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The Dartmouth
February 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Assembly hosts first of debates

The five presidential and five vice-presidential candidates participated in their first scheduled debate Tuesday following the withdrawal of Elise Smith '13.
The five presidential and five vice-presidential candidates participated in their first scheduled debate Tuesday following the withdrawal of Elise Smith '13.

Presidential candidates Max Hunter '13, Suril Kantaria '13, Erin Klein '13, J.T. Tanenbaum '13 and Rachel Wang '13 and vice-presidential candidates Julia Danford '13, Troy Dildine '13, Sahil Joshi '13, James Lee '13 and Callista Womick '13 attended the debate.

Elise Smith '13, who did not attend the debate, said she has withdrawn from the presidential race. She said she rescinded her candidacy after determining that the Assembly is not the best "outlet" for her to effect change on campus.

Smith said she "deeply cares" about the Dartmouth community and plans to continue to address issues that affect the student body. She has not endorsed another candidate at this time.

The debate began with short introductions by the candidates, who described their activities on campus. During the question-and-answer portion of the debate, each presidential and vice-presidential candidate was given 35 seconds to answer questions posed by either audience members or the moderators, Ben Ludlow '12 and Rohail Premjee '14. Candidates also had the option of providing 15-second rebuttals.

The presidential candidates all said the role of president has not been effectively used to represent the entire student body and suggested a number of ways to rectify this problem.

Klein said she hopes to hold "leadership summits" that bring together community leaders from across campus to form "community standards" and recommendations for the administration, while Hunter said that student satisfaction should be "paramount" to administrative decision-making.

"We need to continue saying we are not satisfied until the administration listens," Hunter said.

Wang said that the Assembly must increase transparency in order to bring "information back to the students." The Assembly should hold office hours and update its website more frequently, she said.

Tanenbaum said he plans to reach out to campus groups and use the Assembly as a forum to advocate for their needs. The current practice of asking representatives to attend Assembly meetings has not worked in the past, he said.

"We need to say, We're going to send representatives to you,'" he said.

Kantaria disagreed with Tanenbaum's proposal and said that the small size of the Assembly would place an undue burden on its members if they were required to attend campus group meetings.

A campus-wide survey to gather student opinions on changes made to the dining plan was the Assembly's greatest accomplishment this year, according to Hunter, Wang and Kantaria, though Hunter said the Assembly could have more thoroughly addressed the results and pressured the administration to enact real change.

The Assembly should seek to improve its advocacy in order to "actually get change to happen," Wang said.

Klein said the Assembly's greatest strength is its potential to be used as a mechanism for support and advocacy, a potential that it is not currently utilizing effectively.

Tanenbaum said the Assembly's greatest achievement has been its increased effort to collaborate with the administration. Hunter, however, argued that the administration had not effectively responded to student feedback.

In response, Klein said that "it's easy to keep blaming our administration" for the problems the student body is facing, but many student issues, such as sexual assault and hazing, must be tackled by students.

Wang also said that "a lot of the responsibility is on us," noting that the student body must also be held accountable for campus issues.

Whereas the president focuses his or her attention outward, the vice president is most responsible for the internal organization of the Assembly, vice-presidential candidates said.

The vice president should actively reach out to student groups "on their ground" to get them more involved in the Assembly, Womick said.

"We don't really have an active [Assembly]," she said. "People don't really take it seriously. They don't go to it."

Lee said that the key role of the vice president is to "look internally" at the organization of the Assembly to consider where change is necessary. Lee's experience as a member of the Assembly since his freshman year places him in the best position to "effectualize that promise," he said.

Danford emphasized the importance of membership both obtaining and retaining members in the Assembly. The vice president should be "friendly and outgoing" in order to make people comfortable, she said.

Dildine agreed that the vice president needs to establish a community within the Assembly to ensure that the environment is "fun and safe." The vice president should also play a role in ensuring that there are voting representatives from each campus organization present at meetings, he said.

Joshi said he agreed with the other candidates' sentiment that the Assembly has been ineffective thus far. Many Assembly committees are unnecessary because similar, more effective organizations already exist, he said.

"There's a lot of redundancy in what [the Assembly] does and what a lot of campus organizations do," he said.

Presidential and vice-presidential candidates also said that the Assembly has not been using its budget effectively.

The organization spends money on "silly, frivolous things" like excessive food at poorly attended meetings, and it still maintains a $40,000 budget surplus, Klein said.

Wang, who said her work on the Council on Student Organizations has made her "passionate" about the budget, said the Assembly should spend money on areas of campus that currently lack funding.

Following the debate, all five presidential candidates said they were satisfied but noted the difficulty of the time constraints posed by the large number of candidates.

"I think that with so many candidates, it's difficult for everyone to have a significant amount of time to address the questions," Kantaria said. "It was often difficult to express all my thoughts."

Hannah Decker '13, who attended the debate to support Kantaria and Danford and out of "general interest" in the other candidates, said she was happy to see so many candidates attend the debate, even if the number is "a little unwieldy."

"I actually think it's really powerful," she said. "It's inspiring that so many students want to take a leadership role."

She said the debate's focus on the "dysfunctional" nature of the Assembly, rather than on the candidates and concrete issues, was disappointing.

Patrick Campbell '15, an active member of the Assembly, said he would have preferred to hear more "specific" ideas instead of the broad goals outlined by the candidates, though the nature of the candidates' statements was influenced by the time restrictions.

The debate, sponsored by the Assembly and the Elections Planning and Advisory Committee, was held in Paganucci Lounge in the Class of 1953 Commons on Tuesday afternoon. The Afro-American Society and Inter-Community Council will host a diversity-focused debate tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Cutter-Shabazz Hall. A third debate will be held on Thursday night, and The Dartmouth will host a debate on Friday. Voting will take place on Monday, April 16 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Kantaria is a member of The Dartmouth Staff. Lee is a former member of The Dartmouth Senior Staff.