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The SGO Forum and the Failure to Listen

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The SGO forum on divestment last Friday appears to have produced more tension than dialogue. This is largely due to Mountain Justice’s curious interpretation of the event after the fact. By their account, expressed in the op-ed “Friday’s Forum: An Exercise in Futility” written by Mountain Justice member Aru Shiney-Ajay ‘20 , the organizers only allowed “one student representative when there were three from the administration… the administration repeatedly danced around questions, refusing to give concrete answers.”

The implication that the organizers of the event were trying to stifle student dissent by only allowing one student representative from Mountain Justice is simply unfounded. The forum was about divestment, not Mountain Justice, and the organizers succeeded in finding a diverse array of backgrounds and positions. There were three students: one for divestment, one against it, and one that was neutral. There were two professors: one for divestment and one who was at least skeptical of it. And there were three administrators: the President of the College, the Vice-President of Finance, and the Sustainability Director. It is hard to see how having another Mountain Justice member would have improved this lineup in any way. Regardless, the pro-divestment contingent of Shiney-Ajay and Professor Lee Smithey had by far the most speaking time, and were in no way impeded by the moderator, who gave them plenty of permission to speak on nearly every question, which they did.

Mountain Justice’s second point of contention, that the administration agreed to the forum as a show and had no intention of listening to students, is frankly hypocritical. It is highly doubtful that any member of Mountain Justice, who showed up prepared with cameras, pages of notes, and trendy finger snaps, came to the forum with the intention of listening to any doubts of divestment at all. This is a shame, because despite the awkward fishbowl format there was still a lot of valuable information that came up in the panelist’s statements and interactions. For example, Shiney-Ajay actually convinced me that the 1991 decision to forbid social causes from influencing the management of the endowment is fundamentally at odds with the decision to divest from South Africa, and by extension implies that only one of those decisions was correct in the eyes of the Board. For their part, if Mountain Justice’s delegation had done less talking and more listening, they might have had enough time to hear the answers they are now indignantly demanding. Or perhaps they would have heard Professor Timothy Burke’s warning that as a young activist he had overrated the importance of his own activism work in the context of a larger movement. It is hard, of course, to hear these criticisms over the sound of your friends snapping their fingers as you deliver a pre-written speech that takes up most of the time allotted for discussion and leaves you with no time to hear actual answers.

The real regret I have from the fallout of this forum is the way Mountain Justice has treated President Valerie Smith. Apart from her initial statement and other direct questions, President Smith sat in silence and spent the most time actually listening than any other participant in the forum. For this effort her office was soon the subject of a sit-in by the people at the forum who had listened the least. This is a serious impediment to further dialogue between the administration and students, and pro-divestment students should recognize that dialogue is as much a chance to listen as it is to speak.

Editorial: SGO and admin don’t encourage student voices

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Last week on April 2nd, the Student Government Organization held an open meeting with Dean Braun and other members of the staff to update students on the visioning process and to listen to students’ opinions and concerns. Although students did have a chance to voice their concerns and the administration and staff were present as these concerns were articulated, we at the Phoenix feel that the student concerns were far from addressed.  Instead, the SGO meeting space was ineffective for helping students feel validated or for creating any actual change on campus.

We at the Phoenix believe that the current structure of SGO meetings, even those with administration present, is not conducive to an actual space where students are truly heard and treated as agents of change on campus. Instead, much of the topics that are brought up do not allow for a diversity of thought and when students do express actual concerns, these concerns are lost in the administrative process. There is a real problem with the structure in that the SGO process does not seem conducive to a collaborative community since the process seems disconnected from the actual process of enacting changing and student voices disappear instead of actually being seen as real issues that need to be addressed on campus.

It’s important to note that many staff members care for the student body and that they truly want to do what’s best for their students. A facilities member at the SGO meeting discussed how they attempted to redesign one of the lounges in PPR with a minimal budget, and how they played a role in redesigning Essie’s to meet student needs. Dean Braun discussed how Mephisto’s was designed with the needs of the students in mind and how the administration was happy when students were proud to use the space. We at the Phoenix appreciate all the effort the school puts into making Swarthmore a comfortable community.

However, we at the Phoenix also feel the need to stress that the current system of hearing student voices through the SGO meetings is not effective. The administration at the meeting is too prepared to defend themselves than to actually listen to the advice and desires of the students. When one student brought up the strong desire for an outdoor study space, they were quickly shrugged off with a comment about how studying outdoors may not be the best option for wellness or how studying outdoors is not a part of the current project to make Danawell a more desirable space. First, if the administration were to listen to students main concerns on campus, they would know that Danawell is hardly the biggest priority for change on Swarthmore’s campus. Students would much rather have their concerns addressed for a student union, a renovated McCabe Library, or a bigger dining hall and smaller coffee bar lines before fixing one of the newest spaces on campus. Second, if the administration and SGO listened to student concerns, they would be willing to shift their priorities and initiatives to honor the voices of students rather than firmly abiding to their own preordained vision.

The SGO environment also fails to provide a space for active change. If students do bring up concerns and the administration at the meeting responds, they respond by directing students to other administrations in an endless circle of people to contact. At the meeting, at student brought up concerns about creating more party spaces that are not strictly wet or dry, and admin responded simply by stating that this was a good conversation, but more appropriate to address in front of Josh Ellow, the alcohol and other drugs coordinator. While we at the Phoenix support the inclusion of multiple staff members confronting an issue and recognize that jobs are delegated throughout campus, it is almost impossible for any real change to occur through SGO if students are always being directed elsewhere instead of hearing real solutions to their concerns.

After SGO referendum, board still votes “no”

in News by

Mountain Justice spearheads vote on partial divestment, with less than ideal response

A majority of students who participated in a referendum this week voted in favor of taking steps to divest the college’s endowment from coal, oil, and natural gas companies within five years. In response to the Student Government Organization-sponsored referendum on Monday Feb. 20th and Tuesday the 21st, President Valerie Smith and Chair of the Board of Managers Thomas E. Spock ’78 sent a statement to the student body via email on Wednesday afternoon stating that the Board’s decision not to divest from fossil fuels on a full or partial basis would stand. The move to initiate a referendum was spearheaded by Swarthmore Mountain Justice, a student group on campus committed to fossil fuel divestment. While the referendum was ultimately unsuccessful in changing the decision of the Board of Managers, the renewed push initiated new conversations on the topic of divestment across campus through various channels.

Initial Discussions

MJ Coordinator Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20 said that the idea for an SGO-sponsored referendum was first discussed at an MJ meeting roughly three weeks ago. After the meeting, members of MJ began reaching out to members of the student body to collect the required 10 percent of signatures required for any SGO referendum to be formally initiated, as outlined in the text of the SGO Constitution. MJ Coordinator Stephen O’Hanlon ’17 said that MJ also reached out to SGO to learn more about the process because there were uncertainties regarding the initiation of a referendum.

Shiney-Ajay said that MJ submitted the referendum proposal to SGO a week later, but encountered some delays upon submission.

“It took a really long time for us to confirm with them that they had received it and confirm the dates with them about when the referendum would be held. So that was a little bit of a setback,” she said.

MJ has historically been a group that relies on activist-style tactics, including walkouts, sit-ins, and teach-ins to further its cause. However, O’Hanlon stated that the group wanted to create a tangible way for the student body to have the opportunity to give the Board of Managers a clear mandate for action through established channels.

“Our hope is that the Board takes this seriously if it passes and addresses it at their Board meeting this weekend,” O’Hanlon said.

Shiney-Ajay emphasized that the Board’s March 1989 decision to divest from South African funds in light of apartheid came after many years of sustained action, and felt that a longer time frame for action on divestment was not a cause for concern. MJ formed in mid-October of 2010, pursuing action for divestment for almost seven years.

The referendum itself was a one-question Google Forms poll that asked students to vote “in favor,” “against,” or “abstain” on a series of steps for the Board to divest from coal, oil, and natural gas companies within five years. The steps included “screening out” holdings in the Carbon Underground 200, which, according to Fossil Free Indexes LLC, is a list of the top 100 public coal companies globally and the top 100 public oil and gas companies globally ranked by their potential carbon emissions. The referendum also included a demand for the Board to switch college accounts to fossil fuel-free funds. The SGO Constitution states that if a referendum passes, SGO shall comply with the terms of the referendum within the limits of its authority. It is unclear to what extent SGO can comply with the terms of a referendum calling on the Board to divest from fossil fuels.  

SGO Implementation

As reported in a Feb. 14 Daily Gazette news article, a discussion of the referendum occurred at a SGO meeting on Feb. 12. The article states that SGO had an “intense deliberation” on whether they should co-host a study break session with MJ. The guidelines of the SGO constitution state that SGO shall notify the student body of the pending election and that the referendum shall be held within two academic weeks of SGO receiving a referendum petition. Therefore, it is self-evident that MJ’s referendum received the necessary signatures before SGO Chair of Internal Affairs Won Chung ’18 sent an email to all students on Jan. 19 announcing the voting date on the referendum.  Co-President of SGO Mosea Esaias ’17 said that there was roughly a week between the last SGO meeting and the time slated to administer the referendum.

“No matter the result of the referendum, I urge you to find out more about divestment,” Chung concluded the message. Despite Chung’s neutral signoff, the Feb. 12 Daily Gazette article also states that several SGO members were concerned about SGO’s political stance on divestment as it administered the referendum.

“There’s been much debate about the language of this [referendum] specifically. Usually SGO meetings are an hour long, [but] this one took about two hours because we had to deliberate on what this [referendum] meant and what it meant for SGO to deliver this referendum,” said SGO Senator Christian Galo ’20.

Galo stressed that administering the referendum did not mean that SGO was taking a stand on the issue of divestment. He was also uncertain if the passing of the referendum meant that SGO would be required to adopt a pro-divestment stance.

The referendum was released to the student body on Jan. 20, and several events were held to publicize and promote discussion of the terms in the referendum. On Jan. 20, Chung sent another email to all students publicizing an event titled “Coffee, Cupcakes, and Climate Chat,” in Shane Lounge at 9 p.m. Posters for the event encourage students to “stop by for food, learn more about the divestment referendum, and get [their] questions answered.” The poster is co-signed by SGO and MJ.

Shiney-Ajay confirmed that Mountain Justice did receive funding from SGO for the Jan. 20 event. However, it is unclear what the funds being used to support the “Coffee, Cupcakes and Climate Chat” event should be called. Esaias said that SGO used a “minimal” part of its budget to support the same Jan. 20 event, but stressed that the event was sponsored as a partnership between the two groups.

“Our intent in hosting an information session was to provide the community with more information about the referendum, the referendum process, and to create a forum for questions.  This is not quite the same as publicizing the referendum, which we interpreted as partisan campaigning in support of or against it,” he said.

“We [did not give money] to Mountain Justice. We partnered with Mountain Justice, who petitioned for the referendum in order to let the student body know more about [the referendum,]” Esaias continued.

He confirmed that there was no other organization that gathered an opposing referendum.

“We partnered with the organization that actually petitioned for the referendum, as we would do in any case,” he continued.

Furthermore, Esaias said that he did not feel that partnering with Mountain Justice would influence the results of the referendum.

“We’re giving them a platform. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are endorsing their specific demands. It just means that we’re giving them a space to express their concerns … the funding is not for the group. The funding is for the referendum,” he said.

According to the SGO Constitution, SGO is responsible for paying for all costs of a student-initiated referendum, excluding the costs of publicizing specific resolutions. However, Shiney-Ajay explicitly stated that the Jan. 20 event was to publicize the referendum and let people ask questions about it. But, at the Feb. 12 SGO meeting during the discussion of the information session, SGO Senators insisted that the event be labeled an “information session” without an explicit mandate to “publicize” the event or to take a position on divestment before the results of the referendum. Esaias confirmed that this was the result of a miscommunication between MJ and representatives of SGO about the intent of the event. Thus, it is also unclear if SGO’s sponsorship of  the “Coffee, Cupcakes and Climate Chat” event is in violation of the provisions of the SGO Constitution.

When asked about the situation, Joseph DeBrine ’18 expressed concerns that there weren’t enough chances for students to get comprehensive information about the referendum before they were asked to vote.

“It would be so much more powerful if we had more stuff like [the “Coffee, Cupcakes, and Climate Chat.] What if they had done this a few times? [What if they had] big information sessions that were geared towards everyone, not just MJ?” DeBrine said.

He also questioned why the Board of Managers’ position would change as a result of the referendum, when it had already voted against divestment multiple times in previous years.

In addition to the Jan. 20 event, Mountain Justice also held a “Dogs for Divestment” event from 3-5pm on Parrish Beach on Jan. 21 to answer questions about the referendum and to “play with all the dogs who support divestment,” as stated on a Facebook event page titled “Vote YES to Divest.” Shiney-Ajay confirmed that MJ did not receive any SGO financial support for this event.

Opposition to the referendum

Other discussions about the referendum also took place around campus earlier this week. Swarthmore Conservative Society held a roundtable discussion with members of Mountain Justice in Sharples on Feb. 21 to discuss the provisions of the referendum. At the roundtable, students expressed a number of concerns about the impacts of divestment. Patrick Holland ’17 pointed out that the current referendum advocates for partial divestment, which he called “very complicated.” Holland specifically mentioned the second point in the referendum, which calls for the college to “switch … account[s] to the fossil fuel free fund,” as a cause for concern.

“None of us know… how large the fees are going to be from switching from one of these funds to another. They could be pretty substantial,” he said.

Shiney-Ajay, who was at the roundtable, agreed that MJ would also be interested in having an open discussion about the costs associated with switching from one fund to another, which is not currently public knowledge.

In individual conversations, students share a wide range of opinions on the subject of divestment. Nikki Miller ’17 voted “In favor” of the referendum because of her background learning about environmentalism.

“We should be divesting. [Not divesting] is not really a sustainable way to get energy and I think there are … better ways to spend our money,” Miller said.

She also believed that Mountain Justice handled the administration of the referendum well.

Other students felt that the time frame for the referendum was not an ideal one. President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society Gilbert Guerra ’19 heard about the referendum on Jan. 17.

“To be quite frank, I don’t know a lot about the specifics of divestment, which is why I think you need more than four days to really make an educated vote on divestment,” he said.

Guerra also expressed concerns that students would not know the difference between the provisions of this referendum and previous divestment-related campaigns.

“I don’t think anyone expects that a majority of Swarthmore students aren’t for divestment. But I do think they should know more about what they’re voting on. I also think that’s beneficial for Mountain Justice in the long run because they have a bit of a PR problem,” Guerra continued.

Guerra believes that some might think Mountain Justice to be a “sketchy group” with a negative image in some circles.

Noah Landay ’19, a self-identified moderate, shared Guerra’s sentiment that the referendum was sprung on the student body pretty suddenly.

“I would have really liked to have seen a town hall discussion. I think that it may have been advantageous to the Mountain Justice camp to have this held so quickly because the only vocal voices in this debate have been pro-divestment,” Landay said.

He also thought that SGO’s partnership with MJ on the referendum did not necessarily imply that SGO had a stake in the referendum. Rather, Landay said he was skeptical of allegations of collusion between SGO and MJ given the absence of evidence.

“It’s really hard on a small campus to not have any conflicts of interests at all, but I think a public forum would have been really good,” he continued.

When asked about the results of the referendum, Landay was not sure what direct policy outcomes would result.

“It just doesn’t make sense … there’s really no way of enforcing [the referendum.] If the administration decided not to comply, they have no accountability mechanism,” he said.

He felt that the referendum itself was more of a political statement.

“[The Board has] obviously made up its mind already,” Landay continued.

Internal SGO Concerns

Even within SGO, there have been concerns about the implementation and intentions behind implementing this referendum. In a series of emails sent on Monday to the entire SGO Student Senate obtained by the Phoenix, Senator Gilbert Orbea ’19 expressed serious concerns regarding the referendum.

“I am gravely disappointed that we followed through without more deliberation and a truly thought-out process,” he said.

Orbea argued that there are serious concerns about who has access to the confidential listing of votes and email addresses associated with those votes. Second, Orbea felt that there was not enough time for proper debate on the merits of the referendum.

“The Daily Gazette has something like seven articles coming out today. Who has time to read those and get an informed opinion?” Orbea wrote.  He claimed that the Jan. 20 information session was an information session “in name only” and believed the event had a “decidedly biased twinge.” He concluded by calling the referendum “rushed, thought out poorly, and lopsided,” and called for a redo of the referendum in the following week. SGO Senators Margaret Cohen ’19 and Yin Xiao ’20 supported Orbea’s concerns and also called on the referendum to be redone at a later date in the email chain.
Chung also contributed to the email chain, agreeing that the referendum was rushed, but did not feel that the referendum should be cancelled.

“Cancelling the referendum now would de-legitimize SGO and the entire referendum process,” he said.

In response to the concerns outline above, Esaias responded to the Senate in an email by reiterating that SGO was administering the referendum in accordance with constitutional standards surrounding referenda. He said that SGO was obligated to hear the concerns of the student body when a significant share of the student body presents SGO with a referendum.

“As to whether we would administer the referendum was never up for discussion. What then, did we fail to deliberate?” he asked.

Esaias agreed that it would have been more ideal if SGO had additional time between reception of a petition and the administration of a referendum, but dismissed that concern as a separate issue. Addressing Orbea directly, Esaias said he was “disappointed to hear” the concern that the process was rushed and lopsided, and encouraged Orbea “as a student senator and representative of SGO … [to] would work to assuage.” He dispelled the notion that it was possible to be unbiased as an individual with training in Peace and Conflict Studies.

“Every action that we take … carries political meaning and implications. Given this, it is not impartiality after which SGO is in pursuit because to claim to be impartial would be to overlook and ignore the very real political consequences and contexts surrounding our actions,” he continued. However, Esaias rejected the notion that SGO was endorsing an individual group’s specific demands.

“Mountain Justice has a right to communicate their platform to this community,” he said. He also stressed that canceling the referendum was out of the question.

Results

After the two days of voting concluded on Feb. 21, Chung released an email early Wednesday morning to the student body detailing the results of the referendum. There was a turnout of 55 percent of the student body, with 708 voting for the referendum, 149 against, with 23 abstaining. 80.5 percent of those that voted were in favor of the referendum, meaning that SGO must comply with the terms of the referendum within the limits of its authority.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, Smith and Spock released a statement to the entire student body stating that the previous decision of the Board of Managers not to divest would still stand in light of the referendum. Smith and Spock said they appreciated the time and effort that went into developing the referendum, but that the Board’s decision was made following three years of thoughtful and detailed study and analysis from 2013 to 2015.

“That decision stands, but the subject of climate change is of ultimate and deep concern to us. As we have said before, we believe that the magnitude of this issue underscores the need for Swarthmore to champion meaningful and sustained efforts that will model best practices to reduce carbon consumption, educate our students on the causes and consequences of climate change, and demonstrate national and global leadership in sustainability initiatives,” they said. The email also outlined several ongoing initiatives related to reducing carbon consumption and innovative sustainability education.

In response to the statement by Spock and Smith, members of Mountain Justice were disappointed, but were confident that through more pressure from the campus community, they will stand on the right side of history once more by divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

“Given the landslide victory of the referendum, and given the urgency of climate action, we are very disappointed the Board has chosen to ignore this student mandate. The Board has often spoken of their commitment to a just and sustainable future; we had hoped to be able to open a conversation with them on partial divestment based on our shared goals,” members of Mountain Justice wrote in a statement.

At the present moment, Mountain Justice has not outlined their next course of action to continue the conversation.

News Editor Ganesh Setty contributed reporting to this article.

SGO seeks to subsidize SEPTA tickets for students, make Philly more accessible

in Around Campus/News/Regional News by

The Student Government Organization is currently working with the college administration to subsidize SEPTA tickets for all students. If this program is implemented in the future, Philadelphia and all its resources will become more accessible for Swarthmore students.

“We all know how expensive it is to go into Philly, and with SEPTA offering no student discounts themselves, a lot of students, especially low-income, have little incentive to take the train and engage with the variety of academic, social, and cultural experiences there,” said SGO’s Chair of Student Life Policy Clare Perez ’18.

SEPTA does not offer student discounts for any schools or colleges in the region.

“A year ago, SEPTA declined to give us, or any other college, subsidized tickets. I know that it would be great for our students to get subsidized tickets,” wrote the Executive Director Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, Ben Berger, in his email to the Phoenix.

“SEPTA is super stingy and does not even have student discounts, so it is understandable that when Swarthmore asked if they could sell them tickets at a discounted price they declined,” continued Perez.

The college has not been helping students connect with the resources in the city either, especially considering the case that Bryn Mawr and Haverford both subsidize their students’ SEPTA tickets. The Lang Center and some academic programs do offer subsidized or free tickets, but generally available subsidized tickets are lacking.

Sophie Xirui Song ’20, a prospective art history major welcomed the prospect of subsidized SEPTA tickets enthusiastically. She has not always been able to get subsidies from the art history department for trips to Philadelphia when she is required to go to the art museums or galleries.

“I know I often have to go to museums for classwork, and the department should definitely subsidize these trips. I had subsidies for my art history first-year seminar last semester, but Modern Art, the class I’m currently taking, does not give me subsidies.” said Song.

Song expressed her thoughts on the benefit of subsidized SEPTA tickets for Swarthmore students.

“There is so much to do [in Philadelphia]: food, concerts, museums etc. I think Swatties would benefit more from going to Philly more often because it’s always a change of view from the college, which to me is very refreshing, and people can enjoy themselves through means different from what Swat provides,” said Song.

The program that the SGO is currently working on is going to set aside part of the budgets of the offices and the departments and give them to the Lang Center and thus subsidize students’ SEPTA tickets.

“I have been working with Dean Braun, Ben Berger at the Lang Center, and Bruce Easop, who is the Presidential Fellow to Val Smith, in brainstorming and designing what a potential SEPTA program would look like. My goal is to create a comprehensive subsidy program, modeling the one that currently exists through the Lang Center of Civic and Social Responsibility, that provides SEPTA tickets to students wishing to engage in other enriching experiences that don’t fall under the Lang Center’s budget and mission,” said Perez.

The Student Government Organization has been working on this project for a two years now and is still striving to get subsidized tickets for all Swarthmore students.

“I started this project in part because it was something the last chair was working on,  but also because I felt passionate about the project and seeing it through to the end.  I feel that a strong connection between our campus and the city of Philadelphia is needed, and I don’t see any way to achieve this without Swarthmore providing students with subsidized tickets to get to Philadelphia in the first place,” said Perez.

This program is still under-progress and does not have a definitive result yet, but if it is carries out eventually, the college community will be greatly benefited with its growing connection with the city of Philadelphia.

SGO adds speaker of the senate position

in Around Campus/News by

 

Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization voted to add a new speaker of the senate position to its executive board at the end of the Fall 2016 semester. This change to the constitution, which required a two-thirds vote of the executive board, will create a position that will aid SGO’s senate in having productive and efficient meetings. The position was created with both the long term aims of making SGO more representative of the student body as well as the short term aims of making SGO more productive.

SGO’s constitution was ratified in 2014 and the speaker of the senate amendment is meant to fulfill some of the organization’s goals. In the long term, the change meant to continue the improvements made by the college after the Spring of Discontent. The Spring of Discontent references the high emotions felt by many groups on campus during the Spring 2013 semester as the college attempted to respond to a number of issues, including urination incidents on the door of the Intercultural Center, incidences of sexual assault which led to Title IX and Clery Act complaints as well as a referendum to change or abolish Greek life. While not an inclusive list of all of the issues that contributed to the discontent, the overarching complaint of the Spring of Discontent was that students were not properly heard by the administration.

The intent behind the creation of SGO, formerly a ten-member student council nicknamed Stu-Co, was to make student government more representative of the student body and to increase student involvement. The amendment creating the Speaker of the Senate position is meant to accomplish the same goals, according to SGO Co-President Benjamin Roebuck ’17.

“The [change] allows greater expression and representation from the senate, which empowers class representatives and at-large senators to do the work that is in line with […] why the current structure of student government came about, in the wake of the Spring of Discontent [and] the lack of representation [that students felt], […] to give a stronger voice to students,” he said. “[Adding the Speaker of the Senate] codifies that, brings [the duties] into a singular organizing position, so there is someone who can directly represent senators on the executive board.”

Roebuck also described what the role of the Speaker of the Senate would be during meetings and indicated that the position’s purpose would be to make meetings efficient.

“The duties of Speaker of the Senate are to work with the co-presidents, shepherding referendums [and] agenda, [and] generally directing the meetings,” he said.

The Speaker of the Senate position is intended to make SGO more productive and more representative. However, it is unclear to many students what SGO does and how the organization works. Gabi Rubinstein ’20 expressed that what SGO does is unclear.

“I don’t really know how [SGO] works … that might be on me, but I haven’t seen much going on [from SGO],” said Rubinstein.

First years are not the only members of our community who find that they are unsure of what SGO does. Bilige Yang ’19 expressed that SGO’s job on campus was unclear.

“I have no idea what SGO does,” he said.

Junior Daniel Park ’18 has had more interaction with SGO but concluded that the organization carries little power within the college.

“SGO is part of Swarthmore’s, perhaps symbolic, commitment to having student voices heard in the college decisions […] the college does a good job of listening to students overall but when it comes down to it [SGO] is powerless,” he said

The lack of clarity in the constitution about SGO’s authority, to do besides creating its own organizational structure, may contribute to this as well. Adding the speaker of the senate position may solve SGO’s internal issues, but does not immediately make the role or power of SGO more clear.

Student senators expressed that the Speaker of the Senate position would improve SGO. At-Large Senator Lauren Savo ’20 described the function of the Speaker of the Senate and is optimistic about the change.

“My understanding is that it is supposed to give us senators more of a voice in the SGO environment. The Speaker of the Senate’s job is to be the buffer between the executive board and senators … SGO this year is very big on trying to hear the voices of everyone and represent everyone [and] trying to make SGO more of an efficient organization, [the Speaker of the Senate] is a step in that direction,” she said.

Class of 2019 Senator Gilbert Orbea ’19 noted the issues with the current structure. The executive board, the co-presidents, and the student senators were not communicating as effectively as the members of SGO wanted.

“A noted difficulty [was] in the way that the senate, as a group of students who are supposed to collaborate … the three bodies [student Senate, the executive board, and the co-presidents] were interacting in a way that wasn’t as smooth as they could be … [it] felt discombobulated. I have felt this since last year, [that there are] serious issues with retention of senators and a high turnover rate. Meetings lack brevity when they need brevity, and lack depth when they need that,” he said.

However, Orbea is optimistic about the change and listed some of the benefits he expects from the addition of the speaker of the senate position.

“[The change will cause] more efficient meetings, the senate body [will have] a go-to person … [and the speaker of the senate will] leverage power of the senate to balance the co-presidents,” he said.

The class of 2019 senator went on to say that he wants the Speaker of the Senate position to be instituted as soon as possible.

“I hope that we have an emergency election [to elect the speaker of the senate] this semester,” Orbea said.

The speaker of the senate position aims to make SGO more productive, and many are optimistic that it will accomplish this goal. The change adds an additional level of bureaucracy to SGO. The effects of the Speaker of the Senate will be unclear until after the election is held and the position is officially instituted.

SGO works to find answers to police presence

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Police activity on campus has been an issue of salience amongst students since the beginning of the semester, as reported in a previous Phoenix article that relayed their presence. This stemmed from a notable series of incidents in which Swarthmore Borough Police were called to campus. The results of such activity have included the shutting down of parties and, more seriously, the arrest of a junior the night of Sept. 17.  

Much of the speculation about police involvement ties into the general confusion felt by students about what warrants the presence of Swarthmore Borough Police and the apparent frequency of their visits. Coleman Powell ’20 was unsure about the severity of other student claims.

“I hear a lot from upperclassmen that there has been an increase. But, I personally don’t notice it. It might just be because I was fairly used to police interference at party scenes in high school because it happened all the time. But, it’s probably because I’m only a freshman that I don’t notice it,” Powell said,

Clare Perez ’18, the Chair of Student Life Policy in Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization, notes that there has indeed been a difference in presence of police on campus from previous years.

“Police are never on campus. My freshman and sophomore year, I never saw them. We don’t usually get noise complaints because there aren’t really neighbors close to campus party spaces. So you never saw police here that often,” she said.

To dispel some of this speculation, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill reiterated the point that police presence is not without reason.

“We rely on a partnership with the Swarthmore Borough Police to assure the safety of the campus and members of our community. Through established protocols, when a “911” call results in response from Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), the Swarthmore Fire Department or any other municipal service, the Swarthmore Police accompanies them.”

Roman Shemakov ’20, an SGO Senator for the class of 2020 (full disclosure: Shemakov is a photographer for the Phoenix but had no involvement in the production of this article), asserted that their presence should not be looked upon as unusual.

“People are distraught and mostly confused, but I think it’s important to understand that it is within the police’s purview to come to the campus whenever they need to. It’s not something that you can stop from happening because it’s well within the law,” Shemakov said.

In addition to heightened police presence, students are reporting that the actions of Public Safety are felt to be stricter now than in previous years. As stated on their website, the main function of Public Safety is to enforce college policies and regulations, as well as provide any assistance necessary to protect the wellbeing of Swarthmore’s students. In relation to party antics on campus, a great deal of general consensus amongst students is that Public Safety does not act firmly, as Perez explains.

“It seems like every year it gets a little bit stricter, though I feel like Public Safety’s presence has been more this year than it ever has been. They’ve been shutting down more parties than they ever did. I remember my freshman year they literally did nothing. Last year, they didn’t really do anything either,” said Perez.

Shemakov recalled instances that he had witnessed actions made by Public Safety that did not follow the status quo.

“I live in DK and last weekend, there was a party there. Police came and broke it up, and they took away all of the hard alcohol that was visible which is something new. And then the same thing happened…actual police went to Worth the night of Halloween, and Public Safety came to DK to take away the alcohol,” said Shemakov.

On-campus confusion centers on the heightened level of action taken by both Swarthmore Borough Police and Public Safety. SGO, as Perez explains, does not have any solid answers or explanation for what is going on, mainly because of the lack of willingness from administration to discuss the issue. In attempting to reach out to Hill, Perez was met with unprecedented obstacles in communication where he would not respond to her multiple requests to meet.

“I asked him if he would have any time in the next semester to meet with me to discuss if there was any policy change that caused the police to be on campus, [ask] what is protocol, and just express to him concern by the student body about their presence on campus and he did not get back to me. If administration isn’t willing to work with us and discuss issues like this, how are we supposed to relay anything to the student body and get anything done?” she said.

According to Shemakov, SGO is largely in the dark.

“We just don’t know. A lot of these things are done within the administration itself. There’s not a lot direct student-to-police conversation, it goes through a different channel. Nobody knows anything,” he said.

Both Perez and Shemakov have their guesses for the increased police presence, ranging from the increased number of student hospitalizations, a rambunctious first-year class, to repercussion from the Spring of Discontent, a colloquialism for the group of events in the spring of 2013 including reports of sexual assault and the opening of a Title IX investigation. None of these, however, have been confirmed. Hill maintained that there is a simpler answer to this question.

“There has been no change in policy or practice.  The police have been responding to calls and the number of calls has increased,” he said.

In terms of plans moving forward, Perez asserted that meetings are in the works.

“I have a Dean’s Advisory Council meeting coming on this coming Tuesday and police on campus is on my list of things to bring up. Also, this is the first one of the year, which is frustrating: the first meeting shouldn’t be happening in the middle of November, it should’ve happened in the beginning of the semester,” said Perez.

Shemakov stated that though there is a lull in flow of information between SGO and administration, they were not going to halt their efforts in trying to break through to them.

“I know that Ben and Mosea [SGO Co-Presidents] were planning on having a meeting with Val Smith about this and getting some answers, but that is coming through them.” Shemakov said.

Both Roebuck and Esias were contacted for comment, but the Phoenix received no response.

Perez added to the sentiment of unrelenting effort from SGO.

“I just want to stress that this is an issue that is important to me and important to SGO.  Like I said, we tried. We didn’t get any response from both Mike Hill and the deans about it, which I plan on talking about at my meeting…I hope that in voicing this to the deans, they can do something about it,” she said.

Hill stressed for students to not keep any concerns to themselves..

“Most public safety and police officers endeavor to be respectful and courteous, and they expect the same from members of our community. However, if anyone on this campus believes an individual officer’s behavior is inappropriate, disrespectful, or inflammatory itself, they should feel free to contact me or the Chief of Police immediately. Ultimately, we all share the goal of protecting and safeguarding each and every member of the community, and doing so with cooperation, dignity, and respect,” he said.

As the the semester draws closer to its end, it remains to be seen if police presence will indeed dial down. Members of SGO continue to seek answers from administration so as to work towards dispelling confusion amongst students. All told, SGO wishes that the avenues of communication would open in order for them to succeed and, in the interest of the student population, lead to a conclusive answer.

SBC Updates Reimbursement Policies to Increase Efficiency

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In order to allow for greater efficiency and confidence in the school’s budgetary processes for clubs, the Student Budget Committee has recently updated their funding system, which includes providing reimbursements through direct deposits. While these changes were intended to make the funding process more accessible, several students noted that the impact has not been as beneficial as they had originally anticipated.

In order to help understand the improvements that have taken place, Chair of the SBC Jigme Tobgyel ’17 first explained the process of how organizations on campus receive funding.

For groups that have become chartered through the processes outlined by the Student Government Organization and the Student Organizations Committee, applying for funding is relatively simple. Organizations seeking reimbursements must attend Spring Budgeting during the Spring semester to plan the necessary budget for the following year, by using subcodes to denote how money will be allocated to different categories, such as transportation or registration fees. After a club proposes their budget, the SBC votes on it, choosing either “yes,” “no,” or “abstain.” Once the proposal receives approval, the club receives their full year budget and becomes eligible for Spring Budgeting for the next year.

If unexpected costs arise, the club can attend supplementary meetings, which occur every Sunday at 5:00 p.m. in Sharples Room 4, to propose new allocations.

No significant changes have been made to the general process of receiving annual funding. The integration of the SBC into the Business Office to change the process of funding reimbursements is the biggest modification to the 2016-2017 school year.

Tobgyel called the previous year’s system of providing reimbursements “inconvenient” and “time consuming.”

“So now, if you’ve made a purchase for a club, you’re getting it directly deposited into your bank account, as you are with payroll,” said Tobgyel. “With distributing checks, signing them, and mailing them, it was just a longer and more tedious process.”

As the Chair of the SBC, Tobgyel needs to handle a great deal of paperwork, including materials dealing with cash advances, funding, or reimbursements. The new developments of the SBC should help make the jobs of Tobgyel and other committee members function with a bit more ease.

Despite the intended goals of the SBC’s new system, many students who currently serve as treasurers of different chartered clubs on campus noted that they have not seen a significant improvement in efficiency.

Shuang Guan ’19, the treasurer of the Swarthmore Asian Organization, acknowledged that the SBC’s system can be unclear at times.

“Last time I went to the SBC Office, I was told treasurers can no longer get detailed printouts of their current budget. We can see how much we’ve used and how much we have left total, but that total isn’t broken down into the subcodes in which we applied for during spring budgeting,” said Guan.

Aside from the difficulty of keeping track of how much money is available for different purposes, several students also noted that the stringent budget can sometimes act as a hindrance to an organization’s goals.

“Last year, SBC said it would no longer fund events that were for member bonding, which includes Big Sib Lil Sib events. I think that BSLS Is an important part of SAO that really helps freshmen adjust to Swarthmore, and since it wouldn’t be accessible for everyone to pay out of pocket, it’s unfortunate that we’ve had to cancel somehttp://swarthmorephoenix.com/wp-admin/post-new.php BSLS traditions,” said Guan.

Tobgyel responded to this by saying that, while the SBC does still fund member bonding events, there are more restrictions on the budget as the number of clubs continues to grow.
While the SBC is consistently working to meet the changing needs of different groups on campus, some find that these changes are not as beneficial as hoped.

SGO aims to restructure its budget

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The college’s Student Government Organization is currently trying to restructure itself to allow the executive board more control over the budget. If successful, SGO would have more budgetary control than other chartered groups on campus.

Co-presidents of SGO Mosea Esaias ’17 and Ben Roebuck ’17 explained that the current system for chartered groups via the Student Budgetary Committee to acquire funding is not conducive to the nature of SGO’s changing vision and goals from year to year. Unlike SGO, many student groups’ goals stay relatively the same.

“The current system is inefficient because the goals and politics of an executive board and an SGO can change very differently from one year to the next just based upon who is elected and reelected. It would make sense for SGO to have the ability to present a budget for a certain amount of money based upon what they’ve done but then to have more freedom to operate within that budget the next year based upon the goals and objectives of whatever people are elected that year,” said Esaias.

Every spring, a chartered group must present a budget proposal to SBC if they are to receive funding. During SBC’s budget approval process, a group’s total budget is split among different sections, or sub-codes based on the group’s budget proposal. Sub-code categories range anywhere from transportation and food, to campus-wide events and group supplies. If a group wishes to switch around funds toward a certain sub-code, the treasurer would need to apply for supplemental funding through SBC. When the previous year’s presidents of SGO submit their budget to SBC for the next year, their goals might not line up with the those of the new co-presidents, executive board, and senate yet to be elected.

“We try to think about what we’re doing not only for this year but for future presidents and future student governments to come. We want to be able to allow future presidents some freedom in terms of what they want to do and what they want to pursue,” said Roebuck.

The co-presidents shared that their vision for SGO this year is to find ways to make the organization more well-structured and stable. Discussions regarding constitutional amendments and senate structure are still ongoing.

As a result, the frequency of SGO sponsored events like study breaks has lessened. So far, there has been one study break to advertise senate elections, and one to be held on Halloween. According to SGO’s current budget and budget from last year, SGO requested received approximately $13,000 for a total of ten planned study-breaks.Though Esaias mentioned that much more campus-wide events like study breaks are planned for next semester, the co-presidents attributed the lack of SGO sponsored events to the organization deliberating how to use its funds and its undefined relationship with OSE.

“The exact relationship is still being defined and is something that I want to do is to have greater collaboration with OSE,” said Roebuck.

He remarked that if there are other outlets like OSE that provide the student body with campus events, then SGO can use money effectively for other items they want to pursue to advance student interests.

Andrew Barclay, Assistant Director for Student Activities and Leadership, clarified the relationship OSE and SGO have for campus-wide events. OSE generally organizes larger events like Worthstock, winter formal, and the Halloween party with the input of SGO, OSE intern group, and other pertinent student groups. SGO organizes smaller events like study breaks throughout the semester. Barclay further described the relationship between OSE and SGO.

“I have a weekly meeting with SGO leadership.  So far those meetings have been extremely productive. The SGO students are working hard to develop exceptional programming and have been very supportive of the OSE initiatives so far,” he said.

Clare Perez ‘18, chair of the Student Life Committee, described the agenda for her committee amid the decreased amount of campus-wide events sponsored by SGO. The Student Life Committee is in charge of organizing events like study-breaks.

“The current plans of the Student Life Committee are first and foremost to create an effective platform for students to send suggestions they have to improve campus life to both Student Government and the administration.  I know that ideas come to people all the time based on daily events and interactions, but there is no formal way to translate that idea into action,” she said.

Perez further explained that the Student Life Committee is currently in discussion with administrators to extend the hours of CAPS and Worth Health Center on weekends.

Roebuck and Esaias shared that with a restructured budget, they could advance their goals of putting more money toward a seed fund for new groups, creating a fund for separate executive board projects, and increasing the overall visibility of SGO.

Currently, new groups awaiting to be chartered cannot get funding from SBC. However, to be considered an active group and later be chartered, the group needs money to operate in the present. To fix this problem, SGO has an “emergency fund” meant to give groups in the preliminary stages of starting up some seed money.

The co-presidents have plans of setting up an “innovation fund” as well, which would provide the executive board with money to do independent projects within SGO subcommittees. For example, if the Diversity & Inclusion Committee wanted to collaborate directly with the Intercultural Center, the committee could use funds directly from SGO’s budget.

“We have all these different committees which have a lot of really good ideas and have the potential to spark a lot of campus events,communities, and discussions amongst the student body.” said Esaias.

Finally, SGO has plans to increase their visibility on campus through increasing both the organization’s social media presence and merchandise like t-shirts.

“We’re always constantly doing stuff even if we’re not doing all-campus events where we have cupcakes, puppies, and things like that. We’re chartering groups, always appointing people to committees etc. so I think having more SGO paraphernalia like t-shirts or other things would help to raise our visibility on campus,” said Esaias.

As of now, the details on how SGO will be regulated by SBC if it gains more freedom to control its budget remains unclear.

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