The role of Student Body President of Gordon College’s Student Association (GCSA) is no easy job. It requires hours of meetings each week with students, administration, and faculty. Oftentimes it means dealing with school controversies, as Shineika Fareus did last year when the school faced multiple racial incidents in the midst of also combatting COVID-19. Most presidents however, often work under the radar. The position deals with a lot of unseen tasks like organizing the details for events, collaborating with student leaders, working with clubs, and managing a cabinet, to name a few. It requires a collection of interpersonal skills, stamina, and creativity to do well. It is not for everyone.
Current GCSA President Cam Grinnell is certainly up for the job.
It was not surprising when Grinnell and TeddyMax Talanoa won the presidency by a 27% margin. Both are very well known on campus. But at the end of the day, the election was not a popularity contest. Students knew both candidates were uniquely qualified to serve the Gordon community.
Before he became president, Cam served under Shineika Fareus as the Executive Vice-President. During this time, he learned the “inner workings” of the organization. TeddyMax also had experience under his belt as Vice-President of Student Life. Moving on to a position with greater responsibility only seemed normal for both.
For Cam, being involved in Gordon was a natural thing to do. His family has a long history with the school. “My parents met here,” he told me, “they graduated in ’81…They had a brief stint at a school called Stony Brook in Long Island. And then they came back and they met when they worked here, got married.” Both of Cam’s siblings graduated from Gordon. He was baptized in Gull Pond. The only “bummer” was that his entire family was able to take classes with Dr. Wilson before he retired. Despite that disappointment, “[I] just love this community,” Cam said, “when you come to Gordon, it’s different.”
Who is Cam Grinnell the student? Who is the man behind the desk? When I asked Cam this question, he explained how he personally tries to balance both a casual and professional side to himself. On the one hand, he is triple majoring in Political Science, Economics, and Biblical Studies. He desires to go to a top ten law school.
“I’ve worked really hard to do that,” Cam said, but on the other hand, “I’m also going to be a camp counselor in the summer. I love that because I love going on hikes and going on canoe trips. I love messing around and being goofy with 15 year olds and working on that discipleship.” Life is not all what you do for a job. “I think that it’s one of those things,” he told me, “where I want to work hard in classes, be earnest in GCSA, but then be able to go back to my apartment and grow, like joke around.”
Cam hopes to clerk for a Supreme Court justice one day. He was listening to the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing while washing dishes one afternoon and it clicked, “I was like, this is exactly what I want to do.” Law is the perfect combination, he said, “of reason, logic, writing, complex thinking, faith, and the good.” Which Justice would be like to work with though? He couldn’t name anyone in the present, but if it was a choice between any Justice in the Court’s history, he told me, “I’d probably have to do Scalia.” In his mind, Scalia “has that balance of playful and professional…he’s so witty…He’s launching ideas off of his clerks, he is full of that humor, but also earnestness and seriousness.” After listening to Cam explain his answer, it is apparent where he finds inspiration.
The start of Cam’s presidency has required him to be like Scalia in a way and activate the more serious side of his personality. Over the course of the past several months Gordon College has experienced a series of ongoing challenges that Cam has been forced to help address. A few weeks ago Gordon was the victim of a malware attack and affected by a power outage impacting much of the North Shore. These situations are only a small portion of what Cam has dealt with this semester. “We’ve had to be a little bit more [on the] defensive,” he said, “We haven’t been quite able to turn that corner and make a lot of steps forward.” Nonetheless, “we are laying a lot of the groundwork.”
One of the challenges of 2021, Cam explained, concerns student engagement. At all CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) “we are dealing with record low student engagement. That is what empirical data suggests.” Less students are attending events, participating in campus activities, joining clubs, and taking on new positions. “From an anecdotal level,” Cam said, “what we are hearing from students when we ask them why they are not at events is, they know that it’s not an advertising thing. They know the events are going on. They know where it is, how to get there, and the people doing it. But they just can’t go.” This phenomenon stands as a contrast to his freshman year, where “we would fill McDonald Auditorium in KOSC [(Ken Olsen Science Center)]…for these town halls.” There is an effect on campus culture, he said, “that is pretty pronounced.”
Cam also mentioned enrollment as another significant issue this year. Gordon, like other CCCU institutions, has experienced a significant decline in new students over the past several years. One of his frustrations with the former College President (Dr. Michael Lindsay) was how he would direct the marketing in this regard. “The messaging has to change,” he told President Hammond. The school would tell parents it is doing better than it ever has, that it is doing well in enrollment, that it is raising all this money, “and then departments were being cut. At the Bennett Center there used to be three full time staff, now there’s only one…And you hear it from staff and faculty, the strain: faculty having to teach four courses.” The reality is, Cam said, “we’re in a tough spot.” When the previous administration would claim otherwise, “there is a huge cognitive dissonance…financially, it’s just there is one place on campus that needs to bring in money. And that’s enrollment. It just hasn’t for five years. It’s just as simple as that.”
Though Cam does not think GCSA can help with Gordon’s enrollment problem, he believes student government may still be useful in other ways. “In terms of retention, that’s what GCSA is in the business of…and so one of the things is, we’re trying to get a little bit more access to the data.” The need for such information is important, Cam said, “so we can then start to target our activities more specifically to what students are looking for.” If students want more speakers, GCSA can help. If they want more recreational activities, there are multiple members of student government who can plan events. “I think that the retention conversation [between the administration and GCSA] is vibrant and robust,” he said.
GCSA has been successful in addressing at least one campus-wide issue, Cam was glad to note. When it came to the You Pick 4 food option that was restricted at the beginning of the semester to 11am-3pm, Cam was able to revert the policy back to where it was pre-COVID. It was a “huge win,” he said, “I was talking a lot actually with coaches about the importance of that for athletics, in expanding accessibility.” Before this change, many athletes were unable to access food-services on campus during certain days.
Another problem Cam hopes to address is Late Night. While the You Pick Four was a budget related issue, Late Night is the result of staffing shortages. “It’s more of a macroeconomic thing,” he said. “You can work at Bertuccis and get paid $18 or $20 an hour, or you can go to Gordon and get a lot less. So we’re actually seeing people at Gordon, like full time staff who are staying here, just because they love the campus so much.” On this issue in particular Cam expressed some pessimism, “I’m a little bit less sanguine or optimistic about us getting a win there.” Gordon is not the only institution with labor shortages, “It’s bigger than Debbie (Bon Appetit) and even President Hammond, just because…[even] Starbucks is struggling.” Only time will tell whether this will change.
Moving onto another topic, I asked Cam about his thoughts on the Shalom Plan and how it was being implemented this semester. He made it his first point to clarify the difference between the Shalom statement and the Shalom Plan. The first, “is integrated right into the college fabric,” while the second is more gradual. Publically we know one thing in the works right now is the creation of a new core class on cultural intelligence, race and ethnicity. “[I]t’s in the process of being crafted,” Cam said, “compromises are being made and whatnot.” It could take several years however, “I think [that is] a good thing just to remind students of.”
On race and reconciliation in particular, Cam feels as if the school is moving in a good direction. “I think President Hammond has done a lot of really good work before coming to Gordon and is knowledgeable with these issues. And I think he certainly sets a better tone for the campus on engaging these issues.” In fact, Cam is far more optimistic about this subject than a year ago. When I asked him why, he elaborated that it had to do with the change in leadership. “I think President Hammond has done a far better job in terms of messaging, improving student morale, and being transparent,” he said. In contrast, “The previous president was incredibly divisive, and specifically through a lack of transparency. This was a 10-year restriction of information from him, it trickled down.” Faculty and staff, according to Cam, see the change in leadership as “a breath of fresh air.” The new tone, he explained, “certainly has an impact on race, but it also connects to all other issues.”
Throughout the interview Cam expressed an appreciation for President Hammond’s leadership, but how does he think of his own? The Grinnell/Talanoa ran their campaign on the themes of Reliable, Receptive, and Restorative. Have they accomplished any of their goals? Or were the challenges of the semester too much?
In response to these questions, Cam first addressed the receptive theme. When the Gordon administration reduced GCSA’s budget by 40%, they needed to cut a substantial amount of money from clubs. His team responded by presenting the dilemma to the student representatives in Forum, making sure to receive feedback, and by individually meeting with every student organization on their budgets. “One of the ways of being receptive was not being impersonal,” he said, “it [was] saying, ‘look we are just doing this and that.’” Cam told me he wanted to give clubs as much autonomy in the process as possible.
Reliability is “not super sexy to talk about,” Cam said. For the most part, it has looked like performing GCSA’s administrative functions well and fostering a sustainable work environment. The bulk of being reliable is “not [in] $150,000 capital renovations,” Cam explained, instead, it involves coordinating with student representatives, forming committees, and reforming institutional structures to make student government more approachable. Developing a culture that fosters longevity is incredibly important in this regard. On a good year, he said, “we retain 20% of our people.” One of the ways he hopes to address this is by developing a program for next year’s President and Vice President to stay on campus for most of the summer. “It’s an unrealistic realistic expectation for students to be able to come in August and start this organization of 30 people,” Cam said. “It’s just not possible.”
To follow through on the restorative goal, GCSA is focusing a lot of its energy on spiritual development and spiritual growth. This effort, Cam explained, “is a continual process.” One initiative he and TeddyMax are working on is a program with the Chapel office called “Refill.” The idea, Cam said, is “that we need to take what’s in the chapel and bring it out onto campus.” The program would place a cohort in Chester’s Tavern after every chapel service to pray, worship, and discuss the message. If you are a student, the hope is “the Spirit would compel you to walk in, and you would just be embraced by this community that is, again, passionate about Christ.” Though the idea is in its “very early stages,” Cam said, “that’s kind of one of the things that we’re really excited about doing.” Other than Refill, for the restorative goal “it’s kind of like a stay tuned.”
How does Cam hope to be remembered after his time in student government?
Like Shineika last year, Cam hopes to renew a commitment to GCSA’s legacy, not his own. “I want to be committed to creatively and collaboratively making something so that people, whether you are a rep or a cabinet member, can just come in and understand the culture and responsibilities of what it means to be in GCSA,” he said. “I don’t really want people to remember me, per se, I’d much rather it just be like: ‘I don’t know how, like why the Refill is here. I don’t know why this handbook is here. Like, I don’t know why, you know, whatever the things are, I don’t care why, because it’s 2030. But I’m glad that they’re here.’ And so that’s a lot of it.” For Cam, the work he does is not about himself, it is about what “GCSA was able to do.”
So what will GCSA do next? Only time will tell, but if this semester is any indicator, students can be confident the future is in good hands.
Categories: Student Life