Candidates for College Council debate issues

Students attended the debate in Baxter Hall between the two tickets for the presidency of College Council. Arjun Kakkar/Photo editor.
Students attended the debate in Baxter Hall between the two tickets for the presidency of College Council. Arjun Kakkar/Photo editor.

On Monday, the Record-moderated College Council (CC) Debate between CC candidates took place. Also taking place was a debate between representatives for and against the referendum to suggest to the Board of Trustees that the College divest the endowment from fossil fuels. The candidates running for a year-long CC position presented their platforms to students at Paresky, and the presidential candidates answered questions fielded to them by Record Editor-in-Chief Rachel Lee ’16, with time kept by Record Managing Editor Eva Fourakis ’16.

The presidential tickets of Meghana Vunnamadala ’16 and Teddy Cohan ’16 and that of Grant Johnson ’17 were initially given two minutes each to introduce themselves.

Cohan and Vunnamadala drew attention to the importance of giving all students a voice and a stake in the community, especially in the wake of recent tensions. Cohan hopes to set aside five to 10 minutes to discuss community matters at every CC meeting, as is done with the budget. Vunnamadala highlighted possible improvements to dining services and athletics. She suggested expanding food options between 2:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. as well as instituting a snack bar rewards system, wherein students would receive their 11th order for free after ordering the same item 10 times. She raised the idea of creating a student-athlete advisory committee for members of club sports teams and expanding the fitness center’s hours.

Johnson pointed out that despite CC’s importance, in that it distributes over $400,000 to student groups, most students feel apathetic about student government at the College. He cited a turnout of less than 20 percent in the two previous CC elections and a tendency for candidates to run unopposed as signs that CC is failing to engage with the students at large.

When asked what role he would play as a liaison between the student body and the administration, Johnson told students that he would be their voice for administrators. In this capacity, he would work with faculty and staff to make changes requested by students, like expanding dining hours. Johnson also indicated his disappointment with students communicating about serious issues exclusively over social media. He asked that, should he be elected, students communicate with him, CC and each other about problems they encounter on campus.

Cohan described the challenges of being a liaison as fitting into two distinct issues. One is gaining an understanding of what students want by attending the meetings of student organizations. The other is knowing how to interact with the administration, where he believes his and Vunnamadala’s experience will be helpful.

Vunnamadala agreed that many students are apathetic about student government and said she wanted to tap into the pulse of the student body. She cited Cohan’s membership on the Lecture Series committee and his WCFM radio show as ways to gauge students’ attitudes.

Johnson criticized CC for being too insular, thus limiting the potential for student engagement. He argued that because many CC members represent similar interests, the group fails to take full advantage of the student body’s tremendous diversity of perspectives and experiences. Johnson also said that because of CC’s confined nature, members have an understanding to not run against each other for positions, which contributes to a lack of student engagement during elections.

“A lot of people on campus see all the same kind of people all interested in the same thing on CC and they’re not really representing their interests. I want to bring in more diverse groups of people,” Johnson said.

He also said he would work to streamline CC meetings and simplify the 40-page by-laws, which he thinks makes CC inaccessible to students and discourages people from seeking office.

Johnson said the most pressing issue on campus, in his opinion, is sexual assault. While he anticipates the results of the recent survey on attitudes and prevalence of sexual assault, he also proposed working with the administration and the Junior Advisor program to have all students receive bystander training during First Days.

Cohan said it was clear to him that tensions arising from diversity are the most important issue at the College. He cited the opposition to Michael Bloomberg delivering last year’s commencement address and the outcry over the photo of students wearing taco costumes that surfaced in November as examples.

“I think that a lot of people feel like what they’re saying isn’t being heard number one and number two that even when it is heard that there’s nothing being done about it. Every-one is angry at people for saying how they feel, but the most important thing is to make sure that everyone has a chance to feel like what they’re saying is being heard,” Cohan said.

In regards to underrepresented groups on campus, Cohan said that CC had a major role to play in giving them a voice.

“Many students feel unvoiced on this campus, especially those from lower socioeconomic statuses and minority groups,” Vunnamandala said.

Both tickets also had the opportunity to ask the other a question. Vunnamadala asked Johnson what about student government inspired him to run. He recalled an experience from his first-year, when he went to a CC meeting to voice dissatisfaction with the removal of certain breakfast cereals from the dining halls. CC successfully reversed dining services’ decision, which Johnson said demonstrated to him that CC can affect change. He hopes that by running he will inspire more people to voice their opinions and bring about change.

Johnson asked Cohan and Vunnamadala why, despite their previous experience on CC, they only began reaching out to student groups when they announced their candidacy. The pair explained that interacting with student groups was part of their official capacity. Cohan was CC treasurer and Vunnamadala is on the Committee for Community Diversity and the Honor and Discipline Committee.

Uncontested candidates for CC vice presidents Allegra Simon ’18, academic affairs; Michelle Bal ’17, student affairs; Funmi Adejobi ’17, student organizations; Jesus Espinoza, community and diversity ’16 and Lia Lee ’17, operations also gave brief statements about the positions they are seeking.

Following the presidential debate, Sarah Vukelich ’16 and Alexandra Griffin ’18 debated in favor of the resolution for divestment against David Gaines ’15 and Kristian Lunke ’16.