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This has happened before: we must remember our history

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Over the last few weeks, the Swarthmore community has been inundated with student activism. Students are voicing their concerns and taking actions to make clear that they are dissatisfied with administrative policies around campus.

One of the most recent student movements has been Organizing for Survivors and their call for Title IX policy reform. But, this is not the only movement for which students have been petitioning administration for change. Students for Justice in Palestine are calling for Dining Services to ban the sale of Sabra hummus products. Swarthmore Sunrise, previously Mountain Justice, is launching a referendum to the board against the 1991 ban on taking social considerations into account when investing funds.

These demands from students are not new. In fact, they mirror all too well the concerns of students who have graduated. Most notably, these same concerns were voiced during the Spring 2013 semester, also known as the Spring of our Discontent. We at The Phoenix believe the reoccurrence of these issues reflects that Swarthmore has a culture in which activism is encouraged, but not sufficiently heard. Students are continually compelled to express concerns that they do not feel have been addressed.

Most of the issues that have been raised by students this semester are direct issues that were raised during the Spring of Discontent. For example, in spring 2013, a group of sexual assault survivors and allies called for an end to greek life and the abolishment of campus space for greek life. A referendum on greek life at Swarthmore was held. While five out of six questions on the referendum did not pass, the organizing of survivors did demonstrate that students felt current policies addressing sexual assault needed to be improved and that survivors needed more support. Five years later, sexual assault survivors still do not feel supported and are calling for similar policy changes.

We also believe that the activism from previous students should not die in vain. Rather, we must educate ourselves on the causes students fought for in the past and expand on the movements they worked to build. Looking back on this activism and the results of it are necessary to contextualize events happening on campus now, five years later. The same deficiencies appear repeatedly, the problems are long-standing. Students not directly involved in activism should seek to understand where the current movements come from; students who are involved can use the broader historical narrative as a tool for accountability.   This is true for IX, and for other causes. The Students for Justice in Palestine’s current campaign to boycott Sabra hummus is not their first — their 2012 campaign was successful but the hummus was eventually brought back.

Institutional memory is both a useful tool for campus activists and is also necessary for preserving campus culture and history. Understanding our past as a college community preserves the legacy of those who fought for the institutional changes we now take for granted, and helps to hold those in power to the promises they make to the student body. Publications are a source of this institutional memory, and we at The Phoenix recognize our role in sharing the current perspectives of the Swarthmore community while also preserving the history of these student movements. In order for longstanding change to come,, students need to situate ourselves with this history, and administration needs to due both it and the current climate due diligence.

Thank you to those who keep Swarthmore going

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In the past week we’ve experienced more snow than Swarthmore has seen in the past three months. As we all began to mentally prepare ourselves for spring break, it managed to get the coldest it has been all year. Friday’s winter storm damaged power lines, cutting off the power to the college and the majority of homes and business in the Swarthmore area. Massive trees fell near Willets, in front of PPR, and many other trees went down campus. Power was not restored to campus until around 9 p.m. on Friday, powered by a generator. PECO power was partially restored on Wednesday.

Yet Winter Storm Riley was a powerful reminder of the amazing and supportive community which we are a part of here at Swarthmore. As students gathered in Sharples, the only building with power on Friday evening, the atmosphere was not one of dread, but of liveliness and fun. Students were taking advantage of the power outage by coming together through playing cards, enjoying games, and engaging in light-hearted conversation. The outage became a cause for unity rather than frustration. We at the Phoenix are honored to be a part of such a compassionate, encouraging community.

We also recognize that this compassionate, encouraging community is not just created by the students. The gathering in Sharples on Friday night, the quick restoration of power, and the vibrant energy on campus wouldn’t have been possible without the staff and faculty that devoted themselves to ensuring a positive experience for students.

We want to express our appreciation for all of the staff and faculty who kept the campus running for us despite the lack of power at their homes, the icy roads, and the fallen trees and power lines.

Thank you to all of the Sharples staff who continued to provide us with food and a welcoming place to sit, charge our phones and computers, and spend time as a community despite the crazy weather. They came in and had the same upbeat attitude they always have while greeting students each and every day.

Thank you to facilities for working tirelessly to connect campus back to power in only five hours on Friday night, while nearly everywhere else in the area remained without power. It is impossible to express enough gratitude for keeping us connected to the generators throughout the weekend, even switching out the generators over the weekend to ensure campus remained provided with electricity. We are grateful for Ralph Thayer, director of facilities, for keeping students updated on the process through email chains and for making the switch to generator power as seamless as possible.

We are immensely grateful to the facilities staff and arboretum workers who gave their time to shovel snow and clear paths in the storm so that we students could safely navigate campus. We are aware that these workers have even more work ahead of them as they clean up fallen trees and other damage from the storm. They are extraordinary for the effort they exert every day just to keep campus functioning and beautiful.

Finally, thank you to all the professors, living in and out of the town of Swarthmore, that have powered through the damage brought by Riley, coming on to the campus to continue to teach despite the rough conditions and lack of power.

We at The Phoenix have written many articles which criticize and hold various divisions of the college accountable. However, we also recognize the importance of showing gratitude for the people and services we take for granted everyday both those classified as “essential” in the emails, and those who simply improve the lives of students everyday. In the context of this storm, we cannot express how much we appreciate and recognize the hard work that came from all the staff that keep the college running. Swarthmore has room for a lot of improvement but this storm has demonstrated and made us ever more grateful for the staff who work tirelessly to make Swarthmore a place where students, faculty, and staff can find a dedicated and hardworking community of people.

The Board of Managers needs greater transparency with students

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This past weekend, approximately 35 business people gathered in the Scheuer room of Kohlberg to discuss matters relating to the college. These people, also known as the Board of Managers, convened behind closed doors around conference tables for one of the four meetings they hold each year. Their main purpose was to make decisions regarding the endowment and, alongside President Smith, set a direction for the college.

Yet, if students did not pass through Kohlberg Hall this weekend, or even if they were in Kohlberg but not during a break in the Board of Managers meeting, they may have been completely unaware that the meeting was taking place. Even if students did know the meeting was occurring, they remained unlikely to know the purpose of the Board of Managers, much less anything about their current agenda. For students, the Board of Managers appears to be an obscure entity of business people in suits, sitting in a dark room, drinking coffee, and discussing which fund the endowment should be invested into next.

We at the Phoenix believe this relationship between students and the Board of Managers is disheartening and unproductive. Especially for an institution like Swarthmore that prides itself on supporting student efficacy and responsibility, we believe students have a right to know the issues and solutions on which the board is actively deciding, especially since those decisions will have a direct impact on our lives as students.

For example, students are left completely unaware of the board’s agenda and the topics they discuss at the meeting, both before the meeting and after it.  While there are archives of records from the Board of Managers’ meetings online, these records seem to be from over 30 years ago and still state that  “Permission to this material is restricted and requires the permission of the Office of the President of Swarthmore College.” There is no explanation of who is allowed to request these documents.

The minutes from past Board of Managers meetings should not be restricted and the minutes should be made available to students within a week after the meeting. The United States government posts an outline of Congressional meetings, along with extended remarks from members of congress who spoke.

We recognize that Swarthmore College is much smaller than the U.S. government and operates much differently as a private institution. Still, since Swarthmore has fewer students than the U.S. government has citizens, and arguably much less highly classified information than the U.S. government, it should be easier for Swarthmore to be transparent with students, not harder. If citizens have the right to hear about the government making decisions that will affect their lives, shouldn’t students be extended this same right as members of the college community who are impacted by the decisions board members make?

We at the Phoenix also recognize that the board may not mean to appear so secretive. Most board members were Swarthmore students themselves, so they likely are able to understand our perspective. We also recognize that limited efforts have been made by the board to breakdown some of the barriers between them and students, such as allowing two observers from SGO to attend this weekend’s meeting. Part of the meeting for the board this past weekend was applauding and supporting the work of current students, such as listening to Lang Social Impact Scholar presentations and considering the project proposals from the President’s Sustainability Research fellows. We commend the beginnings of a relationship between the board and students, but we also believe that these small-scale connections are not enough.

The Board of Managers should allow open meetings in which any student who wishes to observe the meetings are allowed to attend. Minutes from the board’s meetings should also be made easily accessible online, so that students can be informed about the concerns, changes, and decisions that will ultimately affect them. After a Board of Managers meeting, President Val Smith should send out the minutes from the meeting through email, along with the major announcements she makes, like the new provost.

These are just a few methods in which the Board of Managers could become more transparent and develop a stronger relationships with students. The secretive arrangement between students and the board that currently exists undermines student trust in the institution and portrays the current student perspective as unimportant, even if this is not the intentions of the board. By taking steps to foster a more open relationship between the board and students, Swarthmore can foster a greater community while upholding their goals as an institution.

Thank you to the Phoenix

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I always crave mozzarella sticks from Essie’s at ten o’clock on Wednesday nights. I’m not sure why mozzarella sticks exactly — maybe it’s because they’re weighty, and I crave them in the hopes they’ll anchor me to the ground. Regardless, I know why I get strange cravings on Wednesday nights — since my first year at Swarthmore, I have developed a Pavlovian association between this particular time of every week and the Phoenix, the college’s oldest, (and I’ll say it, best) campus publication.

The way my time at the Phoenix is ending is remarkably similar to the way it began — in a completely unexpected way. When I came to Ride the Tide in the spring of 2014, I was finishing up my tenure as the founding editor-in-chief of my high school’s newspaper, the clunkily-named Rider Eye. I thought I was done with journalism, and then I walked by the Phoenix’s table at the infamous activities fair. I was actually frightened at how energetic the members of the Phoenix staff were and how aggressively they were recruiting prospective students. Mostly out of fear and partly out of obligation, I put my name down on the mailing list.

I went to their open house a few weeks later and met some editors who seemed way too cool and way too put together for me to ever associate with them (I’ve now learned as a current junior that it was probably all just for show, but whatever.) Fast forward another week, and I’m in the middle of writing my first ever news piece for the Phoenix.

It was awful.

Rather than firing me because it’s really hard to fire someone from a perpetually understaffed campus publication, I got a healthy dose of fairly brutal critiques and comments and suggestions. I slowly started to get the hang of things — and I really liked being a part of the organization that always seemed to be in the loop about the latest campus news. I started editing, I wrote some editorials, I started as managing editor, and all of a sudden I was the editor-in-chief of this strange, strange group of student journalists. And it’s been the most important experience of my time at Swarthmore.

The primary mode of intellectual engagement at Swarthmore is the language of theory. Swarthmore students love to theorize, analyze, and theorize. It’s what we’re good at. But campus journalism resists theory and theorizing — it’s just something you have to learn and do on the job. It feels real, viscerally real in a way that doesn’t really happen that often with Swarthmore academics. I love Thursday mornings (or, if we get out of publishing at 4am, afternoons) because of the moment I see the print edition of this week’s Phoenix for the first time. You get to say to yourself, “Look, I made something that isn’t a poststructuralist critique of Marx in a half-assed paper at three in the morning. I made solid journalism, instead!”

But campus journalism is also frustratingly, head-banging-ly difficult at times. You can only stay up for endless hours once or twice before the novelty wears off. Pieces fall through. The layout doesn’t quite work sometimes. We make quoting errors, but always try our best to resolve them. Long story short, this is student journalism, we’re students before we’re journalists and mistakes are going to happen. Over my career as a campus journalist, I’ve made more than my fair share. Just ask a Bryn Mawr College student or alum.

Most importantly though, the Phoenix wouldn’t exist without the people who work to make this publication happen every week. During the meetings and long Wednesday nights, there’s never a dull moment. There have been too many inside jokes, too many laughs, too many surprises, too many close calls, and too many moments of triumph to include in the text of an editorial.

Just as my entrance into the Phoenix Pham was unexpected, my exit is far from how I would have imagined it. I sustained a concussion over winter break and I’ve had to take a major step back this past semester from many of my commitments, including the Phoenix. There were more projects I wanted to pursue, stories I wanted to write, and more time I could have spent with the people that I care about so much. Despite all that, I stumbled my way to the end of the semester, and you’re now reading the last issue of the Phoenix for the semester and I wrote this final editorial. So I wanted to thank you, Swarthmore community, for giving us and for giving me a purpose.

We’re not a perfect organization and we’re always trying to be better. And my parting request to all of you reading this is to help us on that pursuit. If you’re feeling inspired, write an op-ed. If a Phoenix staff member reaches out to you to learn more about a story, give them a chance — and think of it as an opportunity to make a new friend. Maybe you have a story to tell one of us! Stories bring us together in ways that other forms of media can’t — and they’re my favorite one, by far.

To quote Kehlani, “All I’m trying to say is I thank you.”

It’s been real.

-Bobby Zipp ’18, EIC

Evaluating the safety of our staff in a snowstorm

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The snow piles up on the ground outside, finally beginning to slow, yet its remnants promise to keep the conditions for the day dangerous and uncertain. Branches and fallen trees block pathways in the borough, and some residential areas darken as a result of damaged power lines.

Meanwhile, on campus, students roam the college and desperately hope their classes will be cancelled. Some students walk up the path of Parrish Beach, trudging the path that the essential employees from the grounds crew worked to clear. As these Swatties entered Parrish, however, they may have been surprised to notice that, despite many essential staff members reporting to work, the administrative office hall was practically a ghost town. Many administrative members deemed the snowy conditions too severe to come to work, despite the fact that required staff, including many EVS workers, dining staff, and grounds workers, were required to report to work in spite of the storm.

We at the Phoenix find this unfair as it places an unequal burden on essential staff relative to the administration. While we recognize that many people could not make it to work due to the conditions and while we respect the need to practice safety precautions, it is absolutely unfair that many higher administrators did not have to report to work while many staff members were not given the same options to practice such precautions. These staff members were not allowed to follow these precautions despite the fact that they are not paid as high a salary as the deans, and many do not have as reliable winter transportation considering some depend on public transportation. We believe that it sends the wrong message to staff members in our community that that their safety is not as important as the safety of other employees. This is especially a problem in that it demonstrates a hierarchy of importance in the college that respects the decisions and safety of higher administration without equally respecting this integrity of other staff members.

Of course, we at the Phoenix recognize that some staff truly are essential to the maintenance of the college, and that it would have been nearly impossible to maintain the college without these employees. For example, some members of grounds crew were absolutely essential in ensuring that paths remained clear and, thanks tremendously to them, students were still able to roam the paths of campus and make it to their scheduled classes without trudging through inches of snow. Dining staff in Sharples, Essie’s, Kohlberg, and Science Center were needed so that students could still eat properly in spite of the storm. And to be fair, we at the Phoenix recognize that the college did not necessarily make all EVS staff report to work, but left it up to “relevant departments” to decide if all staff members were absolutely necessary.

However, we at the Phoenix believe this becomes an issue when all of these essential staff members are expected to report to work, yet many members of the administration and higher staff do not need to follow the same expectations. While some of the administration may work from home, it still does not change the fact that they are not standing in solidarity with the essential staff who have no choice but to report to work. Clearly, changes in college policy need to be made to ensure that these staff members are still respected and treated fairly amongst other members of the college community. As a result, we at the Phoenix call for Swarthmore to either increase their expectations of the administration and higher staff to report to work or that the required staff members who do report to work receive extra compensation and respect for their time.

 

Updates to Quoting Policy

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Coming off of election years, national news publications, such as the New York Times, cite issues with campaign offices having tight lips and hesitant hands. The offices revise, redact, and reform quotes to fit a narrative. Journalists have trouble developing stories because of this policy called quote revision, which enables the places and people they report on to manage what they say officially. Stories and reporting tactics are hampered because the honest quotes — the less-than-polished, off-the-cuff words of people — are refined by bureaucracy and management.

Now, the problems for college journalists are not of the same sensitivity or degree as those of national news organizations; they are, however, persistent and ubiquitous on our campuses. At Swarthmore, as a small college community, not only does everyone know each other, but everyone knows what others say. This fact can often cause friction for college papers. Sources understandably want to ensure their images are not marred in the publication of a controversial piece or in the leak of sensitive information. However, these intentions conflict with journalism’s goals of telling honest, well-rounded, and meaningful stories.

Previously, the Phoenix has maintained a de-facto quoting policy through which sources could retract quotes that were once on the record. This policy was meant to serve the campus community. In recent years, however, the policy has had the unintended consequence of limiting writers’ ability to cover stories earnestly and the Phoenix’s ability to report campus events accurately.

As a result, the Phoenix has decided to change its quoting policy, so the campus benefits from better reporting while it maintains access to quotes. The new policy states that sources who had previously provided quotes on the record are expected to be treated as on the record. Retracted quotes will be considered in only extreme cases. Less frank quotes reduce stories’ ability to convey the truth. In the event of an extenuating circumstance, a source may withhold their quotes pending a meeting with Phoenix staff. This is actually not a new policy at the Phoenix; rather, it is the reiteration of our current policy. Certain editors have ventured away from this policy in the name of transparency and dialogue, but these decisions have caused more problems than solutions, and thus we feel compelled to reiterate our original policy. Furthermore, although we will not allow sources to retract or revise their quotes, sources may request for their quotes to be sent to them before publication.

It is also important to clarify the distinctions between information that is considerd “on the record” and “off”. On the record information is information that can be quoted or used toward a piece’s final published form and is attributed to the source. This information is usually obtained over in-person interviews, phone calls, and email correspondence. Off the record information cannot be reported in the final published piece. However, off the record information can be used to motivate further research and find new sources who can provide the same or different information on the record. Once a Phoenix reporter identifies themselves as a reporter to a potential source, all correspondence thereafter is assumed to be on the record unless otherwise specified. Also, a source may be referred to as an anonymous source, pending a meeting with Phoenix staff.

For reference, this change comes after many other established institutions have made similar policy changes or comments. The New York Times, in addition to other college publications like the Harvard Crimson, holds similar quoting policies in order to avoid these skewed and sterile quotes.

The Phoenix recognizes that we are not the New York Times, and the situations both papers find themselves in are very different. Our change is not because of a concern with “getting the scoop” or catching people in a bad light. Although we do want to hold the college and community accountable, this reasoning is not the root of this policy change. Instead, quote revision prevents dialogue and the exchange of ideas from taking place. Therefore, restating and reaffirming our practices and policies as they were intended to be followed ensures that we are a place of discourse where ideas are offered up for discussion and comparison.

Updates to Quoting Policy

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Coming off of election years, national news publications, such as the New York Times, cite issues with campaign offices having tight lips and hesitant hands. The offices, barring campaign spokespeople, revise, redact, and reform quotes to fit a narrative, a voice, and a message. Journalists have trouble developing stories because of this policy called quote revision, which enables the places and people they report on to manage what they say officially. Stories and reporting tactics are hampered because the honest quotes — the less-than-polished, off-the-cuff words of people — are refined by bureaucracy and management.

Now, the problems for college journalists are not of the same sensitivity or degree as those of national news organizations; they are, however, persistent and ubiquitous on our campuses. At Swarthmore, as a small college community, not only does everyone know each other, but everyone knows what others say. This fact can often cause friction for college papers. Sources understandably want to ensure their images are not marred in the publication of a controversial piece or in the leak of sensitive information. However, these intentions conflict with journalism’s goals of telling honest, well-rounded, and meaningful stories.

Previously, the Phoenix has maintained a quoting policy through which sources could retract quotes that were once on the record. This policy was meant to serve the campus community and help constituents maintain their reputations. In recent years, however, the policy has had unintended consequences of limiting writers’ ability to cover stories earnestly and the Phoenix’s ability to report campus events accurately.

As a result, the Phoenix has decided to change its quoting policy, so the campus benefits from better reporting while it maintains access to quotes. The new policy states that sources who had previously provided quotes on the record cannot retract quotes. Less frank quotes reduce stories’ ability to convey the truth. To offset worry, in the event of an extenuating circumstance, a source may withhold their quotes pending a meeting with Phoenix staff. Furthermore, although we will not allow sources to retract or revise their quotes, sources may request for their quotes to be sent to them before publication.

It is also important to clarify the distinctions between information that is on the record and off. On the record information is information that can be quoted or used toward a piece’s final published form and is attributed to the source. This information is usually obtained over in-person interviews, phone calls, and email correspondence. Off the record information cannot be reported in the final published piece. However, off the record information can be used to motivate further research and find new sources who can provide the same or different information on the record. Once a Phoenix reporter identifies themselves as a reporter to a potential source, all correspondence thereafter is assumed to be on the record unless otherwise specified. Also, a source may be referred to as an anonymous source, pending a meeting with Phoenix staff.

For reference, this change comes after many other established institutions have made similar policy changes or comments. The New York Times, in addition to other college publications like the Harvard Crimson, holds similar quoting policies in order to avoid these skewed and sterile quotes.

The Phoenix recognizes that we are not the New York Times, and the situations both papers find themselves in are very different. Our change is not because of a concern with “getting the scoop” or catching people in a bad light. Although we do want to hold the college and community accountable, this reasoning is not the root of this policy change. Instead, quote revision prevents dialogue and the exchange of ideas from taking place. This change ensures that we are a place of discourse where ideas are offered up for discussion and comparison.

Student Council marches on in its war on accountability

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Several weeks ago, Student Council announced that all its meetings would take place off the record. The Phoenix was hopeful that the organization might reconsider its decision.

But instead, StuCo decided to do the exact opposite. According to the Daily Gazette’s April 2 StuCo report, starting next week, not only will all StuCo meetings be off the record, but from now on, the individual opinions and votes of its members will be kept secret.

“[S]ometimes people don’t want their names attached to their stance,” said StuCo Co-President Jason Heo ’15.

For those who have sympathy for Heo’s position, the Phoenix has a friendly suggestion: don’t run for elected office. But given that Student Council is a body composed entirely of elected representatives, this decision is utterly indefensible.

Indeed, Heo’s quote is so ridiculous that one might confuse it for a belated April Fool’s Day joke. But make no mistake, our Student Council co-president has just seriously claimed that he and his colleagues may hide their votes on matters of potential importance to the student body.

That a democratic body cannot sequester itself from public scrutiny would seem to be obvious. Allowing elected members the right to keep their views and decisions from the public eye does more than just decrease representation. It is antithetical to its very definition.

But given StuCo’s recent trend of decreasing accountability, it appears that the organization’s members are utterly incapable of understanding even this most basic principle of democratic governance. We will therefore explain the problem using ideas found in a document that we hope even StuCo can understand: its own constitution.

According to the Student Council constitution’s mission statement, StuCo “must strive in all its actions to be both transparent and accountable.” On this alone, we would contend that StuCo’s action is unconstitutional.

But the document goes further. In its procedures section, the constitution states that “all motions shall be decided by an open vote, and each individual vote cast on every motion shall be recorded in the minutes.” Thus, their decision does not merely transgress on the constitution’s theoretical principle of transparency. It is an explicit violation.

It also certainly puts to rest any illusions that StuCo’s leaders seek to increase the group’s accountability and transparency, for students cannot hold their representatives accountable if they are forbidden from knowing how they vote or what their stances are. Furthermore, if StuCo members decide to run for more than one term, voters will be unable to scrutinize their records, as no records will exist.

But most of all, we are curious as to what it is that StuCo members are trying to hide. Given its notoriety as an organization that accomplishes very little, why does it suddenly need to shroud itself in secrecy? In other words, what are its members afraid of us knowing about them? Their opinions on subsidized SEPTA tickets? How they feel about their new office?

Indeed, this decision is particularly disconcerting precisely because it exacerbates the disconnect between Student Council and the people they represent. After all, it is difficult to connect with our representatives when we are forbidden to know what they stand for.

In spite of all this, StuCo has attempted to defend these policy changes. In today’s letter to the editor, Heo and StuCo’s other co-president, Lanie Schlessinger ’15, state that these changes were not only benign, but needed. Campus media, they argue, “have not been sufficiently accurate in portraying the projects we have been working on or the processes by which we make decisions.”

The term “sufficiently accurate” is telling, for it implies that StuCo gets to be the arbiter of deciding how its policies and decisions are to be discussed and interpreted. Even if reporters have not done due diligence in covering their meetings, surely the solution is not to give StuCo complete power over the presentation of their policies.

In addition, Heo and Schlessinger chronicled all the new steps StuCo is taking to “further increase transparency,” which consist of displaying their minutes (which, incidentally, have not been updated since March 4) and virtual comment box in more prominent locations, tabling at Sharples and creating a new Facebook page. Clearly, Heo and Schlessinger are confused as to what the word “transparency” means, for none of the steps they list actually increase the ability of those unaffiliated with StuCo to independently evaluate its policies, decisions and practices. What StuCo is doing amounts to nothing more than an aggressive PR campaign.

StuCo must therefore immediately reverse course and reinstate its policies of open voting and on-the-record meetings. Its constitution commands it. Democracy demands it. And most of all, students deserve to judge for themselves if the people they elect to represent them are doing their jobs.

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