Editorials

In light of the student government split, the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) now autonomously governs Emory graduate students, but it is doing so under a constitution that lacks crucial checks and balances.

As it stands, the GSGA Constitution does not mandate student referendums to pass legislation on issues of importance  — such as changing the financial code or its constitution — and no external judicial branch exists to adjudicate cases for organizations that have violated regulations. The omission of such vital anchors of democracy, which existed prior to the split, forces the question: are those decisions indicative of incompetence, or corruption?  

The former Student Government Association (SGA) “Emory votes yes” campaign centered on the promise of “strengthening student voices.” Without referendums, GSGA has the power to change its governing documents at any time without the consent of the students they govern. The exclusion of referendums threatens to undermine the legitimacy of any such changes made, and demonstrates GSGA’s failure to follow through on a central campaign promise.

Without a judicial branch it becomes difficult to ensure that GSGA follows its own laws, and nearly impossible to impose disciplinary measures if it does not. In contrast, the current SGA has both a Constitutional Council and a judiciary whose roles are fully outlined in its Constitution.

Even if legislators claim to value the input of graduate student organizations, this new constitution was constructed to shut graduate constituents out of the governing process and grant a shocking amount of autonomy to legislators.

After months of advocacy and deliberation, GSGA representatives successfully won equal representation for graduate students in student government.  The challenge was to handle the launch of a new government that instilled trust and confidence in constituents. However, in their new Constitution, GSGA managed to cut out not only undergraduate voices, but the voices of their own constituents. Their deficient constitution proves they can not be trusted with such a momentous task.

By reneging on the promises they were founded on, GSGA does a vast disservice to the students who elected them, and sets themselves up for unreliable and ineffective governance.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

Three weeks ago, The Emory Wheel’s then-news editor reached out to the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) President Jared Greenbaum (17M.B.A.) about the location of that week’s GSGA meeting. Greenbaum did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but later revealed the location and said that the Wheel could not send undergraduate reporters to cover GSGA meetings because only graduate students are constituents of GSGA.

Greenbaum said that the GSGA Constitution currently grants them the power to close meetings at any time to attendees — including graduate students — who are not legislators. The GSGA Constitution states that its meetings “shall be conducted as described in the GSGA bylaws.” Those same bylaws are still being debated and discussed, according to Greenbaum, who said that only graduate reporters will be allowed to cover GSGA meetings..

But without independent news coverage of and guaranteed open meetings for student government, student leaders in positions of power cannot be held accountable.

The Emory Wheel is not bound to any divisional school within the University, but rather has a responsibility to report on the entirety of Emory and its community, including thegraduate and professional schools. To deny any Wheel reporter — including undergraduates — access to GSGA meetings not only prevents the Wheel from fulfilling its elemental obligation, one that no other organization pledges to provide to the University; it also betrays a surprising arrogance on the part of GSGA. A newly formed democratic government should be doing all it can to establish itself as a legitimate and transparent organization. As former U.S. President Obama said, “A democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency.”

That lack of accountability and transparency is not simply a small detail that went overlooked in the construction of the GSGA Constitution — it is an insult to democracy.

As members of Emory’s student body, we cannot risk the possibility of our leaders acting without students’ knowledge. The current $92 Student Activities Fee (SAF) contribution from the about 7,102 graduate students alone constitutes a budget of approximately $650,000 for the GSGA budget.

Blind trust in elected leaders to implement the vision of student government that we voted for is not enough. Concrete checks, including free press access, are necessary to hold GSGA accountable. The Wheel will continue to do its job and seek and report the truth, but it is now up to GSGA to prove they are a government that values accountability and transparency in the first place.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

When students voted on a University-wide referendum to split the Student Government Association (SGA) into two independent bodies, the debate focused on the proper balance of graduate and undergraduate interests within the new SGA. SGA President Max Zoberman, Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) President Jared Greenbaum and others on SGA’s executive council aggressively lobbied for a “yes” result.

By rushing the vote, Zoberman and Greenbaum led the student body into a dangerous period of uncertainty.

Websites were made and town halls were held, all without mention of the aftermath: the dereliction of a constitution for an exclusively undergraduate SGA to operate under.

In minutes from their Dec. 5 meeting, SGA asks whether enough “due diligence” has been done to take the so-called split bill to a vote. Legislators noted that they were uncomfortable with the lack of specificity in the bill, especially undergraduates for whom the “next steps” after the split had not yet been decided. Despite these concerns, SGA irresponsibly passed the bill that day and sent it to a student referendum.

Now, after the referendum, there is debate as to whether or not the Constitution still is active. According to Zoberman, “the revelation that [SGA is now] not bound by a constitution didn’t come until after the vote.”

Our elected leaders engineered a plan that failed to take any of this into account, and SGA is now operating without real checks on its action.

Though Zoberman stated SGA hopes to adhere to the old constitution until a new one is approved, relying on our leaders to act in good faith is simply unacceptable. SGA controls a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of which comes directly from students’ activities fees.

While it’s not clear that SGA has abused the enormous responsibility of handling such a budget, there is currently little to stop them from doing so.

The situation is tenuous. Even if SGA passes a new constitution, a majority of students will still need to ratify it in referendum. Zoberman himself said the situation would be both “shocking and dangerous” if it fails to garner enough support to pass.

The present situation could easily have been avoided by attaching provisional constitutions to the split bill.

Regardless, Zoberman unapologetically placed both in untenable and potentially disastrous positions. Whether the decisions that led to these circumstances were a calculated power grab or just thoughtless, SGA owes it to students to acknowledge their failures and ensure that a functioning, responsible governing structure is put in place for next year.

Zoberman promised the split would improve student government – it hasn’t.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

 

In a disappointing move, President Trump reversed Obama-era federal protections allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.  

This development was unsurprising but disheartening. By allowing states to deny transgender students access to public spaces, the government is limiting students’ ability to fully express their gender identity. This is an explicit denial of students’ rights that threatens the legitimacy of the transgender identity.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated the reasoning behind this reversal. “The president has maintained for a long time that this is a states’ rights issue and not one for the federal government,” he says. This is simply an excuse to justify discrimination towards a vulnerable minority.

The truth is that the intersection of civil and states’ rights has a history of prejudice. In this country the concept of states’ rights justified slavery, Jim Crow-era laws, discrimination against disabled Americans and, most recently, marriage for same-sex couples. This is yet another point in history when the government needs to step in and protect the rights of a minority demanding the right to use public spaces.

Another common excuse used to oppose federal protections for transgender individuals is the unjustifiable fear of attack against women. Critics claim that if transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, the rate of predatory men harassing women or young girls in bathrooms will increase. This fear-mongering is an artificial message targeted at people who misunderstand the transgender community. Politicians use this baseless fear to pass discriminatory policies that appeal to a bigoted and misinformed electorate.

For transgender people, there is evidence that they are at risk. The UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute published a survey on gendered restrooms that showed over 70 percent of their respondents have experienced either “denial of access to facilities, verbal harassment [or] physical assault.”

Furthermore, The LA Times reported on a study that showed, “same-sex marriage helped reduce suicide attempts by gay, lesbian and bisexual teens.” This demonstrates that social change easing stigma against minorities results in life-altering benefits.

The fears and vulnerabilities of transgender people have heavy consequences that should not be taken lightly or dismissed as one for states to handle. Legislators and the Trump administration forget that these people are both American citizens and their constituents. Also, this debate should not stop with the government

Society as a whole should be ashamed of our intolerant past. The best path forward is to acknowledge that transgender people exist and deserve to use public space without scrutiny.

Therefore, they should be allowed to identify as their preferred gender in public spaces. Federal protections only reinforce our choice to accept transgender people as they are.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

A university president’s responsibilities are largely uncontroversial: serving as a figurehead, cozying up to major donors and representing the University’s interests. But these are not ordinary times. In signing a letter opposing President Trump’s “travel ban” alongside 47 colleagues from peer institutions, President Claire E. Sterk upheld her obligation to advocate on behalf of Emory’s best interests and, indeed, the best interests of American higher education.

Our past editorials have advocated against designating Emory a sanctuary campus, an ineffective and potentially dangerous label. This letter was a more tangible — and more importantly, indisputably lawful — statement that directly coincided with Emory’s mission and core interests, but did not give the Trump administration legal ammunition to justify retribution (e.g., cutting funding). A call to “rectify or rescind the recent executive order” and implement evidenced-based vetting is distinct from vowing to break federal law.

Education is not, and should not be, a partisan issue. In academia, the free movement of people between institutions in different countries and their ideas is fundamental to progress; conversely, isolation impedes this progress. Researchers stand on the backs of their predecessors’ findings to reach greater heights. They glean inspiration from global conferences, visiting lecturers and cross-continental collaboration with scholars. President Trump’s travel ban hinders academic dialogue and with it, Emory’s capacity as a research institution.

Had the Ninth Circuit Court not upheld the temporary restraining order against Trump’s executive action last Thursday, Emory and every other global academic institution would have suffered. From Emory’s perspective, the knowledge and experience these immigrants bring far outweigh any risks they might pose.

Sterk’s co-signing of the letter was criticized as both an unnecessary politicization of the University and an action that alienates Emory’s conservative community. But her decision was not only logical, but necessary for Emory to continue occupying a place at the helm of American higher education. Emory has achieved global recognition as an academic force over 180 years — let us not turn back now.

Over 1,000 people gathered peacefully to protest Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at the University of California, Berkeley, last Wednesday. Yiannopoulos is a right wing provocateur who has been widely criticized for his views on homosexuality, Black Lives Matter activists and feminism. He had been invited to campus by the Berkeley College Republicans.

Then, to disrupt the event, roughly 150 individuals smashed windows, threw Molotov cocktails and assaulted two College Republicans and a woman wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at Berkeley, published several op-eds that defended the violence as a necessary measure against hate speech.

Violence may have forced the cancellation of Yiannopoulos’ speech, but blocking him from speaking did little to stop his message. In fact, the protests drew more attention to Milo and his platform; if there had been no violence, his speech at Berkeley would have been a routine stop on his campus tour. This aggressive strategy is neither sustainable nor effective at implementing social change. The violent protesters may not like Yiannopoulos or his message, but their actions infringed on a basic human right — free speech. The best way to combat radical ideas is not to suppress them but to let them be heard, then combated with more speech. Yiannopoulos’ campus appearance was cancelled, but his ideas remained, temporarily silenced by violence rather than being disproven by reason.

To be clear, this is not an endorsement of Yiannopoulos. Rather, it is a defense of the First Amendment, especially as many on college campuses, including The Harvard Crimson’s Editorial Board, have begun to question its value.

Yiannopoulos’ message may be unpalatable, but he should be given an opportunity to speak to any who wish to hear him. Those who oppose the things he says, too, should be allowed to speak refute his claims. This is not only the most productive way to combat hateful speech, it’s the only effective way.

Last week, the Wheel published an editorial praising Emory’s decision not to designate itself a “sanctuary campus.” This past week, 221 Emory faculty members signed a petition calling for the opposite. Additionally, Emory Sanctuary Coalition organized a walkout, set to take place this morning during President Sterk’s inauguration, in response to her rejection of the “sanctuary campus” title. Regardless, the facts haven’t changed — the “sanctuary campus” designation is still an empty label and adopting it would do more harm than good.

Students and faculty are calling for Emory to adopt this label as a sign of solidarity against discriminatory policies toward undocumented students upheld by both the state of Georgia and President Donald Trump. However, some undocumented students themselves oppose the designation. Though well-intentioned, the petition’s call to adopt a politically charged label devoid of legal meaning may endanger current Emory students and turn the school into a target for Trump’s executive power.

In their petition, faculty members claim the sanctuary designation must be adopted “to uphold Emory as a place of safety in which all of its members can pursue higher learning without the fear of discrimination or persecution.” However, rejecting the sanctuary label does not threaten Emory’s ability to protect its undocumented students; Emory already protects them.

Indeed, it is actually the decision to become a “sanctuary campus” that risks losing Emory’s state funding and jeopardizes the quality of all students’ education, documented and undocumented alike, the very “human right” the petition aims to safeguard.

The faculty petition goes on to equate the current situation to Emory’s stand against segregation more than five decades ago, a misguided and dangerous comparison. Emory produced a petition signed by 250 faculty members opposing the closure of public schools in the wake of federally-mandated public desegregation in 1958 and fought Georgia state laws denying tax exemption to integrated private schools in 1962. While these were concrete actions with powerful ramifications, the “sanctuary campus” moniker is only a hollow symbolic gesture that would subvert the ultimate goals of both the University and its students.

Faculty intervention on behalf of undocumented students is laudable. But the University and President Sterk have already vowed, on multiple occasions, to continue supporting qualified undocumented students. If activists want more protection for undocumented students, Emory’s administration should not be their target.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

 

Since Trump’s unexpected victory in November, universities across the country faced calls from their students, faculty and staff to call themselves a  “sanctuary campuses” for undocumented students given temporary immigration benefit by the Obama administration in 2012. This week, Emory’s administration denied similar demands from its own community.

This decision may not satisfy progressives keen on challenging Trump, but University President Claire E. Sterk did what is best for the Emory community. Continuing to admit undocumented students and provide them with financial aid is in the interest of the Emory community at large; taking sides in a contentious political debate may not be. What matters in the coming months are the tangible actions Emory’s administration takes to ensure that DACA students at Emory receive financial aid.

Undocumented students at Emory have expressed fear that declaring Emory a sanctuary campus would draw unnecessary attention to the University and the undocumented students on campus. Emory’s decision to reject the sanctuary campus label does not reflect maligned values or poor judgment. Instead, it highlights the administration’s restraint and foresight.

Sterk directed Emory’s focus toward helping current and future undocumented students at Emory, rather than fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants in general. Protest is powerful, but the University itself should not assume the role of a political activist.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

Correction (2/7/17 at 1:55 p.m.): The article originally stated that Obama’s executive order was put into effect in 2011 and gave legal status to undocumented students. This is not the case. It was put into effect in 2012 and gave undocumented students temporary immigration benefit. Also, the article originally stated that Emory provides undocumented students with campus resources. This is not the case. Emory only provides undocumented students with DACA financial aid. The article has been edited to correct these inaccuracies.

Our newly inaugurated president was voted into office vowing change. Such change has the potential to impact Americans of all ages. Federal law regarding sexual assault on college campuses–an aspect of college life vital to Emory students — is potentially up for revision.

Federal policy affects our lives in subtle ways; sexual assault policy is a notable example. Although individual schools are responsible for the enforcement of federal policy, the Department of Education has a wide mandate to dictate how universities interpret the law.

In a 2011 Dear Colleague letter, the Office of Civil Rights, a branch of the DOE, clarified the way it interpreted Title IX, a 1972 federal law that prohibits federally funded schools from discriminating based on sex in educational programs. This clarification, called historic by the then-assistant director of civil rights, changed the way universities handled sexual assault charges. Most notably, it required universities to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard when adjudicating sexual assault cases and brought the issue of campus sexual assault to the top of administrators’ agendas.

President Trump and his Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos could alter how campuses approach sexual assault, not just by changing the way Title IX is understood, but by reducing the Obama administration’s emphasis on sexual assault education and prevention efforts.

A shift will likely happen. In her confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to commit to keeping the 2011 letter in place. The current system has shortcomings: the number of students accused of sexual assault who successfully sued their universities for due process violations rose after the Dear Colleague letter. In May 2016, 21 law professors from schools such as Harvard and Stanford wrote a letter alleging the Department of Education actually changed the legal definition of sexual assault as opposed to just clarifying it in their letter.

Nonetheless, the 2011 letter has been greatly beneficial and must be kept in place.  Any significant action will attract critics, but the moral imperative of eliminating an issue as systemic and pervasive as campus sexual assault requires drastic steps that inevitably incite backlash.

The nationwide push for increased sexual assault education, prevention and enforcement bolstered by Obama must not be abated. While significant progress has been made, much work remains. We are on the right path, and we must continue to walk it with or without the Oval Office.

Emory administrators assured that they have their priorities straight. In a meeting with the Wheel, Emory’s Title IX Coordinator Judith Pannell vowed that “regardless of the new administration, Emory will remain committed to maintaining a community free of harassment. We will remain committed to education, prevention and response.”

While Pannell’s reaffirmation is comforting, it is not an excuse to fall asleep at the wheel. Ultimately, students must remain attentive; pressure on the administration to uphold the standards we want them to uphold must come from the student body. Even if DeVos weakens enforcement and prevention of Title IX policy or tries to raise the required standard of evidence for sexual misconduct cases, the DOE cannot stop Emory’s community from making their voice heard.

Ensuring the 2011 letter remains Emory’s guiding principle is paramount. A new federal government means that responsibility is on our shoulders, and on this critical issue, the stakes are too high for us to shrug off.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board.