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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Verbum Ultimum: We Urge More Transparency from Dartmouth Student Government

DSG representatives should make all votes in public.

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On May 2 — one day after the pro-Palestinian protest on the Green — Dartmouth Student Government sent an email to the student body about the prior night’s events. In their message to campus, DSG wrote that it was “deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to arrest … students, faculty and community members.” DSG expressed concern for student safety, the prohibition of arrested students from some campus spaces and the insufficient dialogue between administration and protesters. Over the following days, DSG continued to discuss the protest and their next steps. During a public meeting on May 5, DSG passed a vote of no confidence in College leadership, which Student Body President Jessica Chiriboga ’24 vetoed. Chiriboga said she rejected the motion “because several senators expressed interest in deliberating [the issue] further,” according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. DSG then moved to a closed session that same day, where it held a second vote of no confidence — one that failed to pass. Following this second vote, DSG then passed the decision on to their constituents by organizing a student body referendum, which resulted in a slight majority voting no confidence in Beilock. 

We recognize that DSG has persistently and successfully advocated for students’ wants and needs — such as by helping install Wi-Fi on the Green, making strides toward improved mental health on campus and aiding in instituting late night dining at the Class of 1953 Commons, to name a few examples. We appreciate their efforts to make campus a better place, and we have personally benefited from DSG-spearheaded initiatives. 

At the same time, however, we question DSG’s lack of transparency with the student body throughout their recent deliberative processes. Serving as a liaison between students and the College administration, while important, is not enough. DSG also has a responsibility to be fully transparent with the students it represents. And it is transparency, when faced with polarizing subjects and public votes, that the organization has been lacking in recent weeks. 

In January, DSG proposed an amendment that would ban votes from occurring in secret. DSG ultimately reworded the amendment to allow votes to occur during closed sessions, provided that the resulting vote totals are then announced publicly, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. The amendment passed with a vote of 11 - 0 - 2. However, we question the need for votes by a representative body to occur in private at all. We also believe names should be attached to votes, even if totals are later made public. The rationale seems to stem from a fear among DSG members that, if votes were made public, there might be backlash from the student body. For instance, after the public vote of no confidence, one anonymous senator told The Dartmouth he feared retaliation if he voted his conscience. He, along with other senators, said they initially voted yes on the no confidence vote during the open meeting “out of fear of being doxxed.” 

While we recognize the reasons why DSG has closed door meetings, such as privacy during student testimony, votes should not be held in secret. We agree that certain conversations — constituent testimony about mental health and assault, for example — should not be publicized without express consent. We also sympathize with concerns about backlash. Members of this Editorial Board have received hate mail for their work at The Dartmouth. We know it can be challenging to be public leaders on campus, particularly when handling sensitive issues. Yet, the names of our members are available on our website. All articles come with a byline. Even senior staff — the tag sometimes given to collaborative or particularly brief updates — can be publicly traced to our staffers. With responsibility inevitably comes criticism. Such is the nature of public service. Those responsibilities, and those criticisms, must also be present for elected officials who, in DSG’s case, are entrusted by the more than 2,000 students who vote them into office

Sometimes that criticism will be painful and unjust. Sometimes it will be valid, and student leaders must learn from their mistakes. If members of DSG do not wish to face both realities, then perhaps they should consider passing the torch to someone who will. 

Being a public official means taking tough votes — in the open. We imagine it is easier to serve in DSG when the most challenging decisions of the day are about expanding the hours at Alumni Gymnasium. But student government is more than its easiest, most popular decisions. We cannot help but think that when DSG votes in private, it is doing so to avoid the public. 

At the end of the day, if DSG wishes to be seen as a legitimate representation of the student body, it will first have to start operating like a legitimate government when voting. All Congressional roll call votes are on the public record. That is a fundamental element of our democracy — and, we believe, one of the surest ways to hold power to account.

To live up to its full potential — and demonstrate accountability — DSG must take two steps. First, DSG must stop holding closed session votes. Second, meeting attendees, including reporters, should not be kicked out of public meetings when conversations get tense or a controversial topic is being discussed. 

In addition to moving to a closed session on May 5, for example, DSG also voted 9 - 4 - 1 to move to a closed session off the record meeting on April 28 — during a session that focused predominantly on a potential GOLD-UE strike, another controversial topic on campus. In an interview after the closed portion, Chiriboga and Town Affairs Liaison Nicolás Macri ’24 said the group held two votes in private, one later vetoed by Chiriboga. The next day, student body vice president Kiara Ortiz ’24 wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth that the Senate voted 10 - 0 - 2 on April 29 to “send information” about the potential strike to undergraduate students.

We appreciate that Chiriboga, Macri and Ortiz all provided statements after the April 28 meeting. We value our ongoing relationship with DSG and know their perspective is integral to our reporting. We also wish that a follow-up statement had not been necessary — we wish our reporters had witnessed the votes firsthand. 

Moreover, we applaud DSG members for holding weekly public meetings, but we implore them to protect the sanctity of those meetings. Keep them open, even when conversations get difficult. 

If DSG wants to fully earn the campus’s trust, it needs to start working in broad daylight.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

Correction Appended (May 24, 4:14 p.m.): A previous version of this article cited reporting stating that DSG passed an amendment in January to ban voting in secret. DSG passed a revised version of the proposed amendment that permits private votes if vote totals are released to the public. The article has been corrected.