At the end of last block, Ethan Greenberg ’20 was elected as next year’s Colorado College Student Government Association president. Hailing from Denver, Greenberg is a political science major. He also plays on the men’s club soccer team and teaches at El Paso County Jail through the CC Prison Project. This week, The Catalyst sat down with Greenberg to learn more about him and his future as student body president.
The Catalyst: When and why did you first consider running for CCSGA president?
Ethan Greenberg: It had been an idea that had been percolating for some time, especially as I served on student government during my first and sophomore years. But I think the catalyst to my running was a sentiment that there was a lot that can be done from the position of president that is difficult to get done otherwise. And most of it, to be honest, the CCSGA presidency is, in a lot of ways, less defined than the vice president roles. Vice president roles have pretty specific duties — pretty specific obligations, both to their committee and in general CCSGA functioning. The president has less specific roles or specific obligations. But because they’re a little freer and because of the symbolic nature of the position, there’s an ability to effect more systemic or more long-term strategic initiatives as opposed to the day-to-day operations — not to say that the president also isn’t involved in day-to-day operations.
TC: What was your campaign platform and how do you plan to implement it next year?
EG: So the campaign platform rested broadly on this idea of CCSGA legitimacy. CCSGA has a ton of potential, yet, because many students on this campus don’t know how CCSGA works, don’t know how to engage with student government, that power is not realized, that power is not actualized. And that infects every issue that CCSGA wants to work on. So whether we’re trying to bargain in front of the president, or in front of the board of trustees, or in front of city council, or what have you, that lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the students infects everything we’re trying to do. So my general pitch was, I mean there are tons of issues, but the general pitch was not issue-specific. But rather, regardless of the issue that you care about — whether it’s curriculum changes, whether it’s the anti-racism agenda, whether it’s carbon neutrality, what have you — it all depends upon CSSGA having a powerful bargaining position. And CCSGA is only as powerful as the students believe it is; our source of power is the students. And my pitch to people, my platform, really rested upon the idea that if we can increase that bargaining power, then everything and all the topics that students bring to us will have more weight.
There are two kind of facets of increasing CCSGA legitimacy, in my eyes. One is kind of the micro things, and one is the macro things. So in terms of micro things, CCSGA has almost a million dollars in its budget. So the student activity fee, which every student — whether you’re on financial aid or whether you’re a tuition-paying student — you pay that and that fills the coffers of CCSGA. And that money funds a ton of things on campus, but no one knows that that’s CCSGA’s money that’s funding those things. So, The Catalyst, Cipher, Leviathan, all of those publications, Llamapalooza, LoCCal, free CC hockey tickets, the New York Times subscription, all club budgets, a lot of speakers on campus, they’re all funded by CCSGA. But the vast majority of students on this campus don’t know that, and that’s our fault; that’s CCSGA’s fault. So in terms of the micro thing, that’s just a step of trying to get all the things that CCSGA funds, to get students to know that CCSGA was behind it, to know that their student activity fee dollars are at work. And then the second aspect is the macro aspect in that CCSGA has to take a stand on some pretty audacious issues next semester. And, throughout the campaign, I was reluctant to be too prescriptive just because a lot of things can change in the next few months. And I don’t mean for that to be a way to skirt the issue. So some examples include, you know, the curriculum changes that are proposed — that stemmed from the West-in-Time — if those don’t pass the faculty, that can be that audacious issue. If the board decides to not follow through on its carbon neutrality commitment, or if it decides to buy carbon offsets that are not local, that can be our main bargaining area. And it really depends on what changes in the next few months, but I think CCSGA has to take a stand on the issue and prove to students, “Watch us work.”
TC: What is something that not many people know about you?
EG: Ooh, that’s hard. I’m deathly afraid of miller moths, like those gray butterflies that come in the spring in Colorado. I like will run out of a room if there is one, will not kill it.
TC: If you could be anyone for one day, who would you choose and why?
EG: I think I would choose Susanna Cordova who is the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, who was recently appointed. I really enjoy studying education policy and I went to DPS, and the intricacies of that district are really interesting. And what’s going on right now, and the policies that she’s implementing in her first couple of months, and there was just a teacher strike, and so things are bubbling that previously were simmering. And it would be very interesting to be in her shoes for a day.
TC: What has been one of your most memorable experiences at CC thus far?
EG: I mean this is a very CCSGA-related one, and I guess that’s because it’s just front of mind, but there was a very intense, spirited debate at the end of my first year about whether to raise the student activity fee. I was advocating against a raise in the student activity fee. I ultimately did not succeed in convincing enough people of that position, but it was a very clarifying debate, I think, for CCSGA, in which we spent about an hour and a half going back and forth and back and forth in pretty strong terms. I mean, I don’t want to say it got disrespectful, but it definitely got tense and I think it was good for the institution to have a debate about its values, about where it stood on its own budget, where it stood on issues of higher education at large. I would say that was a very memorable time.
TC: Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
EG: The kind of trajectory I have at the moment, at least that’s front of mind, is after CC, going to get a teaching licensure and teaching for some time. And so in 10 years, maybe I’ll still be teaching or potentially at law school, having taken that experience in the classroom and attempting to use what I’ve learned in a way to make system changes. That’s perhaps a little naive or arrogant to think that that trajectory could work, but at least that’s what is front of mind at the moment.
TC: Who is the most influential faculty or staff member you’ve encountered at CC?
EG: I’m going to cheat and say one staff and one faculty. For staff, Gretchen Wardell at the Career Center has been instrumental in helping me think about, “What do I want in the future?” I mean, the Career Center is obviously about careers. But I think Gretchen has been very helpful for me in thinking about careers in a way that is not solely, “How are you gonna make money after college?” framework, but more of how to ethically pursue internships, how to juggle those opportunities, how to kind of view your development in really your three summers, because that’s at least how I’ve interacted with the Career Center. And I’ve found Gretchen to be really influential in my thinking about that. In terms of faculty, I would say Juan Lindau, who was the professor of my most influential block — which was comparative politics of Latin America. Kind of the capstone, the cherry on top, of that block was professor Lindau does oral exams, which I had never done before, which challenged me but were really, really fun in their own right.
TC: What vegetable do you most identify with and why?
EG: Okay, that’s easy, eggplant. Perhaps because of the “E” “G,” but it’s like my favorite weird vegetable. You know everyone likes their tomatoes and lettuce, but not everyone likes eggplant. But I enjoy a good eggplant.
TC: What makes you most nervous for being CCSGA president?
EG: I would preface this with that a little bit of nerves is always good. To be too nervous is debilitating, but to be a little bit nervous, I think, motivates you — makes you both be cautious and constantly thinking, but also motivated to take action. I think I’m most nervous about not doing my institutional homework before trying to take action or take a position on an issue. I think that, from what I’ve seen, this institution is sometimes receptive to student activism and student concerns, but that only happens when those student concerns are voiced in a very calculated, thought-out manner. And I’m nervous for an initiative from CCSGA to fall flat because we haven’t done our homework.
TC: What do you think is essential to success?
EG: I adhere to this, honestly, I did not come up with this. But the idea of success being the ability to feel confident giving advice in a wide-ranging number of subjects. And so in that vein, I think — I mean not to be too kitschy — but the liberal arts sets you up in a way that you have a wide knowledge base. And I think that is a recipe for success. I think also to be people-centered. This job, to circle it back to CCSGA, is, you know, it’s political, and it’s about CCSGA, and it’s about the institution. But it’s also about managing an organization of student representatives. And so, in addition to other jobs, I’ll also be a manager of people. And how you pursue those interactions is really important to, you know, looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I was a person of integrity today. I was a person of ethics today. I’m not playing people off one another. I’m not lying to pursue my own agenda.” And to be willing to say that this is a people-centered organization and to know that you’re not the only person who needs to drive the action.