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.”