Summer Student Assembly begins planning

by Michael Qian | 7/9/15 6:51pm

This summer, Student Assembly plans to address fall-term weekend classes and clarify students’ rights information, while laying the groundwork for full-year initiatives. The organization also notified new members of their acceptance this week.

Assembly member Nick Harrington ’17 , who is a senior advisor for the organization, said that more broadly, the summer also provides a good time to meet “up-and-coming” student leaders, since many sophomores take on additional responsibilities in various clubs and organizations.

Harrington said that unlike the full-year Assembly, which has around 60 to 100 members, the summer team is comprised of about 15 students. The team has very specific goals, he said, and so it does not need to be bigger.

The current fall-term academic calendar contains two days of classes held on Saturday mornings, with the earliest periods beginning at 8 a.m. Harrington said that based on results from a recent Assembly poll, students overwhelmingly indicated that they were against early-morning weekend classes.

Assembly member Noah Manning ’17, the other senior advisor of group, said the group has drawn up an alternative plan of night classes and is reaching out to Provost Carolyn Dever.

“It truly is very important for Student Assembly to be active [in the summer],” Student Assembly president Frank Cunningham ’16 said. “A prime example is last summer — the Moving Dartmouth Forward steering committee was actually at its highest point of trying to gather info, and Student Assembly played a key role in trying to facilitate these discussions.”

Prior to the last three years, the Assembly did not operate over the summer. Although Cunningham is currently on an off-term away from Hanover, he remains in charge of the organization.

“I have all the faith in the world in [Harrington] and [Manning] — they have done an excellent job so far, and they are constantly keeping me in the loop,” he said.

Shivang Sethi ’17, who just joined the Assembly this week, said that he believes the sophomore summer term functions as a great trial period for joining clubs and organizations. Sethi said he feels optimistic about his involvement for the term.

“The way that the Assembly is being chosen is such that they’re not necessarily reflecting the values of the people,” he said of the Assembly the rest of the academic year. He added that he believes that the Assembly’s regular eleciton process is a “popularity contest” in many ways.

“Instead of complaining or whining about it, I thought it’d maybe be a good idea to join this organization,” he said.

Sethi said he hopes to bring in more perspectives from people of color, as well as LGBTQ+ and international students, to the organization.

Manning said that in terms of students’ rights, there are many misunderstandings among students that the Assembly can help clarify. The Assembly could facilitate lines of communication between the administration and student groups, he said.

More generally, Manning said that the Assembly will start publishing financial statements so that students can see how every dollar is spent.

“There’s some student sentiment about, ‘Does Student Assembly do anything?’” Harrington said. “By bettering lines of communication we can have a much more productive conversation.”

As an organization, the Student Assembly has encountered significant criticisms over the past year. In November, the Undergraduate Finance Committee sanctioned the group after reviewing expenditures on customized Patagonia jackets, an invite-only lunch event and a formal that was later cancelled. This spring, students created a petition calling for the resignation of Cunningham following what it referred to as “uncouth, unjustified” behavior at a student protest.

Over the past few years, the UFC has allocated the Assembly an increasingly small amount of money. For the 2014-15 year, the UFC budgeted the Assembly $40,000; in 2013-14, $58,000; in 2012-13, $69,500; in 2011-12, $76,250.

“The Student Assembly doesn’t report to the administration,” Assembly advisor Eric Ramsey said. “It is held accountable by the student body itself.”

Sethi said the “popularity contest” aspect of Assembly elections exacerbates the likelihood of the organization’s making mistakes, because winning candidates do not necessarily need to know much about student governance.

In June, Julia Dressel ’17 stepped down from her position as Assembly vice president, announcing in a campus-wide email that she could not commit herself to the team. In accordance with the organization’s constitution, Cunningham appointed Dari Seo ’16 to the vacant position. The general Assembly will confirm or deny his appointment in the fall.

“Hands down, Dari is an excellent, compassionate leader, and also has a fantastic voice that is really well-respected throughout the Dartmouth community,” Cunningham said. “Dari is someone who truly cares. I think that’s the greatest thing about him. He has a heart of gold.”

Seo said he plans on serving the student body through the Assembly regardless of whether his appointment as vice president is confirmed or not.

“Serving the Dartmouth community for me means supporting and loving all students,” Seo wrote in an email. “I want to help SA build a more inclusive, diverse, compassionate and warmhearted student body.”

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