The two presidential candidates for next year’s StuCo, Rachel Bell and Shaun Kelly, argued their points in the Kohlberg Coffee Bar last night. The candidates for other StuCo positions, all uncontested, also made brief statements about their goals for the year.
In her opening speech, Rachel Bell ’10, who is running for president, started by talking about her experience as a current member of Student Council. “Having been on StuCo, I have learned a lot about how it works and what is feasible. My overarching goal is to improve the relationship between StuCo and student body. I want to reach out to different groups; the president should be very approachable. New groups don’t know where to get funding, seed money. I want an interactive user-friendly handbook or flowchart for groups.”
She also mentioned updating the Class Rec Book and granting all students access to the site, currently limited to Student Academic Mentors. Bell ended her introduction by talking about safety, in particular pressuring Public Safety on blue lights and “contacting students right away when emergencies happen.”
Shaun Kelly ’10, also running for president, said he was running because “it’s a very important time in Swarthmore’s history. There’s a new president coming in and an economic situation we haven’t dealt with before. StuCo’s role in shaping what Swarthmore becomes will be absolutely key in this coming year, shaping what Dr. Chopp’s reception of this place is. I want to reach out to student groups, not acting as a voice of all the people but bringing the groups to Dr. Chopp.” He too commented that security was a major issue: “I want to start a dialogue with Public Safety, see what we can do as students to help keep campus safer.” Kelly mentioned improving dark spaces on campus. When security incidents do happen, he added, “the information given can be stigmatizing to some groups when not much information is out there,” presumably referring to the initial description on Wednesday morning of the attackers simply as “two black males.”
He concluded, “I do plan on dedicating most of my time to being president if elected, 20-30 hours per week.”
The candidates for the other Student Council positions all ran unopposed. Each of them gave a short introductory speech before the two presidential candidates took student questions.
Ben Francis ’12, who is running for Student Groups Advisor, had three main points. “First, I want to keep groups really informed around campus, especially about funding. There’s a whole lot of funding besides SBC, which is great but can’t do everything. There’s the FFS, discretionary funds, and it’s hard for new groups to know about these things. As member of SBC I’ll review proposals before they’re brought before the committee.” Second, he said, he would update the SBC website, and third, he wants to reach out to groups. “I want to hear the groups’ concerns and ask group leaders about how things are going, what they want to see. Once a year won’t cut it—try once a month.” And if they needed anything specific, Francis said, he’d be glad to help.
Richard Brode ’11 is running for Financial Policy Representative. He started by talking about the economic crisis. “The endowment lost 40%, which is not atypical across the board but it’s a huge amount. As representative, my goal will be to make sure student group funding will be cut as little as possible and maintain a high quality of life, similar to the past couple of years.” Brode also mentioned that he would push the College Budget Committee to at least entertain new spending initiatives. He also hopes to improve connections between students, Career Services, and potential employers, since, he said, “it’s hard to get a job in the corporate world.”
Marie Rousseau ’12 is running for Campus Life Representative. Her main point was that many students have no idea what Student Council does. “As campus life rep I would try to reach out more to students and update them via email; I want feedback without having to organize meetings,” mentioning that responding by email would be more convenient for interested students. “We should have minutes in the StuCo space in Parrish. The minutes are not really out there—you have to go out of way to see what StuCo is up to. I think that should change, and I’m trying to do that.”
Esther Burson ’10 is running to be the Educational Policy Representative. She did not attend the debate, as she is currently abroad.
Yongjun Heo ‘09, the current Student Council president, asked the first question of the presidential debate: “Take one new initiative that you have in mind, and talk us through the process of how you’d get it done.”
Shaun Kelly: “The initiative I’d put forward is working on the lighting on campus. There are a number of very dark areas. The first step would be to identify dark ares personally, and I’ve done that. After doing that and having student input and making sure other people are concerned about lighting, I’d talk to StuCo and make sure they were behind me. I’d go to Dr. Chopp and Facilities and Public Safety to come to an economically feasible solution to the problem. A few lights here or there could fundamentally affect how safe we feel and are on campus.”
Rachel Bell: “I’d look at the problems that international students face during orientation. They only really get to interact with fellow international students, and not American students.” Workshops only really work, she said, when they are diverse. As for getting things done, “the StuCo president should know the right person and go and talk to them. That’s how I operate: I go straight to the people who need to be talked to.”
Student question: “What do you think is the biggest issue facing the student body, and how would you go about dealing with it?”
RB: “Problems with general feelings of inclusion and exclusion. Student groups feel shafted by the administration and StuCo, non-varsity sports don’t feel they get a lot of funding, groups don’t feel they get the funding they need for their events or speakers.
Opening the administration to students is the first step: let students know where to go if you need funding. A lot of resources are available.”
SK: “Safety is a huge issue right now. It’s not something that you expect here at Swarthmore. It’ll be a very tricky thing to keep our campus as open as it is but find ways that allow us to feel safe and be safer. We need student dialogue with public safety on how we can stay safer, what they can do to make us safer. Lighting, again, is a big issue. I’d bring students from the outskirts of campus into the conversation.”
Q: “Recently a current StuCo member expressed the opinion that there were too many cultural groups on campus. Your opinion?”
SK: “I hadn’t heard that, it’s interesting. One of the great things about Swarthmore is the plurality of ideas. Sometimes two groups that might look similar from the outside can be very different, diverging in goals, origination of group or how it wants to operate. If two groups want to merge that’s great for the budget, but that’s the groups’ concern.”
RB: “SBC has a lot of money to give to different groups, but StuCo chartered [committee] isn’t going to slash any groups or force them to merge. That isn’t going to happen.”
Q: “Working with the administration and groups, sometimes you’ll have to make decisions as a leader, the right choice at the right time. What experience do you have as a leader, the only one in front of a group?”
SK: “Concrete instance of when I’ve been a leader—well, the most obvious thing is back in high school, where I was president of the student body. On campus, I produced the play that just went up [12 Angry Men].”
RB: “I’ve been really involved in creating events on campus, starting those efforts on my own. Also, during the summers, I teach. I think StuCo president is a unique position, not sure past experience can be sufficient to represent that. But how I would work as a leader would be really dynamic, trying to keep all different interests in my head and balance between those. I think I’m good at doing that.”
One student asked the candidates if they could list 10 IC/BCC groups—as a hypothetical question, she said, but they decided to try. If it was a contest, Bell was the clear winner, continuing with three or four more group names after Kelly had stopped.
The most heated part of the debate came with the question of whether or not there should be a handbook for student groups. Bell was in favor of creating a “student-friendly” flowchart to help those applying for funding, while Kelly contended that if StuCo were “more open,” groups would be comfortable coming to the Council for help.
Bell also suggested an “Ask the StuCo President” column in the Gazette or the Phoenix, as a way to create a more public forum for questions and debate.
In response to a question about putting pressure on the school’s administration, both candidates said they would have no trouble pushing the administration to listen and respond to student concerns.
At the end of the debate, each candidate had a chance to ask the other a question.
RB: “I’m curious, not having seen you at council meetings, what do you imagine the council dynamic is and how it should be?”
SK: “What I imagine it is, based on conversations I’ve had, is that it works by consensus. Governing by consensus is a noble goal,” he said, and complimented those who “accept the good even when they don’t agree. Being fun is great as well, having smiling faces at the meetings.”
SK: “Knowing that you are an honors econ major and polisci minor, will you have time in your senior year to dedicate your 20-30 hours a week that it will probably take to run StuCo effectively?”
RB: “Yes, I think I will have time, I will make the time. I know what presidents have done in the past. I don’t think being involved precludes being a good leader.”