Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Vice-Presidential Fireside Forum was held in Kohlberg Coffee Bar at 9 PM last night to a very large turnout. The last question of the night asked the four candidates for the position to summarize the reasons we should vote for them in ten words.
Rasa Petrauskaite ’08 said “Help the council help you,” Charlie Decker ’09 said “Fresh blood, new ideas, git ‘er done,” Jason Thorpe ’09 promised that “I will make student life more convenient for you,” and after current Student Groups Advisor and Council member Karen Lorang ’07 told Sam Asarnow ’08, “You should say that you’re sexy!” he quipped “Experience, ability, knowledge, and Karen Lorang thinks I’m sexy.” Intrigued? Read on.
Current President Joella Fink ’07 began the forum by asking “Why are you running for Vice-President?”
Asarnow reflected that “Council right now is in a pretty good place compared to most of my time at Swarthmore.” He’s excited about recent and upcoming initiatives such as Thanksgiving in the Spring and the archive of online syllabi, and claims that as a past member of Student Budget Committee and a past Phoenix opinions columnist, “I’m in a good position coming from an outside angle… I’m in a good position to help make sure that things currently in the works actually happen.”
Thorpe said, “I’ve been noticing a lot of things that sort of make me angry, and I think small changes could help to solve these things.” He cited examples such as the meal plan, the cumbersome add-drop system, and the fact that the east side of campus has three big screen TVs but the west side has none.
Petrauskaite explained that she has been Student Council Secretary and Treasurer for the past year, and that she would “be in a good position to facilitate communication as Vice-President.” She worked on her own initiatives while on the council but had to face obstacles, and “I would want to help other members to make sure they won’t have to face as many obstacles as I had to face.” When asked to discuss her intiatives and her obstacles, she discussed her idea to let students use meal points at Paces and Qub. She claimed that she “talked to different administrators and everyone seemed to be for it, but Dining Services told me, if Council pushes for it I will work with you… Student Council had a different opinion from me, and some people thought it would be a bad idea for various reasons.” She said that as Vice-President, she would improve communications and support every student on Council in their initiatives.
Decker said that “While Student Council doesn’t need a radical new direction, it needs a little adjustment… I think Student Council has a lot to offer, they just need to do a better job of bridging the gap between Council and the student body.” On a follow-up question about how he would do this, he said “I think first and foremost is improving the StuCo website… we’re in a technological age.” He said that the website is “currently cumbersome and ugly,” and claimed that as the current Internet Director of the College Democrats, whose website gets over a thousand hits a day, “I have experience with helping people to come to a website.” He would also want to “increase visibility on campus with more Council-sponsored events… not to make the Council seem like it’s hidden away somewhere.”
One student asked how the candidates would balance Council and their other activities. Thorpe said, “I don’t have that many other commitments… I’m on the golf team but practices are kind of optional, and I only have four classes.” Asarnow’s primary other commitments are being a Writing Associate and serving on the Council for Educational Policy, but “I set aside other commitments such as the Phoenix, SBC, and being a philosophy TA, so this will be the biggest commitment I have.” Decker said that his main commitment is “being a social science major… too much reading!” and explained that his Movie Committee work is front-loaded at the beginning of the semester and mostly done with and that he’s already training his successor for the Internet Director of the College Democrats. “I am ready to make this my number one commitment.” Petrauskaite is an officer for Investment Club, and her other significant commitment has been Student Council in the past, so she knows she could commit to it again.
There was a request for the candidates to clarify their experience and qualifications. Asarnow said “I spent the last two semesters on SBC, which is a very important committee… as a member of SBC I know how to make decisions and how to deal with people who might be recalcitrant.” Thorpe explained that while he hasn’t been on many committees at Swarthmore “I’ve been a soccer player my whole life and I know how to play on teams… I’m not shy, and I have no problem talking to the administration and talking to students.”
Decker explained that “as chairman of Movie Committee I need to be able to work with other people in a way that makes them not want to kill me… I do the same thing with College Democrats by setting the tone of the meeting and making it a give and take.” When asked about his work on Movie Committee last semester, he explained that “the person who was supposed to be in charge took a sudden leave of absence and I was hired in the middle of the semester… we did what we could, and the entire schedule for this semester is already lined up.”
Petrauskaite stressed her past experience on Council. It has been her responsibility to compile the Reserved Students Digest while she had been on Council, and “I would like to hire somebody to do this as a job on a permanent basis… as Vice President I would be in a position to get this done.” She continued, “when somebody says ‘Please help me,’ I think the President and Vice President should help people and say ‘I see it’s important to you, therefore it should be important to Council.'” Somebody asked her to elaborate on what initiatives were successful, and she named her vending machines initiative. “I’ve been in touch with Dining Services about vending machines that would serve hot food and beverages throughout the night, and these will be installed in the next few months.” She also “tried to set up a Facebook communication forum but nobody on Council thought this was a worthwhile investment.”
When asked about how they expect to accomplish their campaign goals, Thorpe said, “I think the answer to the question is speaking up, if you have an idea really push the issue and don’t give up too easily… the most important thing is that you have a good idea to propose and a good argument for it.” Petrauskaite explained that her new initiatives will be “examining the role of the Health Center in terms of providing care and getting shuttles to the hospital… I can’t promise that it will be accomplished but I will investigate.” She also wants to investigate the role of Public Safety and perhaps create a sub-committee to look into it. Decker stressed that “I didn’t promise anything… I don’t know much about Council or about what the Constitution looks like, but I understand that being on a committee is about give-and-take, it’s all about making a deal… you have to compromise and exchange in that sense.”
Asarnow said “I didn’t put forward a huge number of campaign promises.” He’s promised to follow-through on the initiatives that are already in the works, including a new website, “spearheading Thanksgiving in the Spring, and continuing to work on the online syllabi archive by talking to department chairs and making sure they understand how important it is. He also wants to find a permanent solution to the problem of compiling the Reserved Students Digest, either by putting in the Constitution as a specific member’s responsibility of working with ResTech to find a better way of having the Reseved Students Digest go out.
When asked what they thought about the current Council and what their relationships were with Council, Petrauskaite again stressed, “I will try to help everyone and be a good listener, I will make sure that everybody is up to speed about what’s going on… it hasn’t worked this way in the past, I wished that the co-presidents would be more in touch with me, it would be important for me to make an extra push.” Decker said, “I haven’t worked with the current council at all… I think that’s actually a good thing, I think the council always needs new blood and new ways of tackling old issues.” Asarnow agreed with Decker but explained, “I’ve been on committees with Karen and Eleanor… I have good relationships with other members of Student Council, and I have relationships with prior council members.” Thorpe agreed with Decker, saying “fresh blood is important… somebody new could bring new ideas and more contact with the student body.”
One student asked each candidate to describe their biggest failure in the context of a team or committee. Decker said that with Movie Committee last semester, “I was trying too hard to be the boss and I realized that that wasn’t working… that’s when I went into the dealmaking mode.” Asarnow explained that at Spring Budgeting last year, he was a big part of creating a subcode called “Closed Funding” which “turned out to be something you can’t fund… it’s still a problem, and it was a failure.” Thorpe said that “I didn’t get along with the soccer coach at Swarthmore… I didn’t get a lot of playing time freshman year, and I complained a lot.” The experience “taught me to be humble and compromise… sometimes you have to sit back and be quiet.” Petrauskaite again cited her time on Student Council, explaining that “other members weren’t as excited about my ideas as I was… at first I was a bit disappointed but sometimes you have to move on.”
When asked how they would improve transparency and accountability of various committees, Petrauskaite said “I want to receive feedback from others, point to failures and I’ll discuss that with the appointments chair.” Thorpe explained that “I have a Facebook, and if you write me a message, I’ll write you back.” Asarnow said he thinks he can be of use because he has experience on many of the subsidiary committees of Student Council and “my being on Council would improve transparency… I will get you more information about how things work.” Decker said “one thing I’ve thought about is having members on the Council have well-defined and public goals that they will publicize at the beginning of their terms.”
One student asked about Decker’s platform, which seemed to stress a return to the heyday of student activism. This student felt that there was already enough activism on Swarthmore’s campus and that sometimes he felt as if he were being bombarded by them. “I agree with you that opportunities for social action can be overwhelming,” said Decker, “but that’s because they’re coming from all different places, the groups don’t have enough communication between them… Student Council is a way to consolidate these opportunities into one place, that way there won’t be redundancies.”
On the same note, there was a question about how the candidates saw Student Council’s role as a voice for the student body about issues in the outside world, such as the resolution against Coke passed last spring. Did they think Council’s role was more about that, or about providing services to students?
Asarnow felt that “Council should have the capacity to have that voice for the student body… right now we’re mostly providing services, and many are on the verge of coming to fruition.” He feels that providing services should be Council’s “primary responsibility,” but feels that voicing student opinion on outside issues “can also be a function of the Council.” Decker agreed, explaining that his platform was not “to use Student Council as a platform for my hippie liberal New Yorker values, but as a place to consolidate opportunities for action and involvement.” Petrauskaite basically agreed with Asarnow, and Thorpe said “I want to make life more convenient for Swarthmore students, and I think that should be what Student Council does.”
Student Council hasn’t had a Vice-President in a long time, and there were a series of questions about what they saw the position as and why they wanted to run for it specifically. Petrauskaite “was involved in lots of discussions which we had about this change… I would go and contact people who were in Student Council when there was a Vice President and see what they remembered.” She wants to be Vice-President because “I will have more control over what I want to get done.” Thorpe wanted to “talk to other Council members… I see it as a leadership position, but I will compromise on what it’s going to be.” He thinks that with his new ideas, the Vice Presidency is the best current position to implement them.
Asarnow thinks the new position was “a great idea… it will clear up ambiguities at the top” such as what happens when co-presidents disagree. He continued, “the onus will be on the Vice President next semester to make sure the new President is still respected.” He wants to be a VIce President because “they represent the student body and are on the most committees… I’m most well-qualified to take on that responsibility, since I have good relationships with faculty members, the Board of Managers, and other members of the administration.” Decker agreed that “groups with co-anythings are bad news” because of “the question of who has ultimate authority, or the problem if they completely agree on everything.” He is “excited at the opportunity to define a new position… my job is to help define how I’m supposed to make the president’s life easier.”
Finally, when asked why they were each qualified to go to the administration and negotiate, each candidate had different answers. Decker “will present everything with the combination of respect but also firmness that is needed,” Petrauskaite “will try persuasion, I don’t know how far firmness will go… we all have the same interests, and I want to find those points of intersection where we can all move together.” Thorpe said, “it’s about listening and understanding, and I think my new ideas are compelling,” and Asarnow stressed his “enormous amount of experience with the faculty and administration as a WA, a TA and an SBC member… I’ve been part of over twelve different groups on campus, and I have lots of experience to represent the student body as a whole.” He thinks Council can garner respect from the administration and Board of Managers if “we demonstrate that we know what their interests are.”