On Sunday, Feb. 10, College Council (CC) co-presidential candidates faced off in a Record-moderated debate in Baxter Hall. Both sides emphasized the need to help create a support system to combat campus issues like bias incidents and sexual assault and to include more students in the discourse of CC.
Editor-in-Chief of The Williams Record Megan Bantle ’14 moderated the debate with the help of Managing Editor Nicole Smith ’14 as official timekeeper. Bantle flipped a coin to determine which pair of candidates would open the debate. Emily Calkins ’14 and Ayodele Ekhator ’15 won the coin toss and chose to give their opponents the chance to make their opening statement first.
In their opening statement, Adrian Castro ’14 and Max Heninger ’14 emphasized their previous collaboration on projects within CC. Heninger spoke of the “newly empowered” CC that he and Castro hoped to foster through their leadership in the coming year.
Ekhator and Calkins used an anecdotal approach in their opening statement. Ekhator described why they had come together as a team, and Calkins commented on her faith in the pair’s ability to facilitate “difficult conversations” about issues facing the campus.
“When you believe in your ideas as strongly as I believe in mine, when you believe in your runningmate as strongly as I believe in mine, you feel empowered going forward,” Calkins said.
Bantle’s first question to candidates asked how they planned to utilize the new vice presidential positions. Calkins said that she and Ekhator would have the vice president for student affairs send e-mails to members of at least three student groups that have a stake in the week’s conversations to draw them to meetings. Calkins also hopes to have the vice president of academic affairs look into the spike in honor code violations and “tap into all the resources that know most about it,” including professors and students. Calkins is “excited” about the prospect of working with the vice president for student organizations.
“We’ve seen the impact College Council can have in empowering student organizations,” Calkins said. “[We are interested in] working with [the vice president for student organizations] very closely so that we can make sure that it’s very clear how to approve a student group, how to get funding and how to go forward to make sure that those student organizations are best served to excite the people that are ready to be at the meetings.”
Castro mentioned his and Heninger’s involvement in bringing back the opinions feature on Williams Students Online to “increase communication throughout the student body,” a goal they hope to further as co-presidents if elected. Heninger also said that they plan to make reducing and reacting to bias incidents a priority by working with their vice president for community and diversity and strengthening the relationship between CC and the Minority Coalition (MinCo), stressing that this issue was “most important” to them. One way they hope to do this is by adjusting the First Days program for incoming first-year students to feature more emphasis on diversity. Heninger and Castro also hope to use the vice president for student affairs position to “spearhead” a “stronger platform for co-sponsorship” between CC and All-Campus Entertainment and to streamline the process for funding events.
“If you’re trying to have an event at [the College] right now, it’s really hard,” Heninger said. “You’re expected to know where all these various pots of money are, and quite frankly I don’t think most students have the time to go treasure hunting for all these different resources. Why not empower ACE to have the funds so that they can be the first stop for information that you go to, not only to get the funding, but to get the logistical support that students need to have the events they care about?”
The second question of the debate challenged candidates to give specific examples of the way they would improve the CC-MinCo relationship in light of recent bias incidents.
Heninger cited his and Castro’s involvement in the Community Matters series, co-sponsored by CC and MinCo, as an opportunity to “put together a conversation” across campus. According to Heninger, Community Matters is both a useful model for future events and the foundation for a strong CC-MinCo relationship.
“I think [Community Matters] builds a working relationship between CC and MinCo that we know is effective,” Heninger said. “If we’re collaborating on these kinds of forums, we know that when the time comes that we need to work together and go to the administration about a policy issue that we both care about, we know that those bonds [between CC and MinCo] are going to be there when they matter most. We have the coordination to be on the same page.”
Ekhator said that he and Calkins aims to create an “institutionalized framework” for first-years to be educated that bias incidents are “something … to be prepared for” at the College. “It’s something that you can’t stop from happening, but it’s something that you can inform and educate students about,” Ekhator said.
Calkins referred to her “disappointment” in what she saw as a lack of “empowerment” for Junior Advisors (JAs) to help their first-year’s understand the bias incidents earlier this year in their context, since the Class of 2016 was not present for the hate crime in Nov. 2011. Calkins said that she had reached out to leaders in the Davis Center and the deans’ office to brainstorm how such a framework could be created. Calkins, too, cited the Community Matters series as a positive example of CC-MinCo collaboration.
Bantle’s third and last question asked each candidate to talk about what his or her runningmate “brings to the campus community as a leader.”
“The reasons that I’m running with [Ekhator] definitely transcend [his resume],” Calkins said. “Frankly, I think [Ekhator’s] the kind of person who’s graceful, who’s willing to listen, who’s poised and who can enter any situation no matter how charged, no matter how difficult, with the confidence necessary to move forward, to make everyone feel heard.”
Calkins pointed out that she and Ekhator were “there on the sidelines” at the Amherst-Williams basketball game, cheering on the Ephs. “It’s exciting that we’re the people leading cheers,” Calkins said.
“Emily Calkins is well-known in this community because [Calkins] is passionate about serving this community,” Ekhator said of Calkins. “That confidence and that passion and enthusiasm for serving Williams is what we need and what all of us students expect in a CC president: for those people to want to serve our community and enhance our experiences.”
Castro highlighted his running mate’s diligence, saying that Heninger is “always working,” even when other students are relaxing. “I know that going forward, I can trust [Heninger] with everything I have and anything that I want to conduct,” Castro said. Castro drew laughter from the crowd when he highlighted Heninger’s “charm.” He ended by saying that “[Heninger] is Williams,” citing his experience as a tour guide, an athlete, a member of CC and a junior on campus who is not a JA, giving him experiences that are “very different” and “one of the best examples of what a co-president should be.”
Heninger said that he chose Castro as his runningmate because of his “astounding” record and because Castro “[knows] every bylaw backwards and forwards.” He also brought up his runningmate’s circumspect attitude. “At CC, [Castro] is not one who is going to talk all the time to hear the sound of his own voice,” Heninger said. “He’s one who’s going to listen to the opinions of everyone and then at that point come together, collect his thoughts and make a well-reasoned, informed opinion.”
The candidates were then given an opportunity to ask the opposition a single question. Both teams pushed the limits by splitting their question into two parts. Calkins and Ekhator asked Castro and Heninger how they planned to make CC more representative of the student body and how CC should be updated in the future to involve more students. Heninger was quick to express his pride in CC’s accomplishments over the past year, but acknowledged that there was “room for improvement.” Castro added that he considered the current CC to have a “diverse array” of students, but that he wanted to “engage all 2000 [students]” by involving them in discourse.
Castro and Heninger asked Calkins and Ekhator for examples of projects they had initiated and followed through to their conclusion in support of their platform. Ekhator highlighted Calkins’ involvement in campus activities, while Calkins reminded the audience that while some of her accomplishments do not have her name, she was still an part of making SuperFan and Sophomorientation successful.
The debate ended after short closing statements from each side.
Concerns were raised among the student body about the accuracy of some of the statements made by candidates during the debate. Current CC Co-President Krista Pickett ’13 amended some of the misinformation. For example, Ekhator stated during the debate that voter turnout was “below 50 percent,” when it was actually 52 percent during the CC election last fall, a 20 percent increase from the previous fall’s turnout. Fall elections usually have lower turnout than spring elections because they do not include co-presidential races, and last year’s contentious spring election drew in approximately 60 percent of the student body. In the last four years, voter turnout for spring elections ranged from 50 to 75 percent. According to the American Student Government Association, the average voter turnout for the College’s peer institutions is 15 to 20 percent.
Ekhator also made mention of “minimal” attendance at CC meetings, but according to Pickett attendance is 100 percent for elected representatives. However, this comment may have referred to Ekhator and Calkins’ opinion that few non-CC students attend meetings.
Statistically, the implication that the athletic community is underrepresented in CC is exaggerated; demographically, according to Pickett, athletes make up 27 percent of CC representatives.
SuperFan was also mentioned several times during the debate, with both sides laying claim to the popular College spirit program. Pickett pointed out that SuperFan is likely to be institutionalized following tonight’s meeting, making it a “non-factor” in the election.