Student Assembly candidates discuss platforms

by Samantha Stern | 4/11/16 6:32pm

Seven students announced their candidacy for 2016 Student Assembly president early Saturday afternoon. Joby Bernstein ’17, Sean Cann ’17, Aaron Cheese ’18, Nick Harrington ’17, Ben Packer ’17 and Shiv Sethi ’17 are vying for the role in an unusually crowded field. Matt Zubrow ’17 suspended his campaign on Monday night, the Elections Planning and Advisory committee announced.

Four candidates are seeking the office of vice president, all as running mates of one of the presidential candidates. Nathan Busam ’17, Sally Portman ’17, Menaka Reddy ’18 and Timo Vaimann ’17 are campaigning with Cann, Harrington, Cheese and Bernstein, respectively.Kevin Brotman ’17, Zubrow's vice presidential running mate, also dropped out of the race after being announced as a candidate in EPAC’s Saturday announcement.

Voters will pick the president and the vice president separately on April 16, so the electoral tickets are ceremonial and do not directly affect the election’s outcome.

EPAC announced all other candiates running in the 2016 elections. Dillon Rich ’17 and Elisabeth Schricker ’17 are running to be the 2017 Class Council president, while Abena Frempong ’17 and Andrew Goldfarb ’17 are both seeking the 2017 Class Council vice presidency.

Toryima Asom ’18 is running unopposed for the three-seat 2018 Class Council. Candidates for the 2019 Class Council are Hanting Guo ’19, Josephine Kalshoven ’19 and Danny Li ’19. Four students — Morgan Corley ’18, Oliver Edelson ’18, Daniel Lee ’17 and Ian Whitney ’18— are seeking seats on the Committee on Standards and the Organizational Adjudication Committee.

All elections are conducted using a first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate who garners the most votes wins, regardless of whether he or she received a majority of votes. There will be no runoff elections or preferential voting. Students will be allowed to vote for more than one individual when voting for class council candidates or members of committees that have more than one seat.

There are more candidates running for Assembly president this year than in recent years. Just two students — Frank Cunningham ’16 and Jake Gaba ’16 — ran for president last year. In both 2014 and 2013, four students competed for the position, while in 2012, there were six presidential candidates.

Several presidential candidates expressed serious concerns about a perceived lack of transparency within the Assembly and said they hope to reform its structure.

Cann, Harrington, Bernstein and Sethi are all campaigning to introduce measures of gauging student opinion on major Assembly initiatives and college life by using digital aids such as surveys, polling apps and the group’s existing website.

Having served as its chief of staff last year, Harrington said he recognizes that the Assembly is neither democratic nor transparent enough to address any of these concerns. In its current structure, the Assembly president and vice president hold the power to appoint students to committees, Harrington said.

In his position, Harrington observed that power was overly centralized.

“[Students] are not given enough autonomy and agency to do the work they want to do in Student Assembly,” he said. “If we’re going to make Student Assembly work again, we need to restructure the way it is now.”

Sethi proposed drafting a termly accountability document that will list all of the Assembly’s goals, timelines and means of achievement to help hold the Assembly accountable. This document would be available to all students and would help fix the disconnect between the student body and its government, he said.

Harrington is proposing a “democratic, transparent and representative process” whereby students in each of the six new housing communities will elect representatives to serve on Assembly committees. His platform also includes three basic components: facilitating student input in administrative decisions, bridging the gap between student groups and improving student life by addressing both sexual assault and mental health while ensuring access to safe, inclusive environments.

Bernstein proposed limiting the Assembly’s spending on personal expenditures like clothing and dinners for its members. Instead, he would like to donate a portion of the group’s budget to Upper Valley charities that he feels are in greater need of the monetary resources than Dartmouth students, he said.

Cheese identified a lack of collective action at the College. The student body is powerful as a whole and Cheese plans to reach out to those who are not typically involved with governance to capitalize on that power.

Strengthening the relationship between students and the administration is another key tenet of most of the candidates’ platforms. Sethi noted that some progress has been made in realizing the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative, but that some students do not agree with administrative proposals such as the introduction of new housing communities.

“I want to bridge this gap again, to make students and the administration work together and come up with solutions together rather than solutions being imposed on the students,” he said.

Bernstein said that students at Dartmouth are in the upper echelon of those in the country and are smart enough to make their own decisions. As Assembly president, he would like to prevent the administration from overstepping its bounds to enforce “arbitrary rules” ranging from those informing how students register parties to their abilities to declare a major.

“I hate the idea of promising to do something and coming short of that,” he said.

Bernstein refrained from commenting on specific policy ideas, though he did mention that he would like to change the way the administration is dealing with Greek life on campus.

Busam said the large number of administrators with overlapping titles and positions can be confusing for students.

“One of the challenges [Dartmouth faces] seems to be lack of transparency and awareness of what is going on,” he said. “We have all these deans, and I don’t know who does what. It seems like the person guiding the ship is so fragmented and [power] is distributed.”

Other novel policies are candidate-specific.

Cann noted that, “Instead of doing a bunch of lofty things, we want to focus on very simple, straightforward [and] achievable goals that will create actual change and will improve student life.”

His objectives include producing a weekly events schedule, getting softer toilet paper in the bathrooms, standing desks in the library, covered bicycle racks to protect bikes from harsh weather outside and laundry hampers for the laundry rooms.

Although Dartmouth provides an abundance of resources for students interested in finance and consulting, Sethi said there are not enough outlets available to students who want to pursue careers in areas like design, film media and software development. He said he would like to encourage the formation of pre-professional clubs in these areas that will be advised by alumni in these industries.

Cheese, the only member of the Class of 2018 running for student body president, said he felt a sense of urgency to run this year. Leading the Assembly earlier on in his Dartmouth career would give him time to implement policies and witness the impacts of his policies firsthand, he said.

Cheese served on the Assembly’s public relations committee in the 2014-2015 academic year and is now on the 2018 Class Council. Although he declined to comment on specific initiatives, he said that he wants to promote transparency, liability and continuity within the Assembly. Specifically, he intends to expand the attention placed on sexual assault and mental health.

Packer declined to comment on the specifics of his platform.

While most campaigns are looking to appeal to the Dartmouth electorate in general — especially those dissatisfied with the Assembly — Sethi hopes to appeal particularly to international students. As an international student from New Delhi, Sethi said that international students have to navigate a completely different educational system at the College and do so without appropriate support. He wants to provide international students with a voice in the Assembly and implement programs that will make their time at Dartmouth easier.

Campaigning began at midnight on Sunday, April 10. Two debates are scheduled to take place later this week. At 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, a debate on Greek issues will be held in Collis Common Ground, followed by a debate at 4:00 p.m. on Friday moderated by The Dartmouth managing editor Sara McGahan ’17. Voting will take place over a 24-hour period, beginning on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. All elections will take place online through a platform that will be emailed to students by EPAC.

While they were running, Zubrow and Brotman campaigned under the slogan “Make Dartmouth Great Again” — a reference to the slogan of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign position — and focused on issues related to Greek life and student career support, among other topics.

Correction appended (April 12, 2016):

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that eight candidates announced their candidacy for Student Assembly president. In fact, seven announced and six are running. This error has been corrected. In print, a sub-heading also incorrectly said that seven candidates were running.