Assembly debate focuses on Greek life

by Samantha Stern | 4/14/16 6:37pm

Katelyn Jones/ The Dartmouth Senior Staff

This year’s first debate for Student Assembly presidential and vice presidential candidates focused on the Greek system, although questions also addressed the candidates' leadership experience and initiatives. The Greek Leadership Council hosted the event last night in Collis Common Ground with around 40 students in attendance, moderated by chair of the Greek Leadership Council Austin Welch ’17 and GLC public relations chair Becca Rodriguez ’17.

All six presidential candidates and the four vice presidential candidates attended the debate. Shiv Sethi ’17, Ben Packer ’17, Sean Cann ’17, Nick Harrington ’17, Aaron Cheese ’18 and Joby Bernstein ’17 are running for Student Assembly president. Nathan Busam ’17, Sally Portman ’17, Menaka Reddy ’18 and Timo Vaimann ’17 are campaigning with Cann, Harrington, Cheese and Bernstein, respectively.

The moderators failed to mention early on that candidates could respond to one another’s comments, and, as a result, the debate consisted primarily of unopposed statements.

Some candidates expressed dismay regarding the theme of the debate. Bernstein said that the College faces many more pressing issues than Greek life. He does not believe that Student Assembly should intervene in managing Greek life on campus, given that there are already committees designed to serve the interests of affiliated students and maintain the integrity and unity of the Greek community, including the GLC and its five Greek sub-councils.

Student Assembly should not devote its resources and time to issues concerning Greek life, Sethi added. The governing body is supposed to represent both affiliated and unaffiliated students and candidates should not spend an entire debate rehashing a topic that is already so frequently a topic of dialogue at Dartmouth, he said.

Packer disagreed, underscoring the importance of holding a debate on Greek life. Rather than answering the moderators’ questions, he used the debate as an opportunity to share his largely anti-Greek opinions. Packer also told students to refrain from voting for him.

“I just want my voice to be heard,” Packer said.

Greek houses constitute a “network of exclusive groups organized into a hierarchy,” he said.

Packer said that Greek affiliation frequently limited a person’s social circle, as they surrounded by people with similar beliefs. He proposed that Greek organizations become completely open and co-ed.

The main objective of the Greek system is “to systematically translate certain characteristics into social capital,” Packer said. “Certain people benefit from it, they like it, they will continue to do so, that’s how it works.”

When asked what the role of a Greek house is, Reddy responded that each organization has its own personality and mission for what it wants to achieve on campus.

The function of a Greek house can and should vary from student to student, Bernstein said. For some, a Greek house might entail going to dinners with other members, while for others, a fraternity might be an outlet for community-building, he added.

A lack of diversity and inclusivity are the biggest problems with the Greek system, Cheese said. While he acknowledged the importance of scrutinizing the system and recognizing the issues, he added that he understood there are tangible ways to fix the problems.

Student Assembly should raise students’ awareness on the frequency of sexual violence, high risk drinking and hazing, Harrington said in regards to Greek life. The Assembly’s main role is to keep students informed on these practices and to destigmatize any norms associated with bystander initiatives, he said.

Welch and Rodriguez asked Reddy if she would enforce the reinstatement of Alpha Delta and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternities at Dartmouth, both of which were derecognized by the College within the past year.

She said she would eventually support the return of the two fraternities. The fraternities’ misdemeanors should have been used as a learning opportunity for their members, she said.

“The University [sic] had a really good opportunity to set its standard of how they expect Greek organizations to behave themselves, and instead of doing that, they just completely shut down the houses,” Reddy said.

Packer supported their return under the condition that they open as gender-inclusive houses that anyone is welcome to join.

The candidates’ also responded to questions on the recently created housing communities. Harrington said that Student Assembly can help ensure that students have autonomy in shaping the character and social spaces within the six houses.

Cheese and Reddy refrained from giving concrete examples of how they would engage with the housing communities if elected. They will address the communities “in due time,” Cheese said.

Sethi said Student Assembly should aid in the building of alternative social spaces. In addition to communities found in Greek life, students can also participate in events like BarHop and others hosted by the Collis Governing Board. If elected, Sethi would also hold discussions and panels open to the public. The topic of these discussions would be determined by weekly student polls, he said.

“Whatever your opinions are, they’re worth discussing,” he told audience members.

When questioned about his experience working with administrators, Bernstein said that he is comfortable talking to people of all ranks. He regularly attends College President Phil Hanlon’s office hours, he said.

Audience members were allowed to ask questions. One student inquired about how the candidates see the Greek system evolving to support activist groups on campus. Given the social clout held by fraternities and sororities, the student inquired as to how houses could mobilize the masses to promote activist causes and improve the campus climate. All candidates were asked to respond to the question.

Harrington recommended inviting activist speakers to educate members within Greek organizations.

One way members can support activism is by endorsing Dartmouth’s divestment campaign, Packer said.

That activism was being framed in the context of the Greek system was a problem, Reddy said. To imply that Greek organizations are on our campus with the purpose of being activist organizations discredits the efforts of groups that were founded at Dartmouth with an explicit activist agenda, she added.

Ches Gundrum ’17, who attended the debate, said that she was surprised that a lot of the questions were not about the Greek system.

Iain Edmundson ’19 attended the debate both because he was interested to hear the candidates’ views on Greek life and to support his swim teammates Bernstein and Vaimann.

While he felt Packer made a number of insightful points, he also thought that Packer’s desire to radically reform the Greek system is unrealistic. Many students came to Dartmouth with the expectation of Greek life, and while the system should be improved upon, it should not be completely done away with it in its present form, he added.

A second and final debate, hosted by The Dartmouth and moderated by managing editor Sara McGahan ’17, will be held today at 4 p.m. in Collis.

Voting for Student Assembly president and vice president, Class Council members and representatives for the Committee on Standards and the Organizational Adjudication Committee will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday night and will last for 24 hours.