SGO 11.19.17: Free Speech Panel, SGO Point Teams, and Campus Communication

by Catriona Anderson

Two main topics discussed in this week’s SGO Senate and Executive meeting were two proposed events for December: a study break with booths for each of the SGO subcommittees and a panel discussion on free speech on campus.

The executive meeting was convened first by David Pipkin ’18, one of the co-presidents. Various dates and times were discussed for the study break. Josie Hung ’19, the other co-president, was concerned about taking space from other groups, so it was eventually decided to hold the event in Shane Lounge despite concerns about space, at midday on December 13th, the second of three reading days.

Pipkin then brought up the free speech panel, which he had initially proposed in an earlier SGO meeting. He noted that, “a lot of faultlines on campus are over what's responsible to say” and that many students make “caricatures” of students with different opinions, “like ‘you are the thought police’… [or] ‘you think you can say whatever you want without regard to the consequences.’” He did not clarify if these were the type of statements that he thought some students might make in in-class discussions, in an unofficial setting such as social media, or simply opinions that they held without necessarily expressing them. In Pipkin’s opinion, the best way to break down these assumptions about fellow students is to talk them out, kindly and respectfully. He added, “otherwise you have a picture of someone who goes to classes and lives in your dorm which is a distortion.” In order to have a close knit community, it was important to “show people that other students aren't monsters.”

Pipkin recommended a panel of professors and students with an audience and a Q&A format. He said that it should be “not a debate but a conversation.”

Calla Bush ’20, the chair of SGO’s Environmental Impact subcommittee, asked, “How diverse are the opinions going to be?”

Ganesh Setty '19, reporting for the Phoenix, pointed out that “a lot of the backlash is about what people publish and are allowed to publish… This could also harm campus dialogue rather than improve it.”

Ibrahim Tamale ‘20 said that it was important to “acknowledge that the basis of the USA is ‘identity politics,’ so the subject of free speech is inextricably linked with politics.” He said that the goal of such a panel should not be to discuss free speech, but rather to answer the question of why free speech discussions are “always a shitshow.”

Setty recommended that the event be very specific and not open ended at all. He also was concerned that “a panel doesn't have fact checking” because “opinions can be informed by facts that aren't true.”

Jason Jin ‘20 recommended having an “authority figure” present; Hung recommended Dean Shá.

Gilbert Orbea ’19, the Speaker of the House, said, “I can see this very easily turning to incivility and shit on the DG.”

Setty said that “treating all publications as one doesn't do us justice” because each publication has a different editorial standard.

Hung said that she didn’t want the discussion limited to campus journalism or to representatives of campus publications. “Let's keep it open, discuss it, why is it such a complicated topic. I don't think we have a solution but we have to have the conversation.”

Pipkin mentioned a previous conversation about trigger warnings, which he argued was a successful example of campus discussion with a diversity of viewpoints.

The Senate meeting was convened.

Hung asked if other members would be okay with another all campus email with information on SBC links and constitutional review committee application. It was agreed to send it out.

Transit was then discussed, specifically the ongoing debate about half price transit passes and the OSE’s study of SEPTA giveaways.

Hung said that they needed to work on getting college committees to stay in the loop and regularly update SGO on their work. This would be helpful to SGO but also would be important for transparency.

“The most important problem with this school is communication,” Tamale said, stressing the overload of emails and the importance of having more ways to get info.

On the subject of incorrect info about SGO meetings on the Dash, Setty recommended fixing the Dash as a whole, because in his view it was outdated and badly designed.

Akshay Srinivasan ’21 said, “people say there are resources but there's no single document or centralized way” of accessing those resources, for instance who is a mandatory reporter for sexual assault and how you can get tutoring for free or with money.

Other communication methods were discussed, such as one campus-wide MMK at beginning of year to communicate info. Hung recommended getting TVs in Sharples and across campus so that it would be easier to watch SGO meetings and get info on events.

Bush agreed that it would be a good idea to livestream SGO meetings and other programs, but she emphasized the importance of using existing communication systems such as the radio and Reserved Student Digest (RSD).

Hung pointed out that the problem was not the lack of resources, but that “the resources aren't working for everyone.” If they weren’t going to create new resources to plug the gaps, they would need to improve existing resources.

Srinavasan emphasized the importance of clarifying PubSafe policies and amnesty.

Orbea said that, as an RA, “RAs and RCCs are also clueless about PubSafe” and that in his opinion, PubSafe doesn't necessarily follow or even have a clear protocol. Orbea later clarified in an email to Voices that "there is no defined protocol that every PubSafe officer follows for every situation, and so [RAs] cannot provide 100% accurate information to the freshmen on what would happen in certain scenarios (e.g. something regarding amnesty)".

Hung brought up the event idea for a SGO fair with different booths. Srinavasan questioned the value of such an event before the SGO has made any big strides or taken on new initiatives for the year. The point was acknowledged but Pipkin said that a large part of the event was to “do something,” which SGO had not really accomplished so far.

The meeting also touched on the effectiveness of SGO’s point teams, which had been instituted this semester. A point team is a committee of SGO members who focus on important college issue, such as dining or student life, for which the administration already has a team tasked with making decisions on the issue.

Orbea expressed his reservations about the SGO point team. In his opinion, those issues are being handled elsewhere, for example the goal to “clarify SGO's power” rested with the constitutional review committee. Communication issues were handled both by the larger group and in subcommittees, and the issue of representation in SGO was also being addressed by SGO as a whole.

Hung, who had pushed for point teams, argued that in her view the purpose of the point team is “bringing student voice to existing committees.”

Srinavasan recommended cutting away some of the extra meetings and rehashing to get issues from SGO to the official committee sooner.

Tamale pointed out that official committees expect proposals, so one purpose of SGO committees is to put together proposals. For example, changing the Essie's meal swipe policy required a discussion of Essie’s business model and the SEPTA ticket giveway required cost analysis. He said that merely presenting the college committee with an idea or a sentence was not sufficient.

Orbea moved to dismantle the SGO point team, which was agreed upon. He added that the point team for student life was understaffed in his opinion.

STORIESCatriona Anderson