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An Interview with BirDE (BDE)

Interview by Sophie Harrington and Jurek Wille

This interview and the other campaign list interviews were conducted on Zoom by writers of the Sundial Press. To ensure uniformity across list interviews, interviewees were given the same amount of time to answer questions, and lists for the same permanent bureau (ex. the two BDA lists) received the same questions. The interviewees had not seen the questions they would be asked, and a member of the campaign committee also assisted and supervised the interview. Although the interviews have been edited for clarity and concision, everything written was said by the list members. 

 

List members:

Executive Pole 

Reagan Schweppe: President, American (EURAM)

Judah Altman: Vice-president, American (EURAM)

Kathryn Eirene Tomlinson: Secretary, American (EURAF)

Sarah Nabirye: Treasurer, Ugandan and British (EURAF)

Ellie Houlihan: Head of student outreach, American (EURAM)

Communication Pole

Kristin Koleva: Head of communications, Bulgarian (EURAM)

Allie Hawkes: Social media, American (EURAM)

Mina Bourquin: Graphic design, American (EURAM)

Events Pole

Clovis Riché: Night events, French (EURAM)

Sophie Noel: day events, American (EURAM)

Student Outreach Pole

Robert Noel Turlington: campus life, American (EURAF)

Jackson Knizhnik: inter-association coordinator, American (EURAF)

 

Q: Why is your list running?

 

Kristin: Our list is running to show us something different because all of us think that the legend of campaign week, which obviously we are not experiencing in person, is very toxic. People ruin their grades, basing their decision on popularity and on who buys them the most pain au chocolate and champagne. So we are doing a more laid back campaign and want to make the Sciences Po community better.

Reagan: I think it is kind of hypocritical that some lists emphasize mental health but sacrifice their own in the process. Even speaking for myself, we really made an effort to not worry too much about the campaign process, just to see if it could be done. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I have never felt this stressed out along with school work in the entire time I have been here. We just want to create a non-toxic environment at Sciences Po and focus on mental health.

Elise: We are very dedicated to bringing positivity to the campus, to the campaign week, to everything. So as much as we can do to foster a positive culture of keeping health and  putting your mental health first. It is really important to us as people and as candidates as well.

Kristin: We want to do our job, but not take things too seriously, which is what I wanted to say with legends of campaigns working too seriously, ruining their mental health, their grades.

Reagan: Even just the competitive atmosphere between lists is scary. We tried not to engage with that but the amount of messages we were receiving from people is confusing because we have not publicised our list in any way. We have not talked to other people, but still the other week another list implied that they want us to drop out. It is a really really weird experience and if we were the next BDE we would do everything to change that.

Judah: I think there is a normative perception about what it means to run a BDE list: Focussed on a sense of popularity and the idea of running the social aspect of school is not something that should be based on popularity. It is about integrating the entire community and actually appealing to everybody involved. I think it is important that the social life does not become this factor of competition and stress and that social life is what it is: A side away from school. It is fun and so that is what we want to bring. We want to bring diversity, positive mental health and a side that has not been seen, or I have not seen, in BDE lists.

Sophia: I think another thing that sets us apart and why we value having this platform is that we concentrate on small, but impactful things that could make life on campus a lot more fun and enjoyable. Anyone who will look at our proposals will see that. As opposed to making big, sweeping proposals that in reality will not be accomplished, we focused on concrete things that could make students happy day to day.

 

Q: Given the possibility that the corona crisis continues to affect us for the next year, how do you plan to ensure student life stays vivid and (re)integrate the students to campus life?

 

Reagan: I think it is kind of difficult now to engage that. Speaking as a list of international students, we feel like the administration was not very helpful in this whole process of transitioning from Reims to our home countries. That in itself was difficult. A priority would be figuring out classes and making sure people’s mental health is okay. Right now, it is weird that we are pushing this idea of normality when, speaking for myself and a lot of my friends, we have parents or family who are out working every single day and could be at risk of getting the virus. That is adding enormous stress. Even though we want to encourage activity, this is also an unprecedented situation. We should make sure people are safe, everyone is doing okay financially and can manage the school work with the amount of stress happening right now. And maybe focus on student activities.

Sophia: Anyone who told you a month ago that this would be our current situation is lying. It is hard to see a month from now, let alone in the fall what our situation is going to be. It could be that we are back in Reims, it could be that we are not. Even if we are back in Reims, we might not be able to hold large scale events that we had during our integration week, which is a shame because the big gatherings are what made integration week so memorable for me. But I think the key is that the next BDE should be able to adapt, think about meaningful activities that may or may not resemble what we had. So I think it is going to be assessing the current situation.

Kristin: I think something concretely is for instance administration adapting our program online when it comes to studying. We had not adapted to figure out something to continue learning. We have the same things, with similar expectations, but doing it via zoom. I feel like we should figure out alternatives that are online but not only via zoom.

Judah: We are an international campus with people from all different time zones. If everything is run in a French time zone, it actually precutes a lot of people that are either far ahead or far behind. In terms of integrating all students on campus, our list has more international people that can actually run activities at different times of a day to allow for students that are not necessarily in France to participate.

Elise: Our online campaign week will be a testament of how good we are integrating people though an online space. This goes for every list, but I think people will see how engaging we are.

 

Q: Do you have specific projects (events, trips, others) in mind that you plan to set up next year?

 

Kristin: I think it is very very hard to say what we will be able to do in terms of big scale events but we do want to integrate more international holidays. In Bulgaria, there is this fun holiday called Baba Marta, we will explain it in the campaign. We want some Bulgarian, some Croatian, some Eastern European national holidays and have students representing them. Also, since our list is very American, and I feel very Americanized, we really really really want to do The Bachelor watch parties and The Bachelor themed weeks. It is going to be amazing.

Reagan: We also want to put less of an emphasis on parties with alcohol. A lot of the members of our lists do not drink. We feel like that was one of the parts of this year´s BDE that was very upsetting; to see how many events we could not participate in. I had a friend who could not drink during integration week, but had to pay 40 euros, so it was very frustrating for her. Inclusivity is a broad term, but we definitely mean diversifying the BDE into something more than a party-committee for this campus.

Judah: We will still have bar nights and maintain things people really enjoyed in the past, like trips to places over break, but want to offer new ideas. We want to transition away from some normatives of what events are for campus, but that does not mean that we will not keep events that people enjoy. I think it is a process of figuring out what people want and keeping what they enjoy.

Elise: One of our biggest projects is to democratize our events. When we are planning something, we are going to consult the students, either through a Facebook poll, or whatever social media connects them. When we are planning the events, we want to connect with the students and hear what they think.

Kristin: Especially for songs, if we are doing a party or any event that requires music. Students ask for songs but this year´s BDE never played them. So we could bring that to the table.

Reagan: A lot of our promises are not huge, but keep with the fun spirit of our campaign. Sophia and I are really into making crossword puzzles, so we want to bring in a weekly crossword puzzle as part of BDE and make it themed.

Sophia: In general, I think making campus a little more liveable and a little more homy is something we can realistically accomplish. I am thinking of seating areas, making sure everyone can congregate and make campus their home – be it indoor or outdoor seating. It is making sure there is enough space for everyone.

Kristin: Horoscopes also!

Reagan: Krisi is really making horoscopes. That is her thing.

 

Q: What are, according to you, the most important characteristics (that we expect) of a BDE member?

 

Sophia: Approachable. Fun. Dependable.

Reagan: I think being active on the meme page is also a good indicator.

Sophia: I think Reagan and I have been real stalwarts on there. You have to know what is happening on campus and definitely have the pulse on the people.

Reagan: I also think being grounded is important. Anyone who views the BDE as the be all end all of their lives and is willing to dedicate every second to is just not healthy. We are normal students, but we are also going to listen to your suggestions and are hoping to implement them. We want to above all be as normal students as possible. Going through last year as a 1A, I felt like either I did not know who the bureau members were or they felt unapproachable. I do not think there should be this elitism, not saying that there is, but sort of this feeling of “I am a bureau member. I am the real deal”. Bureau members are there to serve students, not the other way around.

Judah: The goal of the BDE is to be there for the students. If students say something is not right, it is your responsibility to be there. Change it. React to the student body. If there is an event that needs to be changed, react, do not just hold on to your plan. Have one, but if people say that it is not something they want, or like, change it. Listen. I think the most important part of being a BDE member is listening to the student body.

Kristin: To add to that: There is this whole feeling that if people bring up things to the BDE, they are not being listened to because all is in a political or diplomatic way. If you have a critique they do not actually answer your questions. This is also more typical to Sciences Po, I guess. We can actually listen and answer your questions. We cannot just make the change, we have to be realistic, but we also have to be realistic with the students if this is not something we can do.

Elise: We hope to be held accountable by the student body and listen to them. We want to be open to their opinions and their ideas. Above all: Approachability. We want our fellow students to be able to see us as humans and that they can come up to talk to us if they have an issue or anything they want to talk to us about, they can talk to us. I think that is the point. And, of course, the most important thing: Your BDE has fun.

Reagan: And loves birds.

 

Q: Is there one last thing you would like to add?

 

Sophia: We really want adirondack chairs and no other campaign list has ever said that.

Reagan: Speaking as an international student, our emphasize, and our appeal, will hopefully help incoming 1As for next year. I feel like having this international support in the BDE would have been much more helpful this past year. There is a Rudyard Kipling quote, who is very problematic: “And what should they know of England who only England knows?”.

It is kind of that if you have only French people in the administration, they never really understand the international students´ concerns. I am not saying that French students do not deserve to be heard, but it is more different for us living in a foreign country. We hope to be there, help with housing, help with integration, homesickness, language issues. Even coming here as a B1 French speaker is so hard getting around and we want to work on that next year.

Kristin: We want to be more than party organizers who are semi-good at making parties.

Sophia: We want to be 100% good at making parties, that is for sure.

Judah: We are ultimately different. We are not your typical campaign but that does not mean we do not have what it takes. It does not mean we cannot respond, but our approach is something of a different nature and that is important.

Elise: Originality!

Judah: Exactly.

 

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