By Spring and Fall 2022 TGP Editorial Boards
Being a member of the GISA Board is, by no means, an enviable task. The Geneva Graduate Institute Student Association (GISA) is required within its mandated activities to “represent students in front of the various bodies in and out of the IHEID” and “communicate with our members frequently and in a transparent manner” – this is not an easy job to do.
The GISA Board acts as an intermediary between all students and student initiatives at the Institute and the Institute’s administration, and also works to advocate for student interests with the administration. They are compensated for their efforts by way of a tuition waiver for the term that they serve, though it is still unclear who funds these tuition waivers.
The broad nature of the responsibility given to the GISA Board creates complications for its well-functioning. A small body of seven individuals are hard pressed to tackle the myriad of concerns that students regularly face, leaving other not-so-accountable groups or individuals to take on the responsibility.
The Stop Silencing Students Movement brought to light issues of representation, wage issues, and the independence of reporting and audit systems for harassment and sexual misconduct. The sit-in and student protests that took place last December did – as admitted by the Directrice – lead to an acceleration in the announcement and institution of an external harassment mechanism.
The lack of clarity surrounding the GISA Board’s functions and responsibilities has left much room for criticism, particularly regarding transparency. On May 19, the Directrice sent students an email informing that a few interim governance documents – the now officially adopted Digital Charter, the Code of Conduct, the diagrammatic representation of the system, and the Pact on Living Together with Respect and Tolerance – were uploaded to the Institute’s intranet for comments from students. The deadline was set for June 7, 2022. On June 1, 2022, the deadline was extended to June 21, 2022, in view of the hectic semester schedule.
Not until June 19, 2022 – two days before the IHEID’s deadline – did GISA send an email to all student initiatives and class representatives informing them of the interim governance documents. Students who are not privy to initiatives’ inboxes had yet to hear from GISA about it, as they were not sent any communication from the Association about the documents. In a message on the WhatsApp group chat with all the student initiatives, it was revealed that GISA would be releasing the said draft of its comments on the documents on June 24, 2022.
When questioned about the inordinate delay in letting students know about its work on the documents, the GISA Board responded that “a lot of the board is on holiday at the moment” and it was just two or three board members that were “holding down the fort.” Upon further investigation, this seemed to be a common theme among the Spring 2022 GISA Board – a lack of unity and growing discontent between board members regarding individuals’ commitment to their positions and willingness to meet all of the expectations that come with serving on the Board. This, coupled with the ongoing lack of student engagement, left unclear perceptions regarding both the Board’s role at the Institute and its effectiveness.
This view is reflected by Areen De, who joined the GISA Board at what he described as “a tumultuous time” both for the Welfare Committee and the GISA Board at large. He is particularly proud of his work with the Institute to welcome the new cohort this fall. However, while grateful for the opportunity to promote the wellbeing of the student community, he is concerned about student participation and unity among GISA members.
“I know it is not easy to represent the needs of a student body of 1,000 people. However, before doing that, the GISA Board needs to work really hard to ensure within-GISA unity because, unfortunately, I feel the same has always been lacking,” says De.
Madison Coakley, the GISA Board’s outgoing Communications Director, joined the board to rebrand GISA and professionalize its online presence. Coakley says that one of her biggest takeaways from her year on the board is how to work together.
“With 4-5 new board members rotating in-and-out twice a year, we’re always adapting to different styles of working, expectations, and personalities,” says Coakley. No matter how good the team is, Coakley is convinced the GISA Board needs a bigger team in order to operate effectively.
“It’s been said many times, but I really hope that the IHEID Administration will support the creation of new board positions to increase the capacity of the GISA Board,” Coakley finishes.
In the last few weeks, GISA has undergone a transfer of power between incoming and outgoing Board Members. GISA holds elections twice a year, with the previous round taking place only a couple weeks ago. The profiles of the recently-elected candidates can be found in an email from Angie Bittar to Institute students on October 18th.
GISA President Angie Bittar (2nd Year, MDev) is embarking on her second term at the helm of the Graduate Institute’s student union. In an interview with TGP, Bittar expressed that she is thrilled to welcome all of the new GISA Board members.
“[I want to] reintegrate a level of solidarity among the entire community…reintegrating the idea of student solidarity outside of our cohorts,” said Bittar.
As someone who quickly made connections with her peers during her first year, Bittar originally sought her role as GISA President in order to promote empathy and interrelationships within the Institute student body. These values endure into her second term, as she additionally aims to “create spaces like ad hoc committees on special issues, like the disability taskforce.”
Furthermore, she emphasized that conversations among students and with GISA members will help create the version of the Institute that everyone wishes for. Bittar continues to stress the importance of student engagement. She highlighted that “student organizations and in particular student unions only work as a unit.” Only 30.87% of the student body participated in the GISA Elections in the fall of 2022. Since the GISA Board members each receive a partial tuition reimbursement, Bittar made it clear that the students’ “tuition funds what GISA does, be it directly or indirectly. Your money is in this.”
Despite having a small leadership team, GISA hopes to reach all members of the Institute. Within the GISA Board itself, Bittar is serious about “making sure that the GISA Board in and of itself has faith both in its mandate and trust among the board members.” The more that the GISA Board can work collaboratively and transparently, the more they can carry out the needs and goals of the student body.
After roughly six months of student criticism, both outgoing and current GISA Board Members remain optimistic about their ability to unite the IHEID community. However, without student participation and engagement, the Board’s capacity to make this dream a reality seems limited. Tonight’s GISA General Assembly is a chance both for the GISA Board to demonstrate what it is capable of and for students to signal their commitment to being actively engaged members of The Geneva Graduate Institute.
This is a reminder for the upcoming General Assembly on Wednesday 02 November at 18:00 in A2 and online, the agenda for which is attached here. You can register for the meeting using the following link.
Photo credit: Abby Sickles