By Samuel Pennifold
Each year has its unique character, events, and stories – something that will set it apart from the year gone and the year to come. 2022 at the Institute marked a sort of passing on from the turbulent years that has proceeded with the arrival of a new cohort of students, none of which were at the Institute to remember the sudden switch to online learning, lockdowns in Grand Morillon and Picciotto, and the protests and sit-ins of the Stop Silencing Students movement.
Over the Autumn semester, though, each of us became aware of these struggles through the stories, rumours, and memes of the collective conscience of the student body at the Institute. What became most apparent are the deep tensions that exist between the administration, teaching staff, and students.
2023 at the Institute could come to define this tension or this year could be an opportunity to resolve it through student action.
In the seemingly endless group chats that exist for students at the Institute the mainstay of conversation – when not looking for subleases or selling kitchen items – is usually concerning complaints directed towards housing administration. Students feel frustrated that the set student housing conditions are in constant flux with rules and regulations that are never precisely explained. So far, there have been changes to the gym, cleaning schedules, fees for being let back into your room, and office opening hours. In what is a microcosm of the Institute, it seems that as students and tenants, we are treated more as numbers and as a business opportunity than members of the same community. But as students, we have so far truly done nothing to change this. As a student body, we continuously fail to engage and commit.
The current GISA President, Angie Bittar, spoke to TGP at the start of the year and told us of this. Her constituency is only as big as those who turn up. Not enough of us vote, organise and ask for what we want. We complain, and we know what we want, but we do not take the steps to get it. This will be Bittar’s last semester as President, and she has worked tirelessly to unionise us as a student body. But if it feels like GISA is a paper tiger, it is because they do not have the backing from the student body. That way the administration of the Institute does not have to take GISA, our voice, seriously.
It has been a common theme of the last few years for students to rail against the administration, particularly the leadership of the Directrice, Dr Marie-Laure Salles. Salles’ background in business faculties has led others to question what they believe to be the ‘McDonaldization’ of the Institute. Salles’ tenure as director of the Institute is soon to come to an end, and it is unclear whether or not she shall stay on. But way back in 2021, a tough year for everyone, including Salles, the Directrice promised as part of the build of the Institute’s centenary year in 2027 to put students first. The extent to which this feels like it is happening is at times hard to see. Reforms and changes have been brought in, be they academic, affordable meals, or the establishment of a new code of conduct. However, speaking to a few TAs and students, many seem to still feel like this is a corporation that teaches on the side, where partners and research output comes before the students – comments raised in the wake of the Institute’s decision to slightly redesign the logo at a somewhat ludicrous price point.
This culture, where students become less than people, is seemingly what a large part of the SSS movement was born from. Instances of sexually inappropriate behaviour on campus are born as part of this regressive culture. Who was and continues to be the voice behind Stop Silencing Students remains unknown but we as students cannot rely on an anonymous voice to speak for us. We need to find and engage with our own.
The character, events, and stories that will come to define 2023 at the Institute have not been decided yet. But what can be decided is for the wider student body to finally engage and effect change. Without our voices, the character, events, and stories of past years are liable to repeat themselves.
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