New MCSG executives address the issues

Patrick Snyder ’13, an International Studies and Hispanic Studies major from Versailles, Kentucky, was elected President with 60.5 percent of the vote.

Why did you run for President and how do you interpret your role on campus?

I feel like I’ve had a lot of experience [with MCSG, student orgs and academic departments] on this campus, which I’m very grateful for. From that experience I’ve seen a disconnect between what student government does and what I sense as the pulse of the student body. It’s about changing the attitudes and opinions around MCSG both within and from the outside. The best way to do that is to be consistent, to be more open, to make MCSG seem more like a vehicle of empowerment on this campus instead of being a gatekeeper of funds. I would like to help guide that process, but I don’t have any intentions of coming in with my specific agenda and forcing it to happen. The biggest, most important thing going forward is to have as many conversations as possible with people in MCSG and all across campus to get a diversity of opinions on what people think are the best strategies to address this disconnect.

You mentioned being more open with students – do you have specific plans to reach out to the community in ways you haven’t seen done before?

It’s not necessarily about finding new ways to reach out but more about being consistent and trying to get ideas out there and gather ideas as much as possible. Specifically I see that as the basics, like having very well published and established office hours that everyone knows about. I’d also like to see more active use of our Facbeook group and Twitter – I don’t really do Twitter but I can figure it out – and have Daily Piper updates, maybe even a monthly newsletter. We’re not necessarily reinventing the wheel or anything, but just being consistent so students will come to expect it. Consistency is what it comes down to, and being very thorough and thoughtful. It doesn’t have to necessarily be anything too complicated.

Turnout in this year’s election was 35 percent, almost 17 percent down from last year (140 fewer ballots cast than in last year’s election), despite the presence of more competitive races. Does this surprise or concern you?

It didn’t surprise me, but it does concern me. Ultimately it comes down to the question of consistency problems in how we deal with and advertise elections, debates, candidates and platforms and how thoroughly we portray voting as more than just something you get in your email. Macalester is a very civically engaged campus. Why doesn’t that engagement extend to the community we create? There’s great potential there. But more fundamentally it has to do with the disconnect; when people don’t feel like they’re being represented by their student government, if they don’t recognize the names on the ballot, if they can’t even name one thing MCSG has done for them, it makes sense that they’re not going to feel motivated to vote.

Beyond advertising, do you have plans to make that happen?

I don’t know that there’s some magic way to make students all of a sudden start participating, but I think that’s something that needs to be a major priority of student government because it’s sort of a vicious cycle: if people don’t feel represented by the people that represent them, that fuels the fact that only 35 percent of the student body votes. At some point that needs to be stopped, and we can work on that from both ends. I see that as the most tangible barrier to MCSG’s legitimacy. I feel pretty bad about the fact that only 35 percent of students voted; I got 60 percent of the votes, but 60 percent of 35 percent is nothing.

Ezequiel Jimenez ’13, a Political Science and International Studies major from Salta, Argentina, was elected chair of the Academic Affairs Committee with 52.1% of the vote.

Why did you decide to run for this position and what do you hope to achieve?

There were certain issues I was really interested to work on. I was co-chair of MIO, and I knew that most international students couldn’t study abroad, and that was something that I never quite understood why. And then I got into the particulars of the topic, and the best position to tackle that issue was to become the chair [of AAC]. And also, in the Board of Trustees, there were many issues surrounding academic affairs and how we make the student experience accommodated to that. So, some of the issues I want to tackle are international students’ going abroad, and trying to see what are the general education requirements we have now and see how we can rephrase them in a way that makes sense.

In your platform you wrote that “you know how to engage faculty and discuss what’s missing from our academic programs.” What are some of the things you see missing and how do you hope engaging faculty will help?

I think faculty in general — and this might be my experience with the Political Science and International Studies Department — don’t really know what the students do after class. They know we are really involved in many things but they sometimes don’t know which things. And I think it would be important for them to realize that some of the stuff we do after class is really connected to their interests and teaching in the department. Back to the issue of international students studying abroad.

That issue has been delayed by the administration, since it’s been brought up by students —

Well I’ve been involved with it since [the 2010-11 academic year] and I don’t think it’s been delayed. I think it’s a very sensitive issue because it involves a lot of money. And we don’t have the budgetary discretion to just give away as much money as we want. I think the conversation is at a point, the last that I heard, of trying to develop exchange programs, so the cost would be neutral. I am more than willing to expand that program and see whether or not there is a different fundraising strategy for sending international students to study abroad with their financial aid. I don’t know if it’s delayed, but I think in general it can be pushed a little bit faster. But I also realize that the administration has their own aims and concerns…I am an international student. I went abroad because of the Maastricht program that, for some reason, allowed me to take my financial aid. But I am the lucky one. I think everyone should have the opportunity. But that’s the starting point.

Jeff Garcia ’14, a History major from Spring Valley, New York, was elected chair of the Student Organizations Committee with 77.5 percent of the vote.

The increasing number of student orgs, and overlapping orgs, is putting a strain on MCSG’s budget. Do you think Macalester has too many orgs?

I don’t think there is such a thing as too many orgs. I know a lot about the overlap, but as long as an org has an original mission and a clear recruiting plan – which a lot of new organizations don’t have – that is what’s essential to me. I do think there are too many organizations right now that don’t do what their mission intended. There are a few too many who don’t really have the potential or are in competition for the same resources or just aren’t doing their mission anymore. I support cuts in those areas.

Is there ever reason or opportunity to eliminate an org entirely?

That usually happens when an org is up for re-chartering or auditing, but I do think there should be some grounds for pulling charters. I may have been in a lot of organizations and founded one, but I’m not opposed to pulling charters. And some orgs should really consider merging.

That could be a sensitive conversation; do you have plans on how to facilitate the merger talk?

You have some established orgs – Adelante, MPIRG, political groups – who are relatively safe because they’re all going to have purposes for a long time. But for older organizations whose needs are filled by MPIRG or certain offices on campus it’ll be hard; it’s a sensitive topic. But I think they need to make a serious choice. I think the environmental and social justice organizations are the biggest examples of [orgs that could merge].

Low event attendance has been a big issue recently – do you have plans to help resolve these kinds of issues?

I think we need to take a look at what kinds of events orgs do have. Some orgs should make their programming more out there and available. There are some programs that are out on the lawn and don’t have to worry about attendance because they get it in passing, but the rest don’t get good attendance. I think documentary screenings are inherently going to fail. We need to say, “we want you to put on this kind of programming because this is what has worked in the past.” Not to dictate what they should do, but we need to look at what is consistently not attracting people. Especially with movies, they’re a waste of money. Programs should have more relevance for more than just the people running them.

Voter turnout for this election was poor – is there any way you can communicate with orgs on student voting?

I like when MCSG candidates attend organization meetings and say, “even if you don’t vote for me, get out and vote.” A lot of those people do vote. But it needs to go beyond organizations, groups of friends and classes; you really need to reach people who aren’t that involved. I’d love for everyone to be involved in organizations, but that’s not going to happen. One thing MCSG could’ve asked this year was for orgs with large mailing lists and tabling experience to go to classes and say, “get out and vote because we need your voice.” After that I don’t think you can do much. People who are apathetic are going to stay apathetic. If a majority of the student body votes, that’s a victory.