Friday, April 04, 2008

SA Greek Debate

SA Greek Debate – at SAE – 7:00 PM 4/03/08

Reported by Nisanth A. Reddy

The second debate between the presidential candidates for Student Assembly took place on Thursday at 7 at SAE. As other events of similar interest, there was free food available – Quizno’s to be specific. And of course when the announcement was made that the food was 45 minutes late, the exodus began. Amidst a dwindling crowd the debate began moderated by Mr. David Imamura. One extraordinarily clever ploy to inject a modicum of competition into a normally dry banter with jargon and acronyms galore was Imamura’s idea to do away with time limits on the responses and instead to encourage the candidates to interrupt one another in order to obtain speaking time.
So the opening speeches began, and the process of contrived differentiation became painfully obvious. Molly Bode, vice president of KDE, expressed her desire for lasting changes in the Greek system which would make it more acceptable to the Dartmouth community. Her qualifications for such a task include being a vice president in a sorority, having experience in SA concerning issues of social spaces, and understanding the process of creating social spaces. She clarified that she would make SA pro-Greek.

Lee Cooper, on the other hand, emphasized a ‘balance’ between short term and long term goals – there must be a new infrastructure across campus to make social spaces and the Greek system more acceptable. He, too, has experience in the Greek system as vice president of AD, and he would be the ideal leader to facilitate cooperation between the student body, the administration, and the GLC. He also noted that the new dean of the college is more liberal and seems pro-Greek, so the venue for change exists. Cooper extolled the virtues of local houses which to him are lasting institutions that can foster a more inclusive Greek scene.

Then the questions began with one for Cooper: What would you do to improve gender relations in the Greek system? How does your platform differ from Molly’s and how does your experience make you better adapted for the position than Molly? Cooper’s response included praise for local houses which are important for the development of the campus. He stated that his platform differs from his opponent’s in its execution – Bode’s methodology would be a failure because alternative social space parties (i.e. the party at Cutter/Shabazz) don’t accomplish anything. More importantly, Cooper’s response wouldn’t be complete without the string of acronyms that demonstrate his impregnable knowledge on the subject: he stated the component of his platform that included collaboration between SA, the GLC, the IFC, and other three- and four-letter organizations.

During Cooper’s ensuing tirade about local Greek organizations’ preeminence, Bode entered the discussion with her first interruption (Mr. Imamura was quite pleased with the results of his ingenious format). Her question for Cooper was “how do local houses improve gender relations?” Cooper answered by repeating his platform of collaboration. He pointed out that his presence at Sigma Delt meetings the night before was a step in the right direction.

Bode took the offensive and asked another question: “How will you create new local sororities?” Cooper once again voiced his amorphous position of collaboration and added, “We can’t seem like we just want more beer. We need to create a unified voice to lobby the administration.”

Bode’s next point of inquisition in her attack concerned the moratorium on local houses and how Beta’s return as a local house might be a loophole in that policy. She asked what Cooper would do to ensure that Beta would be a successful house and one that the student body would want. Cooper wants to make the training programs more extensive. He said that new alcohol policies might be established and then more extensive alcohol training and more extensive SAPA training would be easier and more achievable. Bode pointed out that she has worked on the new SEMP policies; she wants all freshmen to learn about alcohol policies, not just pledges. She also said that Beta needs to be re-recognized in the usual process – the legitimate way. Cooper agreed but said that Beta’s return was out of their hands, and instead he would use his position to influence the way in which the administration dealt with the issue.
Imamura, then, chose to interrupt the discussion and announce that Cooper had spoken for five minutes while Bode had spoken for three and a half; of course this was absolutely necessary because it was obviously the only method available to maintain equity in speech time or rather the audience’s knowledge of the inequity.

Bode, unflustered, powered forward and stated that Beta Theta Pi’s coming back might be a loophole because it might come back as a local house. Local sororities can try to become established on campus, but local sororities don’t have the national backing, nor the insurance, etc., so her question was what Cooper would do to help that. Cooper responded by claiming that the school needs to provide start up funding – the school needs to put its foot down.

The discussion then moved aimlessly toward other issues such as possible uses for the five new houses the college purchased. These points of discussion elicited bare bones responses and vague claims. There wasn’t any contention until Cooper called into question Bode’s alternative social space party initiatives claiming that they were ultimately useless. Molly said that the party at Cutter/Shabazz “brought a lot of new people in [to Cutter/Shabazz] who had never stepped in before. You don’t need alcohol to do that.” Cooper shot back with the paradoxical argument that co-sponsorship is not collaboration. He said that putting your name on the party blitz doesn’t mean anything. Taking an active effort is necessary.

Bode ignored the accusations of futility and impugned Cooper’s narrow vision to only bring COSO in to help the situation. Cooper, however, said that a student governance council would be a starting point. Cooper says we need leadership to mobilize people. There are so many committees that need to communicate, so “we need to look around the corner” and look forward.

Soon afterwards, Imamura delved into the next item with a question for Bode: “What are your plans for unaffiliated students?” She said that she wants to listen to see what the students need. She wants to look at all needs and see what is sustainable. Student run spaces that are fluid would help. Affinity houses interacting with AD or KDE would help. Making the dining halls more conducive to affinity houses would help. Cooper then asked how she would manage to change the dining halls in 14 months, to which Molly replied, “SA is working on that already.”

Her next jab at her opponent was veiled behind a compliment. She said that Cooper is very articulate and smart and writes good op-ed pieces, but he doesn’t have any real initiative.

Imamura moved the discussion away from such verbal jousting to the next topic: how the candidates would address the fact that new social spaces are limited by alcohol laws. Cooper pointed out that this road block will be removed, and that the alcohol law will be changed. He also crooned about his meeting with Dean Crady. He was happy to note that his and the dean’s views coincided. They both want to make the policy less quantitative, but rather more responsibility based. “It’s not about the number of kegs,” but if someone is walking around blacked out they will be punished severely.

Bode said that she wants SEMP reform as well. She believes that the policies should be tailored to organizations’ needs. For example, KDE can write their own policies and show the administration how they will be carried out. Cooper shot back reminding the audience that there is no such thing as institutional memory, so having a rotating policy will fail in terms of responsibility. Bode defended her position saying that her tailoring is not centered on the number of kegs. It’s more about on the fly parties or standard emergency action plans.

Then, Imamura interjected again stating the time each candidate spent speaking (Cooper for ten minutes and Bode for eight and a half). This, of course, functioned as the perfect segue into the next question: one about the minority fraternities. Right now, minority houses need 4 members to exist, so what would the candidates do to help?

Cooper says that he wants to work with the GLC to help them out. Alpha Phi Alpha has five members now. AD and Alpha Phi Alpha had a joint party, to help collaborate. Maybe a physical plant will help the process. There needs to be a space for people to go to meet them. Bode agreed that there should be collaborative parties. She also says that rush must be advertised better. Maybe bring rush back to the spring from the fall.
Cooper thinks that SA needs to help with communication which is what it has failed at. He also infused some differentiation into his response by saying that he doesn’t agree that rush should be in the spring. The process needs to be in fall, so that freshmen can see everything before segregating themselves into a house.

Bode separated herself from Cooper by emphasizing recruitment; she said that giving 10 members a physical house might not help much. Recruitment needs to come first before that.

To end the discussion section, Cooper made a valid point; he said that SA is really well known and that it needs to be broadened. He stated, “This room [holding the debate] only has SA members or close supporters of Molly or I, and that’s the truth.” The whole idea of “club SA” is a joke and will fail.

The question and answer portion of the debate was just beginning when another deluge of audience members escaped the doors of SAE. Cooper immediately said, “We just had a mass exodus out of this room and there are maybe 20 people left here for one of the presidential debates. That is just unacceptable. We need someone to make SA more legitimate and add more clout to the position. We need a leader.”

One question regarded COS reform which was received with vague answers. Other questions were asked by obviously biased supporters of one candidate: blatantly surreptitious tactics to try and differentiate the candidates. An audience member asked Cooper how he could criticize Bode’s initiatives when he himself did very little to remedy the situation and had very few activities on his resume to boast of. Cooper, unfazed yet defensive, responded with a laundry list of positions he has held and activities he has helped with.

The moderators asked for the closing statements which ultimately became a review of material already repeated to the point of vexing the listeners. However, Cooper’s theatrics with a Boloco cup proved to raise eyebrows. Cooper held up his cup from the previous night’s dinner claiming that it was easily composted, cheap, and much more environmentally friendly. The reason this matters at all is an interesting one: apparently Cooper thinks in such a unique manner that unlike the rest of us he sees possibilities in a Boloco cup, not just trash. Surely that piqued the interest of the remaining ten to fifteen drowsy listeners who had to sit through an hour long affair of extreme repetition and absurdly pervasive jargon. Bode finished up the debate with a summary of her platform, and the meeting broke to devour the remaining Quizno’s.

—Nisanth A. Reddy

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