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Congressional candidates debate gun policy at forum

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On Monday, April 30, Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy held a forum at the college for candidates running in the 5th congressional district primaries on May 15th. The forum, which lasted about two and a half hours, was held to allow constituents to hear the candidates’ positions on topics such as gun lobbying, gun laws, and gun ownership.

There are currently eleven candidates running in the upcoming representative primary on May 15. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in January that the old congressional map, created under the 2011 Pennsylvania Redistricting Act, was excessively gerrymandered. The Court released a new, non-partisan map on February 19. Delaware County, in which Swarthmore is located, was previously split between the 1st and 7th congressional districts but now lies in the 5th congressional district, according to the new map issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The incumbent representative for the 5th district is Republican Patrick Meehan, who announced that he would not seek reelection after the New York Times revealed that Meehan had paid out a sexual harassment settlement to a former staffer. Currently, ten candidates are running in the Democratic primary while Pearl Kim is running unopposed in the Republican primary. With the new congressional map, it is likely that Democrats will capture the 5th district seat in the November general election.

Candidates present at the forum were Mary Gay Scanlon, Lindy Li, Ashley Lunkenheimer, State Representative Margo Davidson, Rich Lazer, Mayor of Chester Thaddeus Kirkland, Molly Sheehan, Larry Arata, and State Representative Greg Vitali. Democratic candidate Theresa Wright and Republican candidate Pearl Kim did not attend. The forum was moderated by Reverend Peter Fredrichs and there were four forum panelists: John Linder, Movita Johnson-Harrell, Kiera Caldwell, and Swarthmore Professor of Political Science Tyrene White.

Over the course of the forum, nine questions were posed to the candidates regarding the influence of the NRA and gun lobbyists, gun violence, illegal gun sales, and gun suicide as a public health epidemic. Other questions included how candidates would approach bipartisanship, and what policies candidates would support in order to decrease the number of mass shootings.

During the forum, each candidate emphasized their strengths and areas of expertise.

Molly Sheehan, a postdoctoral fellow at UPenn repeatedly spoke about her determination in overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that allows corporations to spend ‘soft money’ on political campaigns.

“When we talk about gun violence, we have to address corporate welfare and gun manufacturer lobbying,” Sheehan said. “If you elect me, I will fight not only to overturn Citizens United so that the type of power that the NRA has will be obsolete but also full public campaign financing so that every person has the same power over their elected officials”

Mary Gay Scanlon, an attorney and former Wallingford-Swarthmore school board president, spoke about her past experience with bipartisanship.

“We had a couple of Tea Party members on our school board and we had to work with folks to get things done. It’s about finding common points of interest,” Scanlon said. “My father and grandfathers were hunters and it wasn’t just they’re sons that they passed down those traditions to. I think that that experience with people who have handled guns gives me a point of intersection to speak with folks.”

Larry Arata also shared how his experience as a public school teacher affected his views on guns.

“I worked twenty years in software sales and took a pay cut to be a teacher,” Arata said. “I’ve had two of my students shot and this is something that I’ve seen upfront.”

The Delaware County Democratic Party has not endorsed a candidate in the primary. The Swarthmore College Democrats announced on April 26th that they would be backing Mary Gay Scanlon.

Cassandra Stone ’20, a Deputy Field Director for Scanlon, thought that the forum was a good opportunity to hear the positions of all of the candidates despite being set on who she would vote for.

“I think this forum definitely made me respect some candidates more––and others, less,” Stone wrote in an email to the Phoenix (the thoughts expressed are her own and not on behalf of the campaign). “I also found that many of the candidates got off topic from the specific question at hand and started talking too generally about gun policy or super PACs.”

While the forum was focused on gun policy, many candidates also discussed the large influence of money in politics and on campaign funding.

Arata took aim at former federal prosecutor Ashley Lunkenheimer because her campaign is backed by a super PAC. Lunkenheimer revealed to philly.com that her mother is a major funder of the super PAC, which is called Progress in PA-05.

“One person shouldn’t have control over millions of dollars and have the ability to contribute unlimited amounts to one candidate,” Arata said. “The person that has the wealthiest family and is able to set up a super-PAC to fund their daughter’s campaign should not have the greatest influence.”

Though the focus of the forum strayed occasionally, constituents were given an opportunity to hear candidates’ thoughts on guns and to learn more about the candidates’ platforms in a crowded race.

Anti-pipeline candidates elected with help from Sunrise

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Sunrise lead a successful effort to elect opponents of the Mariner East II pipeline, currently under construction, to township boards in Chester County. Four officials who won last Tuesday’s municipal elections promise they will enforce local ordinances designed to protect community members from the dangers of a high-pressure natural gas pipeline.

The pipeline connects the Marcellus Shale formations of Western Pennsylvania, an area rich in natural gas, to a shipping terminal in Marcus Hook, a town nine miles from Swarthmore. Petroleum manufacturer and distribution company Sunoco intends to export much of the natural gas to Europe.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved the pipeline in 2014, but there is currently a lawsuit being reviewed by an intermediate appeals court in Harrisburg arguing that local townships can assert zoning control. The Commission has banned drilling in West Goshen Township until a hearing regarding the site of a valve scheduled for April of next year. Sunoco started construction on the valve earlier this year, but a judge halted construction, arguing the property was not covered by an earlier agreement.

Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, announced Wednesday that completion of the project would be pushed to the second quarter of 2018 despite the fact that 99 percent of the pipeline will be in the ground by the end of 2017, according to Stateimpact NPR. The delays are due to regulatory disputes with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over the practice of horizontal drilling. The project has ninety reported drilling fluid spills in forty locations, NPR said. In one case, the company had four spillages in less than a week at its East Goshen drilling operation, and the DEP must decide whether the company has violated soil erosion permits.

If the pipeline can be held up by the courts, costs may be high enough to justify scrapping the project. In the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, for example, the government halted construction on federal land when it angered the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The resulting delays cost the owner of the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, $450 million.

“Now that we’ve elected township supervisors that are committed to enforcing the ordinance, it should be able to hold up the pipeline,” said Jeremy Seitz-Brown ’18, a leader of Sunrise. “The more these things can be delayed, eventually people can want out.”

Sunrise, founded this year, is an extension of a previous group at the College called  Mountain Justice. The group focuses on divestment, grassroots organizing, and anti-pipeline activism to pursue the broader goal of stopping climate change. The group drove nine students to knock on doors the Saturday before the election in West Goshen and Uwchlan townships, where there were four anti-pipeline candidates running. Sunrise partnered with Food and Water Action, a political advocacy group supporting clean water and sustainable energy, which spent $40,000 on the election, Philly.com reported. The election saw anti-pipeline majorities on the Board of Supervisors for each township.

“We talked to voters that were very supportive but needed that extra push, needed someone to contact them to get them to the polls,” said Seitz-Brown. “It feels good when you know you’re the difference.”

Construction on the entire pipeline was held up in August by an emergency order blocking horizontal drilling practices used by Sunoco after it contaminated residents’ water wells. In one case this summer, 15 households in Chester County were without water for weeks after Sunoco punctured an aquifer, said Stateimpact NPR.  The company reached a settlement with environmental organizations requiring it to better notify residents, improve its geological evaluation techniques, and offer to test the wells of nearby residents.

Olivia Robbins ’21 emphasized the importance of prioritizing environmental concerns in policy.

“The environment ought to be weighed most heavily because it will have the longest lasting impact,” she said. “The economic concerns that develop out of environmental travesties end up being far greater than the economic incentive.”

The closest the pipeline runs to the college is about three and a half miles. Its impact zone, which is identified as a 1,300-foot radius around the pipeline, includes 105,419 people and a total of 40 public and private schools. Middletown High School in Dauphin County is only seven feet away from the pipeline, making an emergency evacuation almost impossible should there be a leakage. It also crosses through four environmental justice areas dominated by poor and minority communities, reported Fractracker.

“The first thing you need to think about is who the economic benefits are going to be allocated to,” said Robbins. “ I care a lot if Chester, which is a pretty impoverished area in general and one of the most under-resourced school systems, didn’t get a huge economic benefit. From my understanding of the pipeline, it’s not.”

Chester County Charter School for the Arts is located 419 feet from the pipeline, enrolls 98 percent Black and Hispanic students, and will likely receive little tax benefit from the pipeline. Philly.com reported the terminal at Marcus Hook will contribute an additional $4.8 million in property taxes next year, raising property taxes for the site to $7.1 million. While Chichester schools will receive $5 million, only an additional $700,000 will go to Delaware County, a county with a tax revenue of $353 million making little impact on other school districts.

FracTracker Alliance, an anti-oil and gas research organization, reported 4,215 pipeline failures since 2010 resulting in 100 reported fatalities and 470 injuries. The property damage exceeded $3.4 billion.

Although the election itself happened in Chester County, this victory is one for Delaware County residents as well. With the pipeline currently held up in court until April, and opponents of the pipeline pledging to enforce local zoning laws, the completion date looks to be far away.

Record Swattie Turnout Helps Democrats Win Local Elections

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On Nov. 7, Democrats came out victorious as Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden won two seats on the Delaware County Council. This was the first time in over 30 years that Democrats have secured seats on the Council, which has historically been Republican dominated. Many community members were involved in helping campaign for the Democrat candidates as signs that read “Zidek Madden Vote Nov 7th: Bring Sanity Back” were dispersed throughout the County. The Swarthmore College Democrats parallelled these efforts by campaigning on campus to students; their efforts were rewarded when Swarthmore College student voter turnout was the highest ever for a local election.

Taylor Morgan ’19, president of Swat Dems, was approached by the County Democrats and candidates after their win and thanked for the student turnout.

“I heard from the people at the polling place, and also at a victory party at the Inn later that night, from the County Democrats and the candidates, that this year was the most significant turnout of Swarthmore students for local elections. All the candidates came up to me at the victory party that night and were thrilled at the engagement and involvement of Swarthmore students canvassing, voting, and in other ways supporting their candidacy,” said Morgan.

Swat Dems’ efforts started way before election day and extended past the college campus. According to Morgan, the organization’s strategy was to provide information about the election, both about the campaigns of the different candidates, and on the logistics of the voting process, in order to actually help students to go out and vote on Nov. 7.

Before the election, Swat Dems worked to enable students not only to vote, but also be involved in the campaigning process.

“I brought in two canvassing trainers to campus and hosted about 19 students who got trained to do paid canvassing. Secondly, we had a ‘Get Out the Vote’ operation which consisted of phone banking; canvassing around campus; dorm storming, which consisted of putting voter day information under the doors; tabling in Sharples to sign people up to drive shuttles; and to volunteer for campaigns,” said Morgan.

On the day of the election, Swat Dems were joined by the Sunrise Group and the Swarthmore Conservative Society to coordinate efforts to get people out to vote. President of Swat Conservatives Gilbert Guerra ’19 said that his group abstained from endorsing specific candidates but still believed it was important to get out and vote.

We joined in the Get Out the Vote effort by advertising it on our social media accounts and by tabling on the day of the election,” said Guerra.

Swat Dems also tried to incentivize students to go vote through food trucks.

“I researched two Black-owned businesses in the area, and I found two food trucks with the help of Andy Rosen, who is the chair of Swarthmore’s Farmer’s Market called Plum Pit Bistro and Catering, and The Sweetest Rose Cupcake Company. So we incentivized students to go vote through food catering. We encouraged students to get on the volunteer shuttles behind the food trucks before or after they were getting their food. And I think this really channeled a lot of students to get in the car and go down the street to vote,” said Morgan.

Morgan was also able to get community members to volunteer as drivers through connections from previous local campaign work.

“I was able to secure 17 local drivers who functioned as volunteer shuttles throughout the day, who used their personal time and vehicles to just drive Swarthmore students back and forth from the polling places,” said Morgan.

Morgan was hesitant to call the Democrats gaining seats a victory but is still optimistic about the future.

“I’m hesitant to call it a win because that implies that the challenge leading up to Tuesday is over, but on the contrary it has just begun. Delaware County, the college, and the community members have been facing complete obstruction and this is due to the Republican Machine. But now, we actually have people who recognize a lot of community needs and crises that are happening locally, that are at the table, and they can at least impart change that has for so long been obstructed. So to me, the ‘win’ means that there is a more likely chance that people will be able to access these changes, not necessarily that these changes will come,” said Morgan.

Morgan described the ‘Republican machine’ as a product of gerrymandering, which is the manipulation of district boundaries to provide advantage to one political party.

“Our district is the most gerrymandered district in the country. This is largely due to the regime of Republican machine in Delaware county. In college courses, Delaware County is held up as an example of what gerrymandering is and the dangers of it. And so the people that were elected, named Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden, have come out publicly against gerrymandering and have actually supported legislation that works at dismantling it. Also, Delaware County has the only for-profit prison in the state of Pennsylvania, and this is due to [Republican backing over the years],” said Morgan.

Peter Foggo ’21, a Democrat, decided to partake in local politics because of this Republican machine that Morgan described.

“I decided to participate in the local elections mainly because Delaware County has historically been controlled by Republican officials, but after the outrage following the most recent presidential election, I think that a lot of people in Delaware County realized that change was not only needed, but a realistic goal,” said Foggo.

Yasmeen Namazie ’19 echoed the importance of local politics bringing change to greater political platforms.

“I went out and voted because I understand the significance of local elections and their power in informing federal policy outcomes. After the Trump election, the Republican stronghold in the Senate and House has created a shortage in Democratic influence. As a Democrat, I want Democrats in local leadership to regain the House in 2018 and reverse the draconian policies implemented by the Trump administration: reinstate DACA, fund Planned Parenthood, repeal the travel ban, etc,” said Namazie.

Morgan hopes that this recent success will motivate students to get more involved in future democratic processes.

“To the group as a whole, I think that precisely because there was such a clear link between student engagement and victory, maybe students will be more likely to be involved in the future. And maybe, exactly this will kind of change the way students see the significance and effect of local politics,” said Morgan.

One year later, an ode to the immigrant

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I have never been more acutely aware of the color of my skin, the home country of my immigrant parents, or the gender I identify with, as I was on Election Day of last year. Growing up in an all-white town, surrounded by symbols of wealth and privilege, I had spent the bulk of my adolescence attempting to refute the notion that I was brown. As the only Sikh student at my high school, I wanted to flee the stereotypes which colored the lenses of the the students around me. Growing up in the US as a second generation Indian, I wanted to be white more than anything. I dressed like the white girls at my school, hiding behind my sleeping bag of a North Face parka and covering my brown ankles with white high-top Converse sneakers, spending late nights studying at Starbucks, and emphasizing how I was born south of Chicago—not in India, unlike the rest of my family—at every opportunity I got. The students of color at my high school were few and far in between; the handful of Indian students were mostly male and probably just as fearful of acknowledging their brown skin as I was.

I realized, slowly, that I could cheat on my faith, in a way that my turbaned brother and father could not. Dressed in my white-girl camouflage, I could slide through the halls without drawing attention to myself as a Sikh woman of color; my brother couldn’t, and still cannot, fill up his car’s gas tank without being spit at by a white man as he was told to go back to where he came from. It was easy for me to pretend that I was independent of the immigrant identity of my family members.

It took me years to embrace my culture, faith, and origins with pride. I now feel ashamed of myself and how embarrassed I once used to be during school-wide events, hoping desperately that my turbaned father would not attend and that my mother, with her moderate Indian accent, would not speak up. It pains me deeply to think that I once found the people who I idolize and worship the most so humiliating to my existence. Coming to Swarthmore and finding a community of both international and domestic students who not only took pride in where they came from and what they looked like, but also actively promoted greater opportunity and advancement for the communities and groups that they represented, I gained a greater appreciation for the immigrant story. I started listening more carefully to the stories of my own parents, who left India and arrived to the US with the equivalent of seven US dollars; the retellings of my mother, who worked three jobs at a time under the table to make extra cash; the narrative of my brother, whose turban was ripped off from his head in middle school, who would go on to preach the values of patience, tolerance, and kindness to me when I’d angrily tell him to fight back with the same level of vitriol.

In the wake of the election, with anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment at all time highs given Trump’s condonation, I learned to find solidarity between myself and other women of color. I looked to my father, who escaped from the corruption of India’s democracy in progress to come to a country where democratic institutions, values, and principles are still, to this day, upheld, and found solace in the company of other first and second generation students. He reminded me to not lose faith in the American democracy, or in the institutions that would serve to counteract the potential damage an incompetent and unfit president could inflict. With this being said, he and I both recognize that the US is currently exhibiting the lowest degree of social mobility in all of American history and some of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world; in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory one year ago, it is near impossible to have blind faith in free markets and democratic institutions, the most fundamental underpinnings of American society.

However, this past Election Day, one year after what I considered to be the D-Day of American democracy, Hoboken, New Jersey elected its first Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla. Prince William County, Virginia, elected its first openly transgender state legislator, Danica Roem. Helena, Montana elected its first black mayor, Wilmot Collins, a refugee from Liberia. A refugee from Vietnam, Kathy Tran, became the first Asian-American woman elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates, and the House of Delegates also elected its first two Latina female members, Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala. The elections of 2017 show us that when constituents mobilize at a grassroots level, collectively organize, turn out to the polls, and demand change, we create a government that starts to look more like the diverse America that I have come to be so proud of, where individual identities and differences are celebrated. I was disheartened to find that so many of my peers had ignored their civic responsibility by choosing not to vote this past Tuesday, assuming the election was unimportant and didn’t deserve their attention. This lethargy and complacency was precisely what led to poor voter turnout on behalf of Democrat voters in 2016, and contributed to an ultimate Trump victory. There is true and tremendous promise in the future of the American democracy, but—like my conservatives across the aisle have preached for years—we must pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to create it.


SGO election draws record number of students

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A record number of students voted in last week’s Student Government Organization election. With over 713 votes, the student body ratified a new constitution and elected an entirely new executive board for the 2015-16 academic year.

The constitution solidified changes in the structure of SGO, many of which were implemented a few semesters ago.

“This model has been tweaked over three spring semesters, and I think we’ve come to a good place,” said current SGO co-president Jason Heo ’15. “The goal has always been to make us a more legitimate body, not for our sake but for the student body’s sake.”

Previously, the body was called Student Council (StuCo) and had ten representatives who would “pursue relevant initiatives and liaise with faculty and staff,” according to its old website. StuCo held the power to propose resolutions and hold referenda, and also controlled the student activities budget, appointed students to committees, and chartered groups.

Though the basic powers remain, SGO was created “in response to a limited, decentralized, and under-representative student government,” according to the new Constitution. Apart from the name change, SGO is now composed of an Executive Board — which oversees the entire body — and a Student Senate, composed of 22 students, two from each class year, eight from the student body at large, and another six from different affinity groups on campus. Two senators will be representatives of the Intercultural Center, one of the Black Cultural Center, one of the interfaith community, one of Greek life, and one of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

“I think we’ve done a lot of repairing broken internal units, administrative units and external relations with administrative members,” Heo said. “[With the new structure] we are bridging the disconnect that the average non-student government student sees with the administration.”

Sun Park ’16, the other co-president, thinks SGO has done even more than just create a more efficient or representative body. In the last year, SGO has worked on several initiatives to both make the campus safer and to improve student life. Among these is the bias response policy SGO worked on to respond to serious incidents on campus in a way that will help the community heal and bridge tense relationships between groups. This, according to Park, came about after the spring of 2013, when StuCo did not respond to the many incidents that defined that semester.

Many of these changes, in fact, were implemented in response to claims that student government was not a legitimate body with the power to effect real change.

“It’s about building legitimacy so that we can help every student do what they want to do, see what they want to see on campus,” Heo said.

According to Park, last week’s election is proof that students see SGO differently than they used to. Not only did almost half the student body participate, but candidates reached out to student groups and recognized the issues on campus — in other words, they actually campaigned for their positions.

Still, many students did not vote, and think SGO is not different from StuCo in any meaningful ways. Part of the ambivalence is also due to the fact that there is a general lack of understanding about the role of SGO on campus, or the power they have to create change where it matters.

“I knew [the election] was happening, but I’m not really sure what they do,” said Damella Dotan ’15, a member of Swarthmore’s Coalition for Change, which seeks to reflect on previous activism and make changes that respond to historical demands.

Dotan thinks that student government, in its many iterations, has always had nominal power compared to that of the Board of Managers, or the administration, particularly on matters of importance.

“I definitely commend people that are involved in student government,” she said. “But I’m just not really sure how they’ve been change agents.”

Park insists SGO has reached out to different constituencies to understand what the important issues are for students and act accordingly. Still, students must also come to SGO with their demands if they want them to be addressed.

“If the student body does want some of these things get done, there should be some expectation that there’s a give-and-take relationship,” she said.

Natalia Choi ’15, also a member of the Coalition for Change and, two years ago, StuCo’s financial policy representative, thinks this is exactly the problem. She does not think that SGO is making enough of an effort to reach out.

“How it’s set up now, if you have complaints or changes you’d want to be made, you need to go to them, rather than the other way around,” Choi said. “I don’t want to discount their efforts. I feel like they have led good initiatives. But it would be really meaningful for me, in terms of getting my trust, to see them in those [activist] spaces more — see them trying to identify where these conversations are already happening, and coming to those to listen. It would be a very useful gesture to create these relationships and conversations.”

Choi notes that it’s not just about showing up, about making a coalition’s entire work fit into a Student Life survey, but to engage in meaningful ways — “listening for a sustained amount of time.”

Heo maintains that SGO’s increased legitimacy on campus makes it a great medium through which to engage about important issues. Park agreed, noting that administrators are more engaged with SGO now than ever.

Still, Heo and Park both say that there is room to grow.

“I want to talk about all of the positive things. A lot of us are really proud about the work that we put in but I don’t think that were opposed to criticism,” Park said. “We’re really willing to take constructive criticism and take it in a positive direction … We hope to build that relationship [with students] and an organization that is strong enough to represent the entire student body and go against the administration if we need to.”

Steve Sekula ’17 and Christine Kim ’17, the co-presidents-elect, know that there is a lot to do.

Sekula in particular thinks increased communication — which was central to his platform — will help the student body understand what SGO actually does and will therefore encourage greater participation and change.

“A lot of what we’re going to try to work on next year is make ourselves more accessible,” he said.

In accordance with SGO’s increased visibility, particularly through their study breaks and the larger campus-wide events, Kim hopes to streamline the event proposal process and ensure students are able to have greater control over their social lives at the college.

Park is optimistic about the future of SGO and its potential to effect change.

“I think people are willing to dedicate a lot of their time and effort to make our campus better,” she said.

Editorial: the new SGO constitution

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Elections for the Executive Board of the Student Government Organization came to a close at midnight last night. While the results of the election are yet unknown, this election was unique in that it also offered students a chance to ratify SGO’s new constitution. One third of the student body needs to vote in favor of the new of constitution in order for it to be ratified. The major change to the constitution is an alteration of the structure of the student senate in order to allow for more senators, representing more diverse groups on campus, to participate in SGO. While we at the Phoenix commend the new constitution for its endeavor to better represent the diverse interests of the student body, we also feel that the new constitution is lacking in that the newly structured student senate does not include representatives from certain key groups on campus and because the new constitution is incredibly ambiguous in regards to the specific powers and duties of SGO.

Instead of 10 senators, the student senate will now have 22 senators made up of 16 elected senators and 6 representative senators. The representative senators will be designated by their respective affinity groups with two senators from the Intercultural Center, one senator from the Black Cultural Center, one senator from the Interfaith community, one senator from the Greek community, and one senator from the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

We at the Phoenix believe that the addition of these representative senators is an important means of giving a voice to the various affinity groups on campus that might not otherwise be present in SGO. Nevertheless, we feel that the allocation of the representatives to the various affinity groups is somewhat arbitrary. Specifically, there are no representatives included from the Women’s Resource Center, and though there are two representatives from the IC, the IC is such a diverse organization that two representatives are not enough. For example, the interests of a group like i20 or the Swarthmore Queer Union are very distinct from the interests of a group like Enlace or the Swarthmore Asian Organization. Each of these affinity groups represents large populations of students on campus, and the absence of any senators representing the distinct interests of these groups in SGO appears to perpetuate the problem of representational inequity that was the source of the initial constitution change.

Nevertheless, it is unclear how much this dearth of representation for these affinity groups will negatively affect the experiences of their members at Swarthmore insofar as the actual power and responsibility of SGO is largely absent in the new constitution. The constitution is incredibly vague in explaining the duties of the SGO stating only, “SGO’s principle duties include the allocation of the Student Activities Budget, management of the group chartering process, appointment of students to Swarthmore College committees, and meeting with Swarthmore College faculty, staff, and the Board of Managers. Additionally, the SGO will encourage campus-wide discussions and engagement and actively solicit student opinion.”

While the allocation of the SAB is clearly a very serious task, the constitution never explains the procedures of, or criteria for, the allocation. Additionally, which senators are involved in the allocation remains unmentioned as well. The rest of the stated duties of SGO appear incredibly vague. In particular, meeting with members of the community and encouraging campus-wide discussions indicate very little about SGO’s actual power or the tasks that SGO performs. Ultimately, while we at the Phoenix appreciate SGO’s efforts to build a more diverse and fairly representative student senate in their new constitution, we feel that more affinity groups should be accounted for in this representative senate and that SGO’s new constitution should better explain the power and responsibilities of the organization.

Several initiatives advance through StuCo

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Currently operating three members short of full council,  Student Council (StuCo) is working on initiatives that include reforming student government, discussing the college’s recent policy changes, and deliberating student access to Philadelphia. In addition, StuCo plans to hold emergency elections to fill vacant positions on the council.

In response to the announcement of a revised party policy and new interim sexual assault and harassment policies, StuCo plans to hold two separate forums to address student concerns and questions with regards to policy changes. The first forum, which is tentatively scheduled the week before fall break, will address the new party policy and may include appearances from both Michael Elias, the new student activities coordinator ,and Michael Hill, the director of Public Safety.

There are also plans to hold an information session before the second forum on the new interim sexual assault and harassment policy to ensure that students fully understand the manner in which the policy will be implemented. Following any informational session, an opportunity for students to express their views on the policy will be available.

StuCo President Gabriella Capone ’14 is excited for the work ahead. She is hoping to have a portion where StuCo will moderate a discussion where people can express their thoughts and concerns where they feel comfortable.

“We’re hoping that this will be educational — so, where appropriate, having faculty and staff speak about the current policies — but at the same time, providing a student-only space where students can really communicate their thoughts to us and then we can liaise between students and the administration,” she said.

One major item on the agenda for Student Council is the planned reintroduction of the Student Senate, which had its first trial run in the spring 2013 semester.

“We’re going to try and restructure all of student government essentially,” Capone said. “So this is in the works and still requires talking to a lot of people but ideally by next semester, student government would be running in a more cohesive structure, in that it will basically be more centralized.”

The motivation behind a restructured Student Senate is simple: greater student involvement and a more accurately representative student government.

In the past, students have raised concerns about the insular nature of student government at the college. “I feel like it’s the same ten people who do everything, I don’t even know how that happens,” said Amelia Kucic ’15.

A three-year member of Student Council, Capone agrees that this is a valid concern.

“The real hope with a restructured student government is that we are going to get new students,” she said. “It’s too large for the same people to keep doing it and more people flowing through the system means more people are well versed in what student government is at Swarthmore.”

In an effort to better capture the diversity of student opinion and provide effective representation, the council plans to change the format of the Student Senate.

“We’re still trying to hammer out a final structure for Student Senate because last semester was a pilot semester and some things worked and some things didn’t,” Student Outreach Coordinator Aya Ibrahim ’15 said.

Included in the plans for this final structure are class and dorm representatives. Instead of having a representative from each of the 31 standing committees and ten elected students, the body wants to bring about representation by dorm, granting a senator to every 150 or so students, and by class, with two senators elected from each class year. Ibrahim hopes that these changes will allow for a “truer and more broad representation of the student body.”

Part of the plan for the new Student Senate includes the introduction of freshmen senators for the upcoming fall semester. StuCo anticipates that concerns will be raised about the prudence of involving freshmen, who have not yet had the chance to fully understand how to navigate the college and its policies, in student government. Ibrahim, who served as a member of StuCo during her freshman year, understands why students may be opposed to freshmen representatives.

“You have a lot of frantic energy and you’re really excited but you don’t know anything about how things on campus work,” she said.

Because of these concerns, StuCo is considering allowing freshmen to hold slightly modified positions on the Senate. For example, limitations could be put in place on what freshmen senators would be allowed to vote on and what they could propose, at least for the fall semester. This would allow first years some time to learn about the workings of student government.

Ibrahim said, “For example, if [freshmen senators] put forth a solution that doesn’t work but they don’t know that, then it’s not necessarily a problem or a waste of time because it won’t be voted on.”

Members of StuCo believe that it is important to give freshmen a chance to get involved in student government and to let their opinions be heard.

“We want to know: what are freshmen thinking? So they’ll still have that voice and they’ll still be a part of conversation,” Ibrahim said.

Beyond the larger work of changing the foundations of student government at the college, Student Council will also explore ways to grant students greater access to Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. As announced in a campus-wide email at the start of the year, Public Safety has discontinued the Philly shuttle, which ran weekly in past years, in the immediate short term. This has spurred Student Council to seriously consider other transportation options, including an expansion of last semester’s highly popular Philadelphia Access Program.

The Philly Access Program provided 40 free round-trip SEPTA tickets every week to students, with recipients determined by a lottery. Capone explained that in reforming the program, the Council will consider “breadth versus cost.” For the coming academic year, StuCo will deliberate between offering tickets at a discounted price — and thereby providing greater availability — and continuing to offer a limited number of free tickets, to be given out by lottery.

Last semester saw the introduction of a referendum on opening the balcony on the third floor of McCabe Library. Ibrahim explained that the decision to open the balcony is ultimately in the hands of Facilities Management.

“It’s up to facilities and to the administration if they think it might be a matter of safety, then it’s really beyond us,” said Ibrahim.

Adriana Obiols ’16 echoes the thoughts of other students when she admitted that she did not know much about the work of StuCo.

“For me, they’re a very abstract group of people and I don’t really know who they are,” she said. “I don’t know how much power they have over things, like what kind of decision-making can they carry out.”

In addressing these concerns, StuCo members point to the need for students to make a concentrated effort to pay attention or become involved in campus affairs.

“There’s been this loss of faith in what StuCo is capable of doing — I think StuCo is capable of doing a lot of things, it’s just dependent on having a lot of people who want to push for those changes,” said Educational Policy Representative Marian Firke ’14. “Making Swarthmore the place we applied to is about applying ourselves right now and making it that place.”

In light of this, both Ibrahim and Capone encourage students to run in the upcoming emergency elections for the Fall 2013 semester. The elections will fill three vacant spots on the council: Campus Life Representative, Student Groups Advisor, and Financial Policy Representative.

“Being a part of Student Council enables you to have conversations and to participate in conversations that you might not be aware of otherwise,” Ibrahim said.

Student Senate Elections Today

in Around Campus/News by

Today marks the first election for the newly-formed Swarthmore Student Senate, announced last Wednesday through a campus-wide email from the Student Council (StuCo) co-presidents Victor Brady ’13 and Gabriella Capone ’14.

The Student Senate will be composed of delegates from the 31 active campus committees and ten unaffiliated student representatives, to be selected through today’s election. StuCo will operate as the executive body to the Senate, with four StuCo members, co-presidents Brady and Capone and campus life representatives Tony Lee ’15 and Jason Heo ’15, acting as moderators for the Senate’s monthly meetings. Like StuCo meetings, the Senate’s meetings will remain open to all who want to sit in on them and participate in the discussions.

Students received the platforms of the 24 candidates for the Student Senate’s ten at-large positions yesterday morning via email. Voting will take place on Moodle all day from 12:00 this morning until 11:59 p.m.

Though the concept of a Student Senate had been brought up in the past by previous StuCo presidents, this semester is the first in which an official representative student assembly will be formed at Swarthmore. StuCo members began discussing the possibility of forming a Student Senate last semester. Capone had centered her December re-election campaign on the proposal.

Many students remain confused about the purpose of the Student Senate — a number question the necessity of another student governing body. A senior, who wished to remain anonymous, referred to the Senate as simply a potential “resume-padder for Swatties,” while another unnamed student asked if the student body really required “another layer of bureaucracy.”

In addressing these concerns, Brady and Capone envision the Student Senate as eventually overtaking Student Council as the main governing body for Swarthmore students. According to Capone, the current ten-student Student Council is “just not big enough” to take on as many projects as they would like. With its 41 members and 4 moderators, the relatively large scale of the Student Senate is designed to provide a diversity of opinions and campus experiences to discussions about the college’s policies, as well as bring increased manpower into student government operations.

“This isn’t really a case of ‘bigger is better,’ but ‘proportional is better’,” Capone said.

The size of the Student Senate will allow for the body to front necessary initiatives on campus in a way that StuCo cannot. Brady believes that the Senate will be able to “[use] the individual capital and the forty person or so size to undertake even larger projects that maybe aren’t quite as possible with the limited resources that the ten people on Student Council have.”

“The Student Senate will give us a much more representative body and a much larger body with a lot more capital than you have with Student Council,” added Brady.

Not everyone is cynical about the introduction of the Student Senate. Marisa Lopez ’15 believes that the new Senate can only be a good thing for the campus, as it will result in more students contributing their opinions on college policies. “Giving more students a voice within the organization can impact the campus well,” she said.

Candidate Louis Lainé ’16 agrees, “I think having a voice is always better than not having a voice, whether or not most people think it’s necessary. In the long term, [the Senate will] be a beneficial thing to have because representation is what we need.”

Though she is hopeful about the Senate and believes that giving the committees a voice is “a good thing”, Vienna Tran ’13 has a few reservations. “I think that the problem is that a large group of Swatties is always going to have a lot of different activities that they’re participating in so it’s going to be really tough to find a group of 40 students who are going to able to put in the full amount of time to make this an effective governing body.”

The consensus among Senate candidates and members of StuCo is that the full scope of the responsibilities of the Student Senate will only become clear after the body has navigated through its inaugural semester. “I believe that’s kind of the way with any organization — any time you start a new group on campus, any time you start a new committee or something, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Dominic Rizzo ’15, who is also running for a position on the Senate.

For the present, Capone and Brady hope that the Senate will explore more large-scale projects that StuCo has discussed. The two see having more than three-quarters of the Senate composed of various committee members as a largely positive aspect for this purpose. Brady emphasized the value of the committee members’ experience in working with the school administration. “We really think that that’s going to facilitate the interaction between administrators and the students, with students pushing their own projects and collaborating with administrators to make them a reality,” he said.

In addition to pursuing its own initiatives, the Senate will work with various members of the administration, including President Rebecca Chopp and Dean Liz Braun, and provide student feedback on different administrative projects. Immediate issues that the Senate will address include the development of a strategic plan for Public Safety and the establishment of the goals of ITS in both the near and distant future.

Brady explained that the Senate will act as a focus group for the administration, a function that will be greatly aided by the potential diversity of interests amongst members of the body.

“Administrators can [send] out information [to the Senate] about the strategic plan or events that they want to get student feedback on and opinion for before publishing out and sending out to the entire community,” he said.

Capone remains both enthusiastic and hopeful about the prospects of the Student Senate and dismissed concerns about student ambivalence towards the Senate, pointing to the number of candidates who submitted platforms as evidence of interest.

In speaking on the long-term goals of the new institution, Capone said, “If everything goes as planned, [the Senate] would be the new student government.”

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