Friday, April 13, 2012

The Dartmouth: SA Candidates talk Greek issues

(Even though they didn't report on any of my thoughtful remarks) shared from The Dartmouth:
Student Assembly presidential and vice-presidential candidates participated in the third of four scheduled debates at Sigma Delta sorority on Thursday night, discussing the aspects of the Greek system that they think make it essential to campus life as well as ways they would seek to improve it in the future.

Most of the debate's questions were directed to presidential candidates Max Hunter '13, Suril Kantaria '13, Erin Klein '13, J.T. Tanenbaum '13 and Rachel Wang '13, though vice-presidential candidates Julia Danford '13, Troy Dildine '13, Sahil Joshi '13, James Lee '13 and Callista Womick '13 also took part.

Shortly after the debate concluded, Lee announced his decision to withdraw from the race.

"Having reflected and talked to various people and friends, I've started to see what I want my senior year to look like," Lee said. "I no longer feel that the vice president position is in my best interest."

Thursday's debate was hosted by the Greek Leadership Council. The debate moderators, former Panhellenic Council president Ellie Sandmeyer '12 and Greek Leadership Council moderator Duncan Hall '13, asked the candidates about the role of Greek life on campus and their ideas to address the problems of exclusion, binge drinking, sexual assault and violence associated with the Greek system.

Greek organization presidents asked the candidates questions in person or submitted their questions to the moderators before the event, and there was a brief opportunity for the audience to ask questions at the end of the debate. By the debate's 6 p.m. start time, the audience filled the first floor seating of Sigma Delt, and latecomers were forced to stand in the back or crowd the entryway.

All five of the presidential candidates are affiliated with a fraternity or sorority, while three of the five vice-presidential candidates identified themselves as affiliated.

The presidential candidates agreed that Greek organizations provide a social space for affiliated and unaffiliated students to enjoy and create strong bonds between members. While they said that the fundamental system is not flawed, candidates argued that there needs to be an emphasis on increasing accountability, transparency and respect among those who choose to participate in Greek life.

"We need to ensure that we're staying true to the values of community," Klein said. "We should award houses for having the highest [grade point averages] and philanthropy hours."

Presidential candidates were careful to note the Assembly's limited jurisdiction in dealing with the problems in the Greek system and instead emphasized the need for house leadership to take on these tasks.

Hunter, Kantaria and Wang advocated for more sorority houses on campus to make the Greek system less male-dominated. Klein disagreed, arguing that the solution to the problems created by gender-specific spaces would not be solved by creating more of these spaces. Tanenbaum focused on the need to increase ongoing education within the houses about these issues, a focus that other candidates then jumped to affirm as well.

Hunter emphasized the problems posed by national sororities, which do not allow open parties for the whole community to attend.

"We need to get rid of the ridiculous ban on local sororities and support more physical plants for new houses," he said.

Wang argued for more non-Greek spaces such as the one currently being designed in the basement of the Class of 1953 Commons and discouraged her fellow candidates from labeling these spaces "alternative."

Hunter, however, argued that Wang's plan would probably not work because these spaces will not attract students under the legal drinking age.

When the presidential candidates were asked about what aspect of the Greek system they would change, the candidates generally agreed that Greek houses should increase their mechanisms for internal accountability. The candidates noted, however, that administrative positions are already in place for Greek system oversight.

"It's not the role for [the Assembly] to govern the Greek system," Tanenbaum said. "We need to get the GLC, [Inter-Fraternity Council] and Panhell more involved in individual houses through using outreach to work with Greek students and emphasizing education programs."

Kantaria stressed similar points and said that Greek houses should focus on developing their own standards for acceptable behavior by establishing a code of conduct within their house.

Klein was alone in suggesting that the Assembly play a part in applying social pressure to Greek organizations that have a record of breaking College policy instead of relying on existing Greek policies and general College administrators.

Klein's suggestion was met with rebuttals from Hunter and Tanenbaum.

The candidates agreed that the Assembly could play a greater role in advertising the variety of Greek organizations on campus, citing the limited information that freshmen received about houses that were not seen as being "mainstream."

Kantaria took this point further by emphasizing his plan to have liaisons from various Greek organizations attend Assembly meetings a suggestion that other candidates compared to a similar, failed plan by former Assembly President Eric Tanner '11.

Instead of establishing liaison positions, Tanenbaum discussed the need to increase communication and dialogue among Greek organization leaders.

"We need to come together to talk about issues we all face," Tanenbaum said. "I've talked to a lot of people in leadership positions, and they say that they don't feel like they know anyone else running groups across campus."

Candidates were asked how they would react if they found a letter describing plans for future hazing by a student group on campus. Wang, Kantaria and Klein said that they would quickly take action to contact the relevant group's leader to follow up on the situation.

Hunter and Tanenbaum said they would be careful to try to understand the context of the situation before acting.

"On paper, hazing looks very black and white," Hunter said. "But hazing is not a catch-all. It's not about wearing funny clothes."

Tanenbaum said that any member of the College community, not just the Assembly president, should be impelled to act in such a situation.

Upon resigning, Lee said that the other candidates all "bring their own capabilities to the table." Although he has not decided to endorse a candidate, Lee said that experience on the Assembly will be especially important to a successful presidency.

"The candidates need to critically examine the proposals that they have made to see if they are feasible within [the Assembly] and can be met in their three terms," Lee said. "Given the general lack of [Assembly] experience, it's even more important that a presidential candidate have experience because its likely he is going to need to train his VP."

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