SEPCs: Increasing Student Voice in Academics

July 06, 2021

Each major and concentration at Grinnell College has a Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC), a group of students who are “working to improve student experience in the major or concentration department and the Grinnell community as a whole.” The group usually consists of third- and fourth-year majors or concentrators elected by the students in their departments.

SEPCs have many functions. The SEPC mission statement says they “guide majors and students taking courses in the department to useful resources and individuals, represent student experiences and concerns to department faculty, and coordinate student feedback in the faculty review and hiring processes.” They also “think critically and assess their respective curriculum” and “work to represent and improve their major, division, and Grinnell as a whole by fostering and strengthening an inclusive and welcoming community.” In practice, this includes attending trainings, fostering community through programming and diversity, equity, and inclusion work, being and creating resources, and liaising between students and faculty by attending department meetings and meeting with department chairs.

Student Voice

One of the most important purposes of SEPCs is to increase student voices in their departments and in academics more generally. As sociology SEPC representative Elizabeth Collinger ’21 says, “SEPCs are such a wonderful way to communicate and give students voices.” A large part of that is liaising between students and faculty. Collinger explains, “There are a lot of different facets of this position that I think are really, really important in connecting students and faculty.”

In collaboration with the Student Government Association (SGA), SEPCs also increase student voices in academics more generally. One member from each SEPC participates in Student Council on Curriculum meetings, which are led by the SGA Vice President of Academic Affairs and the SEPC Coordinator and are the main means for SEPCs to “engage in meaningful educational policy questions” beyond their individual departments.

Student Voice in Increasing Student Voice

SGA and SEPCs are always working to increase student voice. SGA President and former SGA Vice President for Academic Affairs Fernando Villatoro ’22 is working to make SEPCs more functionally similar from department to department and to increase their voices in academics beyond their individual departments. Many SEPCs have strong voices in their departments, but Collinger thinks “there could be so much more done if all the SEPCs worked more together.” To do this, Villatoro is “getting SEPCs more integrated into the [SGA] decision-making process.”

Overall, Villatoro says, “It’s a time of rethinking… A lot of good work is being done.” And at a college where students are always thinking about how to be better and do better, that rethinking and that good work is unlikely to ever end.

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