Pai Gives State of the Students Address

“The state of the student body is strong,” declared ASCMC President Aditya Pai ’13 at the start of his State of the Students address Monday night. The speech, given in Freeburg Forum at the weekly meeting of the ASCMC Senate, touched on a number of topics as Pai explained what ASCMC has been doing well recently, the challenges it has faced, and his priorities for the next few months. According to Pai, ASCMC’s accomplishments this semester include streamlining the student government’s budget and finances, increasing funding for clubs, and beginning to focus “not only on events, but on issues.” He pointed specifically to the new ASCMC finance website, the $10,000 rainy day fund, and the spending of only $800 so far on dorm damages as examples of progress on finances. Regarding focusing on college policy rather than just events, Pai mentioned the new Arts Council, ASCMC’s involvement in the college’s presidential search process, and the study spaces initiative as positive examples.

Pai also recognized that ASCMC has struggled in some areas this semester. A motif throughout his speech was that he wants ASCMC to do a better job with public engagement. He noted that they have been making progress getting the word out about what ASCMC does through the new Facebook page, the email newsletter, and the website redesign that will occur over winter break—as well as by starting the State of the Students address—but that there is more to be done. Pai was particularly interested in getting students' input about what they want from ASCMC and what the student government can do better.

Another area in which Pai said ASCMC has faced problems was the student social scene. He spent much of his speech, as well as the question-and-answer period following it, talking about this issue. Pai said that it seems like the quality of the social scene has declined in the last four years or so, and that “ASCMC should take its share of the blame for that.” As one way to fix that, he announced that ASCMC would be sponsoring a party every Saturday from now on even if there is a 5C event going on.

Mostly though, he focused on the decline of TNC, what has caused it, and how ASCMC can respond to it. “TNC used to be a really different event,” Pai told the Senate, saying that until the last year or so there was rarely fencing, security was handled by Student Security rather than Campus Security, and it felt more like a casual, informal hangout than the Saturday parties. Recently, though, the administration has decided that TNC has to be fenced in, security must be handled by Campus Security, and only one TNC per month can be open to students from all 5Cs. Pai said that the fencing and security change has made events safer but less enjoyable and that the fencing especially “hurts the informality that used to be a part of TNC.”

ASCMC has made progress limiting the number of Campus Security officers at events and are further discussing the issue next week, said Pai. Yet, he said that on a “macro level” there needs to be an open, public conversation about the social scene with the administration. According to Pai, the college administration believes that the character of the student body has changed and that ASCMC is catering to a need that no longer exists by hosting Thursday night parties. He said that although there is little data on either side, he believes parties have become less well-attended more because of the administration’s strict policies than because of any cultural shift.

Pai ended his speech on a hopeful note, saying that he wants students to get more involved in this issue and with ASCMC in general. He praised the way that ASCMC has been able to negotiate with the Dean of Students office this year but said that it is important for students to speak up on their own regarding social life. More generally, Pai asked for students to reach out to him and the rest of ASCMC on any issue by giving him a call or contacting them on Facebook. People often complain about ASCMC, he noted, but said it is “more useful if you actually tell me” concerns or ideas.

The question-and-answer period largely followed on the topic of parties. Former Dorm Affairs Chair Alexandra Cooke '14 said that the student body has to decide what they expect from TNC and that students should not simply expect ASCMC and the administration to fix a problem that they did not necessarily cause. Many senators seemed to want TNC to go back to being an informal event where people could socialize without so much fencing or security, while none expressed a positive view of the administration’s strictness.

Pai noted that the administration has legal issues to deal with regarding the alcohol policy and that the administration did not consult ASCMC before putting the fencing and other stricter policies into effect. However, he and Cooke both said that it is ASCMC’s responsibility to respond to their policies and negotiate with them. Pai said that “we have to make a more effective case for why these policies aren’t working and why we think some of them aren’t making students safer.”

The Senate—along with Pai—also discussed how they can best get data about the student perspective on these issues, including how many students go to parties on Thursday and Saturday nights, how much they drink on those nights, their attitude toward the new security policies, and the impact that Friday classes have on Thursday night events. Ian O’Grady ’15 suggested that they send out a survey through the RAs, which was received well by the Senate. Others suggested that students simply talk to Dean of Students Mary Spellman if they think the administration’s policies toward parties have gotten too strict.

Ultimately, the address was an example of ASCMC’s new push for more public engagement and student input, and Pai seemed happy with how it turned out. “I felt good about it,” he said later, adding that he hopes he will be able to make the next address—probably in February—more interactive such as through live polling. “The social scene seems to be at the forefront of people's minds right now, so I didn't mind discussing that at length,” Pai noted regarding the night’s main topic of discussion. “It has also been a major focus of mine this semester, and will continue to be.”