The People’s Gender Council of Middlebury consists of approximately ten students, five staff, and five faculty, headed by a student co-chair and a staff/faculty co-chair. We operate under a horizontal power structure, meaning no group member has any more power than another. The role of the co-chairs is to prepare for meetings and facilitate discussion.
Students have the opportunity to apply to be on the Council at the end of every academic term or year. If you are a staff or faculty member interested in being on the Council, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
We meet as a large group weekly, but most of the work of the Council occurs in smaller issue-based subcommittees comprised of PGCOM members and anyone from the College community interested in working on a particular issue.
Decisions are made through a process of consensus, meaning that there are never “all in favor/all opposed/all abstaining” votes that decide our actions by a simple majority. ACT UP NY says this about consensus:
What is consensus?
Consensus is a process for group decision-making. It is a method by which an entire group of people can come to an agreement. The input and ideas of all participants are gathered and synthesized to arrive at a final decision acceptable to all. Through consensus, we are not only working to achieve better solutions, but also to promote the growth of community and trust.
What does consensus mean?
Consensus does not mean that everyone thinks that the decision made is necessarily the best one possible, or even that they are sure it will work. What it does mean is that in coming to that decision, no one felt that her/his position on the matter was misunderstood or that it wasn’t given a proper hearing. Hopefully, everyone will think it is the best decision; this often happens because, when it works, collective intelligence does come up with better solutions than could individuals.
Consensus takes more time and member skill, but uses lots of resources before a decision is made, creates commitment to the decision and often facilitates creative decision. It gives everyone some experience with new processes of interaction and conflict resolution, which is basic but important skill-building.
Forming the consensus proposals
During discussion a proposal for resolution is put forward. It is amended and modified through more discussion, or withdrawn if it seems to be a dead end. During this discussion period it is important to articulate differences clearly. It is the responsibility of those who are having trouble with a proposal to put forth alternative suggestions.
The fundamental right of consensus is for all people to be able to express themselves in their own words and of their own will. The fundamental responsibility of consensus is to assure others of their right to speak and be heard. Coercion and trade-offs are replaced with creative alternatives, and compromise with synthesis.
When a proposal seems to be well understood by everyone, and there are no new changes asked for, the facilitator(s) can ask if there are any objections or reservations to it. If there are no objections, there can be a call for consensus. If there are still no objections, then after a moment of silence you have your decision. Once consensus does appear to have been reached, it really helps to have someone repeat the decision to the group so everyone is clear on what has been decided.
Difficulties in reaching consensus
If a decision has been reached, or is on the verge of being reached that you cannot support, there are several ways to express your objections:
Non-support (“I don’t see the need for this, but I’ll go along.”)
Reservations (“I think this may be a mistake but I can live with it.”)
Standing aside (“I personally can’t do this, but I won’t stop others from doing it.”)
Blocking (“I cannot support this or allow the group to support this. It is immoral.” If a final decision violates someone’s fundamental moral values they are obligated to block consensus.)
For more info on the operations of the Council, please see our Executive Summary, the document formally proposing the creation of this Council, and the FAQs we wrote for the Campus. For more info on some of the philosophy behind our work, please see PGCOM founders Lark Mulligan ’11 and Viveka Ray-Mazumder ’11’s May 2010 Campus op-ed.