By Cassandra Betts
Amongst all the tumult of returning to courses after travel-filled fall breaks and finding out that one of the most beloved staff members of the school had been let go, the first year Euram student representative elections have, to a certain extent, been overshadowed. But now, more than ever, it is important to have trusted, elected student reps to represent the needs of the student body, and, come November 7th, the first year Euram students will have three new reps to fulfill this role.
In order to determine who is best suited for the job, the Euram student rep debate was held on Thursday November 3rd. Hosted by the current students reps and the Sundial Press, the debate allowed candidates to present their platforms in person, and it forced them to prove how well they could respond to questions and perform under pressure. While the candidates filled the stage and presented their points eloquently, the amphitheatre looked rather sparse. Out of the three hundred plus first year students, there were only around fifty in attendance, representing less than twenty percent of the electorate. If this week has taught us anything, it is that the student reps are an indispensable tool for the student body to have their voice heard, in both good times and bad, and students need to carefully pick who they would like to carry out this essential task. Teresa Artjoki, Emily Beiser, Oscar Chabrat, Adela Chelminski, Raphaella Heath, Jimmy Quinn, and Aristotle Vossos, all feel like they are up to the challenge, and during the debate they tried to convince their peers that they would be the best suited for the job.
Raphaella Heath was the first to present her opening statement, and she focused on three main points: improving access to resources that can help students deal with stress and anxiety, increasing transparency, and developing more courses that fulfill the global core course requirements of those who are in the dual degree with Colombia. She ended her speech with the promise that she “will not get discouraged and not let you down.”
Jimmy Quinn was next to take the stage, and his opening appealed to the sense of community that is present at Sciences Po. He emphasized how easy it was to approach people and make friends during integration week, and how he would like to help the student body regain that small, community feel. Among promises to fight for extended library hours and to help students overcome the barriers of cohort, year, and language, he also addressed the transparency issue between the Reims campus and Paris, stating that “this isn’t only about [our director], it’s about being treated like adults and not children who can be manipulated.” He also encouraged students to visit his website.
Aristotle Vossos followed with personal account of how he was inspired by Barrack Obama to get involved in politics. He spoke of how he wanted to bring Obama’s message of “yes we can” to his campaign. He directly addressed the issue with our director, and said that he felt anger over it and would demand more transparency from the administration. He also stated that he would have a twenty-four hour answer policy as a student rep, meaning that he would get back to any student who contacted him for whatever reason in less than a day.
Emily Beiser took a different approach to the role of student reps, claiming that she wanted to make the job obsolete. “I want to help the students help themselves,” she stated, outlining a plan where students would have facilitated one-on-one access with the members of the administration. She criticized the way in which required reading material is currently distributed, and said that, if elected, her goal would be to make readers available, in print and online, before the semester began. She also said that she would work towards having all the important dates available to students before courses started. Her speech used more humour than the previous candidates.
Oscar Chabrat also made liberal use of humour to appeal to the electorate. “Who has already seen 20 notifications on their Facebook thinking they’re popular, only to find it’s events?” he asked the audience as soon as he walked on stage. His proposals included an increased communication not just with the administration, but among student organizations as well. He proposed a platform that was used exclusively for events, so that there would be more effective and coordinated ways to promote events than just Facebook. He ended his speech with the classic Reims chant “I believe that we will win!”
Adela Chelminski spoke of how Sciences Po is a particular international environment full of diverse people, and related this to her own experiences in an international school. If elected, she stated that she would like to implement town-hall style meetings between the representatives and the rest of the student body, so that students could really have their voices heard. Like the rest of the candidates, she touched on the issue of transparency; however, she differed in that she stated that she would like students to be able to have access to their grades and attendance online so that they were not clueless about how they were performing academically.
Finally, Theresa Artjoki took the stage. She compared going to school at Sciences Po to going to school in Finland, where university is free. “This is a good which we are purchasing on a daily basis,” she stated, and as a representative she said that she would like to ensure that students are getting what they are paying for. Among other things, she advocated for increased transparency and communication, and she emphasized the fact that she would always be around and approachable. “In the absence of a sauna, you will still be met with a warm attitude,” she ensured the students.
Question and Answer Session
The opening statements were then followed by the question and answer period. Candidates had thirty seconds to answer questions that had been submitted by students, and prepared by the Sundial Press and the current student reps. The questions ranged from personal, such as “what do you frequently lie about,” to pragmatic. The classic question from last year “if you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?” also popped up.
In regards to this question, most candidates seemed to feel as if they were best represented by fruits that have a different exterior than interior, to show how there’s more to them than meets the eye. Jimmy said that he would be a coconut, because he seems hard on the outside but on the inside he’s actually pretty sweet. Theresa compared herself to a kiwi, stating that she seemed furry and weird initially, but was actually calm and yummy. Adela was a pineapple, and Aristotle was a watermelon for similar reasons. Raphella (a mango) Oscar (a dragonfruit) and Emily (a prickly pear) diverged from the interior vs. exterior theme. Emily admitted that she did not really know what a prickly pear was, but she thought it was a good metaphor for how you can never really know yourself.
The debate did more than get a feel for the candidates’ personalities by asking some fun and light questions. The tough issues were also tackled. When asked about concrete plans to improve IPs, the candidates were rather divided. Emily, Aristotle, and Theresa were all for working to create a new way to register for courses and for trying to adopt methods that are currently used by other universities. Oscar, Jimmy, Raphaella, and Adela were more reserved, stating that it would be unrealistic to try and get rid of the IP system all together, but that they would work to make them system more functional and less stressful.
The candidates were also asked how they thought the reps should react appropriately in the face of our directors’ termination. There was almost unanimity on the fact that the reps must act in the interests of all students, and take into account the fact that not everyone will have the same opinion. Raphaella emphasized the fact that the reps must do whatever the student body feels to be the most appropriate, follow the majority’s wishes, and make sure the people stay calm. Oscar also spoke of how staying calm is paramount, and Emily said that the reps should support student action but not take a side. Aristotle was a little more radical, saying that he would protest every day until he got an answer. Jimmy and Teresa were supportive of the current student reps’ actions, including the meeting at the Chalet, the protest planned for Friday, and the General Assembly organized for Monday. Teresa specifically said that the role of the reps is to keep communicating all the information that they know to the student body.
When questions were opened to the audience, much attention was given to whether student representatives should just act as ambassadors for the student body’s will or whether they should be acting as leaders. Jimmy pointed out that ambassadors can be leaders, while Emily brought up the idea of servant leadership, saying that she would do whatever the student body asked of her. Oscar followed a similar line of reasoning. “If you don’t take action yourself you’re kind of failing at your job” he stated, “but you have to make sure that you’re always following the majority.” The duty to recognize the will of the majority was also recognized by Aristotle, who said that reps needed to find a “mix between leading and representing.”
All in all, the debate helped to reveal the candidates’ opinions on crucial issues that affect every single student. The student rep elections are some of the most important elections that will take place on this campus. Each candidate who stood on the stage on Thursday, despite their different proposals and opinions, seemed to recognize this. It is now up to all the first year Euram students to admit this as well, to get informed about each of the candidates, and to go out and vote. Hopefully, there will be more than fifty students who show up for the election, and who make an informed choice on who they want to represent them in the coming years.