Presidential Resignation from Hamilton College Student Assembly
Dear Hamilton College community members,
I am writing to announce that I am resigning from my position as President of Student Assembly, effective immediately. As such, Vice President Eric Santomauro-Stenzel ’24 will be taking over as President.
As an Afro-Latinx, queer, and autistic community organizer, this position has quite frankly been my own personal hell. The amount of trauma that I have experienced at the hands of this institution and people in it will take years to process and heal from, and I’d like to start doing that now.
I am exhausted, empty, and have nothing left to give.
Being president has deeply ungrounded me and isolated me from my work, which is the whole reason I ran at all. I’d like to take a break and then return to what I should be doing: educating, mobilizing, and fighting for the liberation of my people. For me, the way that I can sustainably and healthily do that work, from a place of true care and love, is outside of the Assembly. It is unfair to my constituents for me to continue being President of the Assembly if I cannot give it my best.
While I still have hope and the belief that the Assembly has the potential to be something great with the right people in it and massive changes, the reality is that it has been ignored and weakened for decades now; sometimes out of negligence, sometimes because the best that could be offered was to just keep the ship floating, but largely out of the actions of Senior Administration, the Board of Trustees, and students and staff alike who prioritize(d) personal advancement over the needs and rights of the student body.
In thinking about my time as President (and my time generally as a community organizer at Hamilton), I think about this quote from Samuel Fisher Babbitt, the one and only President of Kirkland College, from his book Limited Engagement. In this quote, he reflects on the end of Kirkland, and the ways in which Hamilton College Senior Administration and Board of Trustees shut down Kirkland before it truly had the chance to flourish:
It is the fact that, in pursuit of their own sense of security and the “right” way, the administration and Board of Hamilton not only perpetuated an incredibly wasteful act, but they willfully destroyed a lively, respected, some would even say important college…Hamilton was alarmed by the pace of change and threatened by the philosophy that was being put into educational practice at Kirkland. Hamilton’s greatest crime was perhaps a failure of imagination — the failure to see the richness it might have in a diversity of practice and approach. Many of its students saw this readily, but the institution itself was not up to it. In both these respects, the closing of Kirkland was a stupid thing to do, and it brought no credit to an otherwise quite decent, if sometimes provincial institution.
Throughout my time as President, I have witnessed gross intervention into Assembly matters and a similar destruction that Kirkland College faced, except this time a destruction of the power of the Assembly and the power of students and student voice. Since January 2021, I have witnessed and experienced:
- Members of the Board of Trustees claiming they’ve never heard of student concerns about lack of input and decision-making power in College matters
- A senior member of the Board of Trustees asserting that every constituency feels like they’re the most important when I shared student desires for representation
- Multiple Senior Administrators threatening the Assembly’s all-campus listserv access because of a political email we sent
- Multiple Senior Administrators openly questioning whether I can legitimately claim to speak for students, despite being the first SA President to have an election opponent in years
- Refusing to share the cease and desist letter regarding a legal threat against members and officers of the Assembly with all members of the Assembly, as well as refusing to share copies with Eric and I (though the two of us did get to read it in person)
- Some administrators attempting to prevent Eric from taking office until the first day of classes this semester, which would have delayed first-year elections and the Assembly’s work by almost a month
- The College breaking the Student Assembly Constitution and its own policies by never sending Judicial Board nominees (who were also involved in COVID-19 enforcement) to be confirmed in fall 2020, and it continuously refusing to engage in conversation about what we can do to rectify and address this
- Student Assembly access to Board of Trustee committees that had been granted in 2019 by the Board essentially being revoked and left up to Senior Administration to have complete jurisdiction over selection of students to attend
- Some Senior Administrators expressing they have “no interest” in scheduling a public town hall, despite having done so in the past
- College photographers have still arrived to Assembly events and attempted to photograph me, even though my request to not be photographed by the Communication and Marketing Office still stands. Past photos of me have also still not been taken off of the College website
- And much, much more
I knew that being in this position was going to be immensely difficult, and I knew that I would face significant resistance from the College concerning changes Eric, Kavya Crasta ’21 (VP in Spring ‘21), and I would try to make, but I am utterly disappointed (and yet not surprised) by the extent to which the College is willing and ready to silence student voices and the Student Assembly. Hamilton College has demonstrated a patterned desire to choose which students represent the student body, rather than giving students the choice of who represents them.
I want to be very clear that not every administrator is responsible for these efforts to undermine the Assembly’s legitimacy. For some there is an intentional effort to remove critical voices from rooms where decisions are made. Others are good people with good intentions doing what they can to support students within an institution that feels entitled to selectively listen to its students. I thank those of you who are in the difficult place of attempting to be an educator in a school run by businessmen.
Further, the Student Assembly constitution is a convoluted, contradictory mess, that does not adequately protect students in some basic manners, and that does not allow the Assembly to successfully and effectively complete all its functions. The pandemic has only worsened this and proves that the constitution needs to be seriously amended if we hope to have a functioning, powerful student government that can genuinely advocate and fight for student voice and student power.
For my own health reasons and others, I am not the person that should help lead this change within the Assembly. My true role in protecting student voice and student power is outside of student government, and I simply cannot do the best I can in this role that I could in other roles.
Eric, on the other hand, is one of the best-positioned people to help lead these efforts. Since before the pandemic he has been making and influencing massive changes to the Assembly, both on and off the body. I have full and complete faith in him. He has already taken on a significant amount of responsibility as Vice President this semester, as I have had to take multiple mental health breaks, and he proves over and over again that he is more than prepared, ready, and determined. Student Assembly is the kind of work that lights Eric’s soul on fire.
Eric and I have been working closely with each other for over two years now, and he is one of the most dedicated and passionate organizers (and people, in general) that I have ever had the honor of working with. We work incredibly well together, and I’m truly sad that I am unable to see through the work we started together when we decided to run with Kavya last November. We have, without hesitation, stuck by each other’s side throughout the last two years, and will continue to despite me leaving office.
Just as he must continue the work that sets his soul on fire, I must now return to the work that lights my soul on fire.
To the 500+ people who voted for Kavya, Eric, and I last year in the first competitive election in years, especially those who endured our endless texts and calls while they helped us campaign, I sincerely apologize for not finishing out my term. I’m doing what’s best for my mental health, and I can only hope that you all are also doing what’s best for yours.
Please know that this is not the end of my journey with the Assembly, but rather the end of my journey inside the Assembly. I hope to continue to stay engaged as a non-Assembly member, and I am planning to write and publish extensively about my time on the Assembly, especially on those bullet points above. I will also be discussing Hamilton’s treatment of activists over the past 40 years in my Senior Fellowship paper and presentation, which I will be sharing with this community at the end of the year.
To faculty and staff, I encourage you to ask difficult questions of those in positions of power. Not everything is what it seems when you are told students are consulted on decisions made by the Trustees and senior staff. I have heard and seen what many of your trainings and faculty meetings are like, and I feel we would all benefit from students being allowed to speak for themselves, without conditions or a boss watching over them, in these spaces. The Kirkland Assembly, a combined governance body of faculty and students, can serve as our guiding example.
To the rest of the Assembly, current and potential future members: the student body needs and deserves a student government that can, does, and will always advocate for them. The Assembly cannot do that effectively with its current structure, and I truly hope that you take the time and energy necessary to make the constitutional and structural changes that can help increase its ability to do that. I plan to detail some of those issues in a future public letter to you all. I wish you all the best, and I commend you in everything that you’re doing. If it weren’t for you, I probably would have left a lot sooner. Please take care of yourselves.
To my fellow students of color (especially Black ones), LGBTQ+ students, low-income and first generation students, and neurodivergent students: I hope you are resting and protecting yourself as much as you can from the trauma that this College can cause us.
Forever in solidarity,
Saphire Ruiz ’22 (they/them), Former President of Student Assembly