The five Student Assembly presidential candidates participated in the last of four debates on Friday, discussing their hopes for the next College president and arguing over the best way to incentivize attendance at General Assembly meetings. The debate focused on the candidates' specific plans to address campus issues ranging from the Assembly's provision of student services to improving communication with the administration.
Presidential candidates Max Hunter '13, Suril Kantaria '13, Erin Klein '13, J.T. Tanenbaum '13 and Rachel Wang '13 took part in the debate, sponsored by The Dartmouth.
Candidates were given one minute to respond to questions posed by the moderator, Executive Editor Jay Webster '13, as well as 30 seconds for an optional rebuttal. Three audience questions were debated after the planned questions had been asked.
Candidates discussed the importance of education and the Assembly's relationship with the student body and administration in combatting hazing, sexual assault and binge drinking.
Kantaria emphasized that the Assembly should be a facilitator for the organizations that already exist to combat such issues instead of seeking to "reinvent the wheel" itself. Committee members should be brought to Assembly meetings to foster communication while they are "sitting at the same table," he said.
Klein said that the College has tended to simply add "another level of bureaucracy" whenever it confronts campus life issues. Instead, the Assembly needs to engage in expanded education efforts, she said.
"The most important thing that [the Assembly] can do for these three issues is educate and publicize the various accomplishments of groups on campus," she said.
Tanenbaum agreed that education was paramount but emphasized that this education should be directed toward "the proper community."
Wang also said that more training and education are necessary, citing the fact that hazing does not have a clear definition. She also said the "underlying issues" that drive students to drink should be addressed with improved counseling services.
Hunter said that "real changes" are not happening at the College despite the presence of many committees, adding that a number of current policies need to be abolished or revised. Trial and error of ineffective policies is unhelpful, Hunter said.
"We need to recognize horrible ideas on paper," he said.
Two opposing ideas were proposed by Tanenbaum and Kantaria in response to a question about how to incentivize student body participation in the Assembly. Tanenbaum said that Assembly members should ask student groups directly what the Assembly can do to help them, while Kantaria said that student groups on campus should send representatives to Assembly meetings.
Tanenbaum said that Kantaria's idea was similar to one proposed by former Assembly president Eric Tanner '11, who sought to bring representatives to Assembly meetings and failed. Kantaria said that, having spoken to Tanner, the two ideas were dissimilar and Tanner had never attempted to implement the system of "liaisons" from groups across campus.
Hunter said that students would have no interest in the Assembly unless it offered them something unique, namely the ability to represent their needs to the administration.
"Unless we can offer student groups something that they can't do themselves, they won't come," he said. "We can make administrators sweat."
The candidates agreed that if College President Jim Yong Kim were to leave the College, the new president must possess an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Dartmouth as well as experience in the fields of education and administration. The 2009 student body president was the only student representative on the presidential search committee that selected Kim.
Wang said that a "history of working with students" is important because there is something "uniquely exciting" about the workings of a college campus. A combination of the values of tradition and innovation is also important in a College president, she said.
Klein said that the new College president has to care about community and diversity above all else.
Candidates also agreed that the Assembly would be able to continue focusing on student life even if the administration entered a state of flux with the possible departure of Kim.
The school already has administrators who are "running the show," Wang said. The Assembly needs to find these "rubies" and utilize them effectively during the transition period, she said.
Hunter said that an interim year would be the ideal time for the Assembly to redefine itself by providing a "united front" of student opinions to the administration.
"[This] is a perfect year for [the Assembly] to rise and fulfill the potential we know exists," Hunter said. "You can't budge, you can't falter."
Klein agreed that the administration would have to "have no choice but to get in line" if the students were able to present strong community opinions.
Kantaria said that in a time of change, it is particularly important for the Assembly to have a president with experience dealing with the administration.
In the past, the administration has perceived the Assembly as a group that "doesn't represent the student body at large," Kantaria said. To change this, the Assembly needs to have forums that create a "direct link" between students and the administration, he said.
Tanenbaum said that in order to develop a "united front," a "Pangaea 2.0" that representatives from across campus are free to attend must meet on a termly or bi-termly basis to discuss campus issues and reach conclusions about solutions.
Tanenbaum said that while student groups on campus lack faith in the Assembly, they would be willing to come to meetings outside of the Assembly itself.
Kantaria said he "fundamentally" disagreed with Tanenbaum's approach. The goal should not be to create something different, but to fix the Assembly, he said.
Hunter said that the Assembly needs a president who "shamelessly and maybe not maturely" insists that the Assembly listens to student input because there is "nothing to lose at this point."
"We've been so belittled by this administration that there's really nothing left for them to take," he said.
The candidates also discussed the issues they believed were not being given sufficient attention at the College.
Kantaria said that a "peer advising" system should be put into place for first-year students.
"If we want to build community at Dartmouth, we need to make sure that the freshmen have upperclassman mentors," he said.
Tanenbaum said that not only freshman advising but "advising across the board" needs to be improved.
Klein agreed that freshman advising is important and said that homophobia, racism and classism are also prominent problems that are "hushed up and not talked about" on campus.
Hunter said that the issues Klein brought up were not Dartmouth-specific problems but rather "world problems" that could not be solved with a forum.
"Forums are a running joke on this campus because there are so many, and yet talking about stuff simply doesn't do anything," he said.
Klein said that the College needs to "churn out the next leaders," and an inability to address such issues would be a "failure of our education system."
Wang said that mental health issues are not being addressed sufficiently and that more counseling needs to be provided for those students who are unhappy and possibly self-medicating as a result.
"We have this assumption that everyone is happy or that everyone should be happy," she said.
Wang finished the debate by saying that she has learned during the course of the debates that there are many things that the candidates agree on.
"I hope when we leave this place today and we finish voting, we continue working on these ideas," she said. "You don't need a title to be a leader on campus."
Students who attended the debate said they were impressed by the candidates' potential for improving the campus in the future.
"It honestly did make me a little bit excited for the future because I didn't really have a great grasp of what [the Assembly] has done in the past, and I think that all of the candidates could potentially do a good job," Derek DeWitt '15 said.
The candidates more effectively focused on their specific goals for the future during the final debate than in previous debates, according to students in attendance.
"The candidates gave very candid responses and they pressed one another to give more specifics than in past debates," Jason Goodman '12 said.
The debate was held in Paganucci Lounge in the Class of 1953 Commons at 4 p.m. on Friday. Voting will occur on Monday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.