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ASSU Senate candidates discuss platforms, campus issues at KSZU/Daily debate

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ASSU Senate candidates speak at part of the April 1 debate sponsored by The Daily and KZSUE Stanford (ROBERT SHI/The Stanford Daily).
ASSU Senate candidates speak at part of the April 1 debate sponsored by The Daily and KZSUE Stanford (ROBERT SHI/The Stanford Daily).

Prospective alcohol bans, student group funding, the Senate’s transparency with students and dialogue among students all dominated a series of debates between 15 of the 38 ASSU Undergraduate Senate candidates. The candidates met in the basement of Memorial Auditorium for four sets of hour-long debates, which were co-hosted and moderated by The Stanford Daily and KZSU.

The candidates discussed a wide variety of issues surrounding the coming school year, what they intended to accomplish if elected and how they would improve upon the work of the current Senate.

 

Student outreach and transparency of the Senate

One of the biggest areas of discussion was transparency and accessibility of the Senate with students. Some candidates proposed that Senate take a more active role in engaging with the student body.

“Something that’s a part of my platform and I am committed to doing is making sure that, as a Senat[e], we’re being accessible,” said Shanta Katipamula ’19. “I think that accessibility and transparency will really allow… us, as Senators, [as well as] the general undergraduate population as a whole, to really reevaluate whether we do think the system is broken.”

“I think a really great thing that our [ASSU] Executives brought this year was these email blasts, and I think it would be really beneficial if the actual ASSU Undergraduate Senate could be doing these as maybe a weekly or bi-weekly kind of program as well,” said Carson Smith ’19.

(ARIEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)
(ARIEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)

However, other candidates thought transparency wasn’t an issue with the Senate.

“I think [transparency] is something that gets brought up a lot, but the ASSU is very transparent in the vast majority of what it does,” said candidate Shayla Harris ’18. “I mean, the meetings are open to everybody, every week; the Daily publishes an article every week. So it’s not like the ASSU is making backdoor deals with anybody.”

In the first debate, candidate Dorian Lumarque-Matsusaka ’19 and current Senator Matthew Cohen ’18 disagreed over the state of the Senate’s website.

“A key thing to make the Senate more visible is to update the websites,” Lumarque-Matsusaka said. “The current Senate has put the Constitution up there as well as the bylaws so all of the student body can see, so maybe we could add a newsfeed so students can see what the Senate is doing.”

“The last Senate updated the website and this Senate updated the website,” Cohen responded. “To have the same concerns about the website in another term says that we’re just doing the same thing over and over again. We don’t need vague ideas or tried and done ideas, but to think outside the box and think about how to reach out to student body.”

While Cohen thought the ASSU’s website wasn’t an issue, Cohen lamented that “the ASSU doesn’t represent the entire student body.”

Transparency infographic
(ARIEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)

“Last year we had three women in the whole Senate, and two male Execs, and I believe we need more women involved with the ASSU,” Cohen said. “ Also, with diversity of majors, I believe there are only one or two students majoring in CS. It would be closer to 5 out of 15 if it were actually representative of the student body.”

 

Working together with faculty

There was disagreement between the candidates about how effective the Senate’s resolutions truly were — and how faculty could help or hinder their efforts.

In the third debate, candidate Matthew Wigler ’19 suggested that the Senate was unable to bring about any real change.

“When you pick up the Stanford Daily or the [Stanford] Review, you see all the Senate talking about are pieces of paper that aren’t going to improve student life directly,” Wigler said. “In debate and dialogue among students the tone we hear is one of frustration; that the ASSU isn’t doing things that are resulting in direct action.”

“There’s a misconception that the Senate doesn’t get things done,” said Hattie Gawande ’18, another current Senator running for reelection, in response. “The Senate gets a lot done. A lot just isn’t that interesting.”

Harris, also in the third debate, was more optimistic about the importance of “symbolic gestures.”

“I really don’t feel like it’s a problem that ASSU’s resolutions may not have any real sway, at least with regards to setting new regulations on campus-wide policies,” Harris said.

Harris talked about her involvement in the Fossil Free Stanford sit-in late in November — which she called a “symbolic action” — and how it motivated her to run for Senate.

“I think that resolutions passed by the Senate can have just as valid an effect as divesting from fossil fuels, and so even those resolutions which might not make immediate or direct change to campus, that ASSU is passing them is meaningful in itself,” Harris added.

Kathryn Treder ’18 noted that while the Senate cannot force the administration into action, she suggested other means for advocating for change to the administration.

“Some of the tools I’ve seen work in the past are letter-writing and gaining support with faculty to communicate grievances to administration,” said Treder. “That’s the greatest thing I’ve seen work in the past, and that’s something I would use to push any advocacy.”

Cohen noted that students can work with administrators to get things done, citing his sustainable dining halls resolution, which saw support from the chair of the Faculty Senate as well as Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82.

“Some of them are actually willing to listen to us and get things done,” Cohen said. “I’ve been able to get success and results students want by working with administrators.”

(ARIEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)
(ARIEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)

Similarly, in his time serving on the Frosh Council, Jayaram Ravi ’19 exchanged ideas with administrators such as Harry Elam. If elected to Senate, Ravi hopes to invite incoming President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and other administrators to Senate meetings to hear the concerns of students.

“I think that the Senate is the perfect place to facilitate these deliberative conversations,” Ravi said.

 

Managing student group’s funding

Student groups, the appropriations committee, and the 2008 budget crisis were all brought up in connection with the Senate’s resources and their allocation.

Ravi suggested that, with Stanford’s endowment back to its pre-2008 levels, it did not make sense for ASSU’s budget to still be as constrained as it is.

“I think that it’s important for us to question […] whether we need more funding in order to meet the demands given that we’ve returned to financially normal situation,” Ravi said.

Three candidates in the first debate — Brooks Hamby ’18, David Mollenkamp ’18 and Cohen — butted heads over funding issues, with Hamby suggesting to look at things “on a case-by-case basis over time.”

“If we look at the end of the year and look at Club Sports not getting the funding they need, it looks to be a more budgetary issue, and I think these are issues that could be solved when we’re paying attention to the numbers,” Hamby said.

Cohen disagreed with the notion that the Senate had a budgetary issue, saying that the past year had been “one of the most successful years” for the ASSU in terms of collecting money.

“The sole blame can’t be based on the ASSU Senate,” Cohen said. “The voters have a responsibility in this. They’re paying for this with an outrageously high fee.”

Meanwhile, Mollenkamp argued that small cuts to student groups’ budgets were a “necessary adjustment.”

“Not so much associated towards student groups that are not very well-known, but making smaller cuts all the way around the table,” Mollenkamp said.

In a later debate, Harris proposed that student groups collecting signatures for a funding increase should explicitly state how much money they are seeking. Furthermore, she defended the appropriations committee’s right to keep student groups that ask for an “unreasonable increase in their funding” off of the ballot.

“I don’t at all think the appropriations community is at fault for certain groups not being funded,” Harris said.

The recent scandal surrounding the resignation of Frederik Groce ‘14, former CEO of Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), amidst rumors of mismanagement was mentioned by both Katipamula and Ravi, who called it “corruption.”

“We should make sure in our committee assignments that we’re putting people on committees who are very invested in those and […] being responsible in their use of finances,” Katipamula said.

Ravi agreed, calling for a joint commission between the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council.

“It’s a big issue that is relevant to both of our communities, involves both of the funds that we pay to Stanford, and so by working with graduate students we can more transparent, honest, and realize the issues that are facing both of our constituencies,” Ravi said.

 

Diversity and dialogue

(ARIEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)
(ARIEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)

Another recurring theme throughout the debates was diversity and how it should be discussed on campus. Some candidates discussed diversity in context of Stanford’s humanities requirements, such as Ways of Thinking / Ways of Doing (WAYS).

“Our school claims to be this liberal institution, and so we should put this focus on humanities, but it also claims to be a diverse institution, and thus we have to put emphasis on recognizing these diverse perspectives,” said Smith, who said that the one class necessary to satisfy the Engaging Diversity requirement was insufficient.

On the other hand, Harris dismissed the thought of adding another “paternalistic requirement” for students to take.

“The WAYS requirements are a way for the university to still claim to be a liberal arts university and to give people a breadth of education, at the same time not making students unhappy by forcing them to take classes that they really don’t want to take,” Harris said. “Do I think that that’s an effective system? No, but I also don’t think there’s a good way to solve it.”

On the subject of humanities requirements, the candidates were largely critical of the Stanford Review’s Western Civilization proposal.

Wigler, a member of the Thinking Matters advisory board, was in favor of increasing the strength of humanities education, but also stressed the importance of diversity.

“We can have a thriving humanities curriculum without a Western Civilization requirement,” Wigler said. “WAYS are the expression of the values of a university education.”

“I’m in SLE […] I am an international student, representing a ten percent minority group,” said Junwon Park ’19. “It would not be respectful to take Western Civ, out of all regions, and say that studying that is all there is to the humanities.”

Candidates also lambasted The Review for its April Fool’s joke, an article intended to satirize the recent demands of Who’s Teaching Us. Several students reacted to The Review’s article by filing Acts of Intolerance reports. For the candidates, the incident posed questions of whether The Review’s actions should be considered as free speech or hate speech.

“There’s a line between satire and humor, and just being straight-up intolerant, being racist,” said Shanta Katipamula. “I understand that they were trying to satirize the demands put out by Who’s Teaching Us?, but they way in which they did so, I find completely unacceptable.”

To this end, the candidates stressed the importance of dialogue between different groups on campus.

“I think one of the very important issues in terms of constructing dialogue that Stanford has done excellently this year is the OpenXChange program,” said Ravi. “That type of dialogue is what helps our campus come back together, and foster consensus and constructive dialogue over these issues rather than further dividing us.”

“I think this would give us just one more opportunity to have a place for people to reach out and have a resource to go to if there’s an issue they really want to talk about,” Katipamula agreed.

 

Common ground on alcohol policy

One topic that all of the candidates could agree on was in regard to a proposed ban on hard alcohol in undergraduate residences, which all of the candidates were opposed.

“I think the moment you introduce a hard alcohol ban and you make staff the policemen, it absolutely changes the whole order of our society […] if the staff are now police authorities instead of friend authorities,” said Katipamula.

In addition to stressing the need for another Campus Climate Survey, Matthew Cohen warned that an alcohol ban would not deter students from drinking — and may even increase the chance of sexual assault.

“You’ll see people consuming hard alcohol in places that won’t be watched, so it’s going to lead to riskier drinking,” said Cohen. “So the likelihood of some kind of sexual violence happening increases — it’s counterproductive to the cause of reducing sexual assault.”

If elected, Smith would push for more programming at NSO to educate incoming freshmen about the ties between drinking and sexual assault.

“I believe this has already been talked about in the Senate, but adding some time within NSO to talk more about sexual assault, talk about how to handle alcohol” Smith said.

 

Fangzhou Liu, Ariel Liu and Jeremy Quach contributed to this report.

 

Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ’at’ stanford.edu.

Jacob Nierenberg '17 is a coterm pursuing an M.A. in Communication on the Journalism track. The program is very busy and often precludes him from writing for The Daily, but he enjoys contributing stories and music reviews when he is able to. Prior to beginning the program, he completed a B.A. in American Studies. His hobbies include spending time with friends and listening to music, and he is always delighted to meet people as enthusiastic about music as he is.