March 8, 2004

S.A. Candidates Hold Forum

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Candidates running in the upcoming elections for the Student Assembly met last night in the Memorial Room of the Straight for a forum designed to give the Cornell community a chance to hear the candidates illustrate their platforms and differences.

The issue of student apathy towards the S.A. was one of the most widely discussed topics among candidates, especially among those running for undesignated seats, with virtually all advocating increased communication between the S.A. and the student body. Several candidates said that they felt that it is the responsibility for members of the S.A. to go out into the community to find out what issues are of importance to students, rather than waiting for students to come to the S.A. with their concerns.

“Students shouldn’t have to come to us,” said Glynis Ritchie ’06. She went on to emphasize the importance of S.A. members building connections with other campus organizations and establishing trust between the S.A. and these groups.

“We need to ask the people what they want. People have a lot of complaints. We have to reach out,” said Toby Lewis ’04, who is running for the S.A. minority liason seat.

The candidates for the minority and international seats, in addition to echoing concerns over the perceived relevance of the S.A., also discussed several issues of concern to their specific constituencies. Among the minority liason candidates, the most heavily discussed issues were bias-related incidents and ways to better attract and retain minority students. Michelle Wong ’05 pointed out statistics that showed that most bias-related incidents at Cornell occur in residence halls, a fact that she described as “appalling”. Lewis addressed ways in which Cornell could improve its minority recruitment, advocating the use of student recruiters to travel to inner-city schools from which he said Cornell recruiters have largely ignored. Ashley Moore ’06, another minority liason candidate, addressed the concept of diversity in her comments.

“I’m trying to promote unity among minority groups on campus. I’m not trying to promote diversity. Diversity will always exist. We need unity,” said Moore.

For the international candidates, the two key issues discussed by the candidates were problems faced by international students arising from bureaucratic red tape, particularly issues pertaining to visas and the lack of financial aid for international students. One undercurrent in the debate amongst the candidates was the trade-off between the benefits of previous experience on the S.A. versus the advantages of being an outsider candidate.

When asked how he would be able to represent the entire student body, Toronto native Zack Newton ’06, a candidate for the international liason position, argued that any reform within the S.A. would be unlikely without the election of newcomers and emphasized his status as “just a normal guy.”

“Why are the candidates [who are running for reelection] suddenly talking about reaching out to the community? What’s taken them so long? … I think this is the most important issue facing the S.A. The students of Cornell have lost faith in this organization,” said Newton.

In response to a question posed to all the at-large and undesignated candidates about whether or not they had read the S.A. charter, Tim Lim ’06, who is running for reelection to an undesignated seat, used the opportunity to respond to Newton’s remarks.

“We [in the S.A.] can address anything on this campus, from dining to residential life. It takes time to learn these things, more than a year. I agree that more ‘normal’ people should be on the S.A. but it takes time to learn this stuff,” said Lim.

The candidate forum was broken into two parts. The first segment consisted of questions posed to candidates for the undesignated and at-large seats on the assembly as well as those running for the open seats on the University Assembly. Dena Ruebusch ’04, head of the S.A.’s election commission, led the questioning. The second segment of the evening consisted of a forum for the candidates running for the seats designated for each college.

The issues brought up by candidates in the second part of the forum varied greatly depending on which school they were competing to represent.

Candidates running for seats in the School of Hotel Administration and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations focused on increasing student awareness of the various programs and opportunities offered to students in their respective schools.

For candidates running to represent students in the College of Arts and Sciences, the most frequently discussed issue was reforming the faculty advising system. Other items discussed included facilities improvements, academic support and the creation of a student advocate position within the school.

“There are times we don’t see eye to eye with the administration and faculty … A student advocate position has already been created at schools like the University of California at Berkeley,” said Nathan Shinagawa ’05.

“I’d like to focus on academic support. There should be more ways for students to explore their academic interests outside of the classroom,” said Kwame Thomison ’07, who is currently a freshman representative on the S.A.

Those seeking to represent the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences discussed the need to improve the image of the school within the Cornell community.

“Why do I feel ashamed to tell other students that I’m in CALS?” asked Christopher Baxter ’05.

The candidates for the College of Engineering seats addressed what they describe as the isolation of the school from the rest of the University. A more comprehensive tutoring program was also discussed.

For the candidates seeking to represent the College of Human Ecology, discussion revolved around the impact of facilities improvement within Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, such as the construction of a new student lounge and dining hall and ways in which these improvements could foster a better sense of community within the school.

The two candidates running for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning seat differed in their focus on issues. Claire Fabian ’06 talked about dealing with the instability faced by the school, which was threatened last year with dissolution and is now on the verge of constructing a new building to replace Rand Hall.

Omar Nolan ’06 devoted his comments to the day-to-day affairs facing students. He advocated greater cross-listing of classes so that students could take more courses outside of their major. Through this, he said, there would be greater interaction among students of different majors within AAP.

No one other than the candidates themselves, and this reporter, was in attendance for the bulk of the evening.

The lack of attendance was brought up several times by Josh Jacobs ’06, a candidate for the University Assembly. Each time he was presented with a question he first thanked “all those in attendance.” After he did this a third time, he was rebuked by Dena Ruebusch, the leader of the debate who pointed out the reporter in attendance and two people who had just walked in.

Archived article by Daniel Palmadesso

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