Student Trustee Hannah Stoddard on Balancing Advocacy and Representation

Seamus Allen // The Watchdog

We all need to wear different hats and play different roles from time to time, but Hannah Stoddard, the Student Trustee for Bellevue College, is far more familiar with this challenge than most.

When Stoddard first took on the role, she was not a stranger to leadership positions; having been the Bellevue Model United Nations club president, Stoddard was used to taking a leading role in college activities. But upon entering office, it became more and more clear that being a student trustee was about much more than herself and her opinions. “I think the most important thing to understand about being a student trustee is that you aren’t leading anything. You are working with a team, and everything you do or say reflects back on the board,” she told The Watchdog.

As Stoddard continued her work, she got to meet the staff members of both Washington state senators and the staff of Congressman Smith. A leader by nature, Stoddard found it difficult to not advocate for her personal beliefs. “When I met with these officials who were connected to some of the most powerful people in the state, it was [hard to not] just blurt out questions regarding making college free for all, updating the federal minimum wage and things like that.” While Stoddard was visiting these individuals, she had to be there not as Hannah Stoddard, concerned citizen, but rather as Hannah Stoddard, the Bellevue College student trustee. There was this conflict of being a leader versus being a representative, both fighting for dominance of Stoddard’s behavior, all in the presence of powerful government officials. But as long as she was in their company as the student trustee, there was no room for “expressing a personal opinion.”

Often, institutions and student groups contacted Stoddard when they were lobbying the board for one thing or another, asking her for promises or pledges of support for their causes. “There was this one time where a student leader contacted me asking if I supported implementing an initiative for the board to implement. I had to take a step back and realize that while I personally approved of the initiative, it wasn’t my place to provide promises or comment on the initiative since I would be representing everyone else’s opinion.” In the battle of Stoddard, the student vs. Stoddard, the trustee, the trustee won; the trustee always had to win. The trustee was not just Stoddard but an institution that represented tens of thousands of students and staff, and it was almost a duty to remain impartial on issues publically.

Stoddard, however, has come to understand the power in acting as part of an institution. “Slow and steady goes the ship is the best way to describe the board of trustees. When each of us acts and speaks in consensus with one another, our promises and commitments become just that more valuable.”

As Stoddard’s term comes to a close, she had this to say about her unique experience as the trustee: “It was very fun being on the board of trustees. After a while, it became almost second nature to act kind of like two different people. That’s not to say that I could not advocate for issues important to BC students such as strong internet access, etc. I just learned to be an advocate while working within the confines of the board.”