeks us out. I think one thing that I wouldn’t say is unique to us is something that [former USG President Rob Biederman] demonstrated and that was the importance of being attentive to individual student concerns and responding to them. We’re also trying to reach out to students and figure out what’s on their minds. There is a new feature on Point that’s going to be coming out soon which will [aid us in doing] just that.
NW: So, goal number one is to engage the students?
JW: Yeah, definitely. Communication is incredibly important but it really goes two ways. It’s not just saying “this is what we’re working on”, it’s getting feedback from the student body and then lobbying for the interests of the student body as a whole.
NW: How do you combat a sense of disillusionment—I don’t know if that’s too strong a word—but the sense that students feel disconnected form the USG, that they feel it doesn’t have much purchase on their lives as students? How do you get the other side of that two-way relationship to start engaging?
JW: It’s an uphill battle of sorts. I think Rob started the trend to improve USG visibility and USG’s ability to connect with students. As silly as it may sound, the candy study-break, the Yale piñata—those are the times when students said “Hey, the USG’s there, the USG’s doing something. They’re not just off in some room in Nassau Hall talking to administrators, they’re actually out here doing something.” It’s visible, it’s relevant. That’s important to us.
NW: What sort of small projects has your administration worked on?
JW: In addition to those small social events, we’re also engaging in projects that students really care about and working on ones we know we can accomplish, including those that may have been considered quite difficult in the past. We’re pursuing those in a much more structured manner and we’re achieving them with a much higher completion rate. For example, with [the issue of broken printers] we’ve worked with OIT to devise a module on Point that will list all the printers on campus and say whether they are working or not. Row markers in Lot 23: simple solution, a lot of added convenience. These types of projects vary in size and scope, but generally they are tangible and concrete initiatives that can be accomplished over the course of a semester.
NW: And how does the green thing [on the low flush toilets] stay germ-free?
NW: The germ-free handle.
JW: That’s a very good question. We can put the USG scientists on that.
NW: So, anyway, back to your goals.
JW: We’re trying to improve academic and peer advising. It’s something that we worked on in the spring and we are trying to build upon those accomplishments.
NW: How did you improve peer advising?
JW: We got rid of GPA-requirements, standardized regulations across residential campuses…
NW: How do you plan to tackle academic advising?
JW: Students sometimes feel that their advisers might not be very attentive or might not have a shared interest in the topic. We’re trying to pair people better and create some sort of guideline—not necessarily for accountability—but ensuring that everyone is getting a good quality advising experience. [The USG] has established working relationships with Dean Malkiel, Dean Quimby and the department chairs. [My main goals] are to engage the interests of the student body by partnering with student groups along with improving campus life and listening to individual student concerns.
NW: Let’s go back to the initiatives you listed in your e-mail.
JW: There are five big goals, seven discussions-on-the-horizon, and twenty pet projects.
NW: Let’s limit ourselves to the five big goals.
JW: Number one: extend Firestone hours. [Second goal] is to improve Labyrinth services and make textbooks more affordable…We’ve had an advisory board that’s been working with Labyrinth and University Services for the past year to improve Labyrinth and meet students’ expectations and desires. [Labyrinth] has been very receptive. [Some of the changes include] putting course books in plain view and stocking more used books. Another goal is to extend the P/D/F deadline. We’re working through COUCS, which is the Committee on Undergraduate Course of Study—
NW: How many committees are there?
JW: There are many committees. But we develop them in an organic way, [by which I mean] there are certain naturally-arising needs and purposes that they fill.
NW: What is your fourth goal?
JW: Improving student relations with Public Safety. As you guys discussed in your last issue, the student relationship with Public Safety has significantly deteriorated in particular since the adoption of the RHP policy.
NW: Could you clarify what you mean by RHP?
JW: The Residential Hall Patrol program. It’s created a six-fold increase in the number of student judicial referrals for alcohol policy infringement, and I’d be interested to see the statistical change in terms of how it has reduced alcohol related-illnesses—whether or not it has had a substantive impact. If it hasn’t, it certainly has had a substantive negative impact on social life and student-Public Safety relations.
NW: How do you get the average kid on the street to have better relations with Public Safety? I mean there’s not going to be a time when we get in a trust circle and fall backwards…
JW: I think there’s a communication gap on both sides about what the policies are, particularly those provided in Right, Rules, and Responsibilities. We’re basically trying to get everyone on the same page so that each party knows what the boundaries are.
NW: I think students often feel powerless when a Public Safety officer comes to the door. Apart from RRR, has there been any move to inform students of their rights when it comes to Public Safety?
JW: That’s exactly what I’m getting at.
NW: So having like a Miranda rights document that would lay out what students can and cannot do and what Public Safety officers can and cannot do?
JW: Yeah, and I think that Public Safety officers are actually really responsive and really interested in working with students. The problem is that this policy does not come from Public Safety, I don’t believe. I’m pretty sure it comes from Nassau Hall.
NW: Well, this brings us to an important issue. It’s one thing to talk about student relations with Public Safety or with the USG, but what about students’ relationship with the university in general? Here we have the grade deflation policy, the RHP, any number of controversial initiatives— I think the average Princeton student would feel that the University is somewhat “against him or her”, regardless of the good intentions or motivations behind these initiatives.
Has there been any move between the Tilghman administration and the USG to work together to communicate more potently the idea that the University is, in a very tangible way, “on your side”, that they are invested in our quality of life here?
JW: Well, you’re definitely right. The student-initiated referendum issued in the spring does show that 57.83% of the student body does not feel that “top level officials in Nassau Hall and West College listen to student input while creating substantial campus policies”. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect barometer for what students feel… I’m no statistics expert, but it is a sizeable portion of the student body.
NW: How many respondents?
JW: About two thousand.
NW: Has Nassau Hall seen these figures? Do they care?
JW: I think they definitely have. The issue is not something that can be solved over night; it is definitely something that takes a lot of time. It’s analogous to what we’re doing in the USG [in trying to repair our image with students].
NW: Would you be able to articulate the role you envision for the USG? The way I see it, the USG is sort of a go-between with the students and the administration. Is this accurate?
JW: The two main purposes of the USG are to represent the student interests to the administration and to initiate programs and projects to improve campus life.
NW: So focusing on that first goal as a departure point, would you say that the regular Joe Franzia student is having his concerns relayed in a responsible and effective manner to the administration [through USG]?
JW: Yeah, I’d definitely say so. I think there is a substantive difference between the previous administrations and us. Not to say that they weren’t effective—but we are more effective and making more progress. I’m reaching out a lot more.
NW: Would you expect to see the 57.83% figure decrease if your program of action is successful?
JW: Of course, and I think over time it will. When students don’t have complaints or concerns with the University, they’re happier and they will think better of the University administration. One criticism of [The Daily Princetonian] that was brought up in an anonymous blog was that [the paper] often conflates the University and the administration. I think students in general do this as well. That’s like equating the Bush administration to the United States. I think the students often see the Tilghman administration as the University and vice versa, particularly because of our four-year institutional memory. Over time, I think that the more the administration works with students and the USG to address students concerns, the better the [student] perception [of the university] will be.
NW: And your last goal?
JW: Allowing alcohol at residential college events. …
NW: Do you see some disconnect between the emphasis on the four-year colleges as a socially viable space for students and the RHP policy that is driving students towards the Street? Are these policies not in conversation with one another?
JW: Actually I think the major discontinuity is between the RHP and the RCA policy. The verbiage of the RCA policy suggests …that the RCAs are to act as middlemen for Public Safety when in reality that wasn’t what the administrators were trying to achieve. [The policy is actually trying to] make the RCAs more responsible for ensuring the safety and the security of their “zee” environments thereby eliminating the need for Public Safety to come with a “stick”. The idea was to create a culture of students looking after students, of students being responsible for students. I think that with the RHP we introduce Public Safety into that environment of mutual responsibility and it becomes a contradiction of terms.
NW: What is your response to the study that revealed that there is still a strong link between students’ major choices and their socioeconomic status? Many students in lower tax brackets cite “finding a job” as their top consideration when it comes to picking a major…
JW: I think that trying to communicate job opportunities that are available, in addition to finance and consulting careers, is really important. They have to show that there are career opportunities for Princeton grads [outside of finance] that are maybe lucrative or just exciting and interesting and appeal to students [of diverse disciplines]. Personally, as an East Asian Studies major, I can do Princeton-in-Asia, but what else can I do? I mean, there are a lot of opportunities, but that isn’t communicated by Career Services…[and] the Careers Fair is not enough.
NW: Speaking of budding careers, do you still design blazers?
NW: Does that ever take away from the attention you place on USG?
JW: No, not at all. I basically come up with ideas based off of a pretty consistent pattern. I’m just sort of interested in the standard jacket and what things can make it “cooler”—[pause] um, I don’t know if you are taking this seriously.
NW: Do you regard Teddy van Buren as inspiration?
JW: Actually, my interest was piqued by the Sean John runway catalogue. To be precise.
NW: Can we still look forward to I-pod giveaways and Easter bunny egg hunts?
JW: It’s actually a non-denominational egg hunt that happens to be around the time of Easter.
NW: To close up our discussion on the topic of religious holidays: Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. For the Princeton students, is there anything you must atone for?
JW: Caring too much.
NW: [Uproarious laughter]