Three vice-presidential candidates–Romaine Paul ’10, Sofia Rivkin-Haas ’09, and Sven David Udekwu ’09–presented similar ideas in Wednesday night’s debate.
Current Vice-President Samuel Asarnow ’08 began by asking the candidates what they would want to emphasize in their role as one of two student liasions to the Swarthmore Planning for 2025 Committee.
Udekwu answered “sustainability… the greening of Swarthmore,” saying that “one thing I think it important is making the new sustainability committee a permanent part of the planning process.” Rivkin-Haas “would really like to propose that Swarthmore build a student center that is a green building… a place where students can gather,” and Paul emphasized “more diversity in the curriculum.”
In response to a later question along the same lines, asking what two policies each of the candidates would push for in planning for the future of Swarthmore, Udekwu added that “the world is changing around us… I would want to make sure that they know the importance of a malleable curriculum.”
Rivkin-Haas said that “the school’s commitment to social justice and diversity is often used as PR and not put into effect… I would work on encouraging more international students to apply… putting in resources for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and making those sustainable.”
Paul reiterated his point about a more diverse curriculum and also talked about looking into “the way the college uses its money… tuition costs affect if somebody goes to a school or not, so there are things we can invest in to be more productive and get more students to come here.”
What experience do the candidates have with the administration? Udekwu cited his previous experience on Student Council as Appointments Chair, particularly in creating the new sustainability and responsible purchasing committees, and also his experience as an RA. Rivkin-Haas is also an RA and a tour guide, and as a result, “I’m on a first name basis with many people in the Dean’s Office.”
Paul is a SAM and also has experience with key committees such as SBC, the Resources Committee and the College Budget Committee, on which “I work with board members and members of the administration.” He has also been a leader in SASS, and discussed being part of the successful organization of the Jena 6 rally in just two days.
When asked what goals they could see completing within their term, and not just by 2025, Udekwu said that he thinks it’s important to get institutions in place for long-term goals, for example the sustainability committee he helped create while Appointments Chair. “We can easily get it to be expanded into a permanent committee.”
Rivkin-Haas named as her goals “better produce in Sharples, getting better and more vegetables in Sharples and Essie Mae’s… [and] making the coffee in McCabe drinkable,” and also “working with the new director of the Health Center to try to arrange a transportation system to the hospital.”
Paul agreed that “getting a shuttle to hospital I feel is attainable… also extending the hours of Sharples and Tarble… [and] continuing the idea of Thanksgiving in the Spring, that’s something I actively plan to pursue.” He did add that “long-term goals matter as much as short-term goals to me.”
How will you act as a barometer for student opinion? was another question. Paul said “I’ve done it already,” citing again his work in organizing the Jena 6 rally, and also emphasized his connection to IC/BCC leadership and ability to hear that community’s concerns.
Udekwu said that in his opinion, “this year Student Council has been doing a great job… tabling in Sharples has brought us many different issues.” He also emphasized talking to people when you see them, using his relationships as an RA, a member of SASS, and with various students on committees.
Rivkin-Haas said, “I’m banking on the fact that I think I’m an approachable person… I really welcome people to come talk to me [and] I am hoping to extend that to the entire community as VP… I would like to get to know people in more different groups such as the BCC and IC.”
A later question about creating community prompted answers from all three candidates about meeting with different leaders at the beginning of the semester and having different meetings where group leaders could come together and voice their concerns.
One student asked what the candidates thought Student Council could or should do about rapid tuition increases. Rivkin-Haas said, “I think one issue we could be more active in is the financial aid process… eliminating loan-based financial aid is something I think would be good to discuss.”
Paul said that he had already brought up the issue in his position on the Budget Committee, and as VP, “I would push with the help of student opinion for a campaign to eliminate the loan component… from the documents I’ve seen we can eliminate the loan component with our endowment.”
Udekwu cautioned, “that’s a difficult issue… how much Student Council can do about that is arbitrary and questionable… I’m not sure what we can do, but we can discuss it, I’m really open to discussion about that.”
When asked how they would improve or continue the legacy of previous Vice Presidents, Udekwu praised Asarnow for his open manner and his passion, and promised to continue being passionate about student issues. Rivkin-Haas said, “I would like to take Student Council a step further and make it much more approachable… I want people to come to me as a friend but also as someone who can go and make their concerns known.”
Paul said that like Asarnow, “I would want to continue to push Thanksgiving in the Spring… to continue what he was doing in terms of transparency, and work with appointments to continue transparency.” Most importantly, “I pledge to continue anti-oppression workshops for Student Council.”
Current president Peter Gardner ’08 asked whether they would be able to put in the approximately twenty hours a week required of a Vice President, and also whether they thought Council positions should be paid.
Rivkin-Haas said, “when I do something, I do it with a capital D… I would be throwing myself into this as I throw myself into anything I choose to do.” To the second question, she said “personally I think it’s about donating your time… if it were paid I think people might go into it for the wrong reasons.”
Paul agreed with Rivkin-Haas about compensation, saying “it’s something that I would do paid or not,” and said that although he has many commitments right now, “I’ve talked to people, made them understand I would be resigning if elected… I am prepared to become VP tomorrow.”
Udekwu said that as a previous Appointments Chair, “I have a good idea of how much work it would take… I know that I could do it.” He also thinks of Council work as “a service you’re rendering,” but continued, “I think if you have an amazing candidate who can’t do it for socioeconomic reasons, because they have to work to stay in school, [compensation] is something you have to consider.”
Asked about resources for social, cultural, and economically diverse populations at Swarthmore, Paul praised the SAM program of which he is a part and the support systems of closed groups on campus, and said that “I think something could be done about financial problems but don’t have any specific plans yet.” Udekwu said “I hate the work-study here,” in large part because he feels like students are dropped into the environment without guidance. “I would like to give students a good idea of their employment options, give them a list of what is out there.” Rivkin-Haas had the idea of having “a financial consultant for students… living on your own it can be hard to manage finances… maybe there could be a financial advisor in addition to an academic advisor.”
Asked about how they would make the administration take note of their plans, all three emphasized using campus media, like editorials in The Phoenix, and getting students talking. Rivkin-Haas emphasized short meetings and small commitments like signing a petition, but Paul said “students are busy here, so I’m a little skeptical about meetings… I do think you need to have Student Council as an ally in trying to make change.”
Asked what they would do to improve relations between Council and the IC/BCC, Rivkin-Haas said, “a really important first step is acknowledging the tensions and trying to combat them directly” and discussed reaching out to IC/BCC leaders through meetings and reaching out at group meetings.
Paul said he had already been to dialogues Council had held about, for example, transparency in appointments, and said “what has been disturbing is a lack of participation… let’s bring Council to the student groups instead of the other way around.” He also repeated his pledge to continue anti-oppression training for Council.
Udekwu reiterated, “one thing that’s been key is the tabling, we need to publicize that,” and to the idea of meetings, said “I know how few people come to fireside chats, I think StuCo can make sure people are aware of what’s going on without meetings.”
The last question of the night was, why did the candidates want to be Student Council Vice President specifically and what would they do if not elected? Paul said, “I’m running because the Vice President is a liasion between student and administration… I feel I would be effective at doing that.” He continued, “if not elected, I would still be active in a campaign to eliminate loans… I would still do those things I talked about, I’m already very active on campus.”
Udekwu said “the VP pushes wants through the administration, and I deal well with the administration… they’re nice people, I feel comfortable working with them.”
Rivkin-Haas said, “I am already in conversation with people at the Health Center and Sharples, and I would really like those projects to be fruitful… unfortunately the reality of the situation is that you need to have some kind of official title,” and as Vice President she feels she could push those ideas to fruition.
Platforms for all Council candidates can be read here, and elections will run from this Sunday 12/3 until Thursday 12/6. Online voting will be Sunday-Tuesday, and Sharples voting will be Wednesday and Thursday.