The press and public
Members of the ASUW will at one point or another deal with the press and public. The strategies evolve as media itself evolves but there are some core fundamentals. This article serves to summerize the best possible approach to situations. ASUW officers are elected officials, there is no avoiding the task of communication, thus each officer should embrace it.
Even when it isn't your direct fault as it was in Garrick's case, there come events that require explaination. As a public and very large institution in the state, many people are interested in the goings on at UW. UW has one of the largest alumni groups that stay within the immediate area.
Obviously on a wider, nation-wide scale this concerns extends to the overall state of higher education. In today's political debate, one of the biggest talking points for many conservative bloggers and radio personalities is the claim that higher education is more and more biased. Its believed that liberal extremist professors, relics of the "radical" student movements of the 1960's, are molding the students of today. Incidently, a professor or two from UW were listed in David Horowitz's "Most Dangerous Academics In America."
Make no mistake, today's technology and the mass media machine make this argument resonate. Every personality will use a series of anecdotes of how higher education today is going horribly wrong. These "incidents" are hammered home for a number of weeks then left for a new one. For a number of weeks ASUW was home to one of these.
A Resolution to Honor Colonel Boyington. It failed in tie-vote broken by the chair. In the debate, there were three points that many took issue with. This is how I, Lee Dunbar, saw it:
First, I respect combat veterans and the sacrifices that have been made. For this reason I co-sponsored it. As student body president that should indicate what the community at large feels. In examining what happened at the Senate meeting I would caution you on reading the minutes, they are paraphrased and have a number of errors. Further, many articles, posts, and reports are highlighting quotes that do not necessarily reflect what went on at the meeting. The rationale behind this resolution losing by one vote are a bit more profound. On JE comments. They were her own, and afterward there has not only been a response from the outside community but even at the meeting itself, there were many who responded outright or were on the speakers list wishing to. (Side comments or a crowd uproar aren't recorded) In the days following, she said she realizes the impact of how she worded her stance, and I think I speak for her when I say she is sorry for any personal insult felt from her choice of words. I continue to defend the right for her to say anything that she believes, as I am sure most do. As for AM, she was citing a previous issue that was prominent on campus last year. Namely, that a large majority of our statues lacked the diverse backgrounds we want to have at our university. She said as a point of information and never alluded to his heritage or that there were "already enough." Again, it was a recent issue, for your reference.  Any discussion on memorials or statues would have need to acknowledge this. KS's statements were part of an amendment to the resolution that passed resoundingly. He wanted to honor his service as a whole, this goes beyond the highest number of kills, he put his life at risk, endured 20 months in a POW Camp, and demonstrated exemplary leadership. Doing this still honors Colonel Boyington and brings many of those who find the business of war not morally agreeable in support. I thought making the focus be as a whole was great in that it speaks to what many have echoed in the past, whether you believe war necessary or not, the service and sacrifice merits honor. In the end, after talking with a number of senators I have found that many of them were concerned that it was just Colonel Boyington and wanted other veterans to be included. You'll find these statements in the minutes but they have not been highlighted. It was discovered after more research by the sponsor that 4 others were awarded Medal of Honor besides Boyington. That idea, that there were others clearly worthy of a memorial, resonated more than the others did in my opinion. That has been the most consistent argument I have heard. For this reasons, the sponsor, myself, and others, were very confident that a new resolution would be able to pass that was inclusive of the other 4. It did in fact pass by a large margin. As for comments that were taken as disrespectful. This is part of a continuing discourse in the interest of answering the questions and issues of our community. That is how individuals learn. We go into each debate acknowledging that there are many things we do not know, past history and the facts have a lot of power in the process. Through it all, progress is made.
While it was magnified as an issue in a pursuit of incidents of liberal higher education gone astray, there was something more. The fact that Colonel Boyington was a Marine made the issue very complex. Anti-military hate speech was a key issue that many continue to have with student movements of the 1960's and 1970's. Violent acts, spitting, and slurs remain in the memories of many veterans who were on college campuses during this time. Furthermore, the Marine Corps is perhaps the most fraternal of the armed services. As such, it was quite easy for word to get around and for action to take place. Overall, Boyington is admired as a hero not just in the Marines however, pilots throughout the military have respect for him. The show Baa Baa Blacksheep was also helpful in engraining his name in the public at large.
Some call it the perfect storm. In the end, the ASUW proved to not be the horrible organization it was called to be when it passed the final resolution, as well as other similar ones. We can't call this a victory, but I think we approached the public concerns well, and learned how we could do it better. Here are some lessons:
Respond Quickly, Respond Widely
It is easy to make the mistake of not responding to your critics, especially coming from conservative talk shows and bloggers. Watching Fox News it is easy to get a little scared about being grilled, but it is essential to present the facts and engage your critics. To remain silent allows them to spread their message further, but if you counter and reframe this issue reasonable people who might otherwise have been upset WILL listen. Accept every interview and question no matter who it is from.
Get your facts right and your allies on the same page
Get the entirety of what happened, come up with a press release, and share talking points with everyone who has been delegated to respond to the public. If contraditions happen, you will fight among yourselves and make it appear as though you are not being forthright. This is not merely among students, you need EVERYONE. Contact administration as soon as something happens. To get them on board and understanding the incident before they see it in the news will make it easier for them to respond and help you. By working together you are stronger and can offer responses that are better articulated. Sometimes you can come to solutions to the crisis more quickly too. EX. The Office of Giving made a scholarship for veterans.
Your leaders need to be leaders
The ASUW President is ultimately responsible for what any volunteer or employee does, even senators. This isn't merely apologizing or making a remendy for the problem but it often requires that you defend the action as the right one. The Buck Stops Here! People need someone to rally them past the crisis. The ASUW President needs to be the first one who wants to talk to the press. However, others will talk to the press, post to blogs, and respond to emails. As a matter of good business practice everyone in the organization needs to know who is talking to who, and report who they talked to and what they said. Back to Lesson 2 you must work together.
No response to small
Respond to every complaint, (not the hate mail) take every interview, and use any opportunity you have to speak. Get the message out there. Using Google Blog Search we were even able to respond to allegations on personal blogs. Use every tool you have and be proactive about it as well as super responsive. Each response is circulated widely so choose your words carefully.