Editorials

The Student Government Association (SGA)’s club participation audit is failing because of more than just its excessively short time-frame.

The Editorial Board shares College Council’s (CC) sentiment that one month simply is not enough time to form an accurate picture of undergraduate clubs’ financial needs, especially given the concerns raised by clubs and divisional councils last week.

In their attempt to conduct a hasty audit of club participation, SGA has failed to issue clear guidelines and anticipate challenges in collecting data. Clubs have contacted CC to express confusion about the audit and request extensions, according to CC Freshman Representative and audit chair Chandler Smith (22C). For clubs who fail to submit information, the audit committee plans to extrapolate from available member data from clubs and organizations not gathered during the audit. But altering how the student activities fee (SAF) is distributed among divisional councils should be based on more than mere guesstimates, and it’s unclear what data, if any, is available. Imprecise and incomplete data will fail to provide an accurate picture of current club participation. No legitimate new fee split can hinge upon information inconsistent with current club participation.

Additionally, student groups, especially those with sensitive membership information, have not received adequate accommodations. Some mental health or religious groups cannot or have chosen not to participate in providing membership data, which further undermines the integrity of the SAF audit. According to College Council (CC) VP of Finance, Teresa Wang (20B), the Emory HelpLine, for example, is not willing to disclose its membership, and for some religious groups, using technology on certain days violates rules of their religion. These clubs are an essential component of the student population that the audit will not adequately represent.

Although the club audit committee has promised adjust to meet these clubs’ needs, the audit deadline is less than one week away. SGA’s disorganization and incoordination in conducting the audit — one CC representative sent to an event to count participation only reported “many people are going” — must be seriously examined and questioned before adjusting the SAF split.

The audit that is supposed to serve student groups and organizations is doing the exact opposite. If this audit is to be the foundation for a fair re-allocation of club funding, SGA needs to extensively revise its data collection methodology and extend the audit’s timeline.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.

The United States already has one of the lowest voter turnout rates among developed countries. Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp is exacerbating the problem by curtailing access to the state’s ballot boxes.

Kemp’s state department purged 1.5 million Georgians from the voter rolls ahead of the 2016 election, according to the Brennan Center, twice as many as the state purged between 2008 and 2012. The state also shuttered 214 voting precincts, or 8 percent, since the 2012 election. And earlier this month, Kemp’s “exact match” voter registration law placed 53,000 voters on hold, a majority of them African-American. 47,000 voters are still pending, and although these individuals can still vote with proper identification, it’s yet another unnecessary burden placed disproportionately upon minority voters.

Fortunately, Kemp’s “exact match” law was effectively overruled for the midterms on Oct. 24, when a federal judge ordered Georgia officials to stop rejecting absentee ballots without letting voters fix them first. Similar “exact match” laws have already been struck down in New Hampshire; there is little reason for their imposition in the first place. Voter fraud, the justification floated by the Kemp campaign, has been repeatedly proven to be a myth.

Even if voter fraud were a legitimate problem, Kemp should not be in charge of election oversight. Both former secretaries of state and gubernatorial candidates Karen Handel and Max Cleland resigned during their bids for office. Even though Democrats Cathy Cox and Lewis Massey did not resign, they also lost their party’s primary and did not end up running. Kemp’s candidacy demands that he at least temporarily vacate his secretary of state position, and his failure to do so is a stain on his candidacy. This is a simple case of a conflict of interest. Even former President and Emory University Distinguished Professor Jimmy Carter has called on Kemp to relinquish his position out of concern for “voter confidence in the upcoming election.”

Carter also calls into question Georgia’s troubled history of voting, noting the “undeniable racial discrimination of the past.” The resurgence in voter suppression since Shelby County v. Holder is not historical happenstance. When the Supreme Court overturned section five of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that forced certain states to have proposed voting restrictions pre-cleared by the federal government, it opened the floodgates for a revival of the discrimination America supposedly left behind. Without this check on state governments, the United States has entered “Jim Crow 2.0,” as Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies Carol Anderson wrote in an Oct. 19 op-ed for HuffPost.

In this neck-and-neck election, people should be more concerned with who they vote for, not if they can vote.

Editor’s Note: The Wheel’s Editorial Board endorsed Stacey Abrams in September.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei. Editorial Board members Andrew Kliewer and Shreya Pabbaraju recused themselves from writing this editorial because they have worked on the Abrams campaign.

President Donald J. Trump promised to support the LGBT community during his 2016 presidential campaign. Since his election, however, his administration has worked to consistently undermine transgender rights. A memo obtained by The New York Times details the latest move: Trump’s administration is considering redefining gender as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth” that is either male or female. This constitutes an imminent threat to the security of transgender people and would violate the civil rights of at least 1.4 million transgender Americans. The U.S.’s withdrawal from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in January was not symbolic; Trump’s proposed legal redefinition of gender is just one of many actions in the administration’s dismissal of human rights and minority groups.

This year alone, the Trump administration banned transgender people from participating in military service, decided that transgender people must be placed with people of their assigned sex at birth in federal prisons and allowed businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community based on religious exemption, allowing for further discrimination against transgender individuals. U.S. officials are even attempting to rewrite gendered language in UN human rights documents — mainly by exchanging phrases like “gender-based violence” with “violence against women” — in ways that would allow for legal discrimination against transgender individuals.

Trump’s reversal on his promise to support the LGBT community is unsurprising given that his second-in-command, Mike Pence, has a significant anti-LGBT track record; Pence signed religious liberty legislation as Indiana governor that permits discrimination against LGBT individuals and helped draft the administration’s ban on transgender individuals from open military service.

Trump’s anti-transgender agenda is not a vague possibility blown out of proportion by liberal fearmongers. It is a real and tangible shift toward the dehumanization of transgender individuals in the U.S. and across the world.

The U.S. Departments of Education; Labor; and Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama offered protections to transgender people in education and employment practices and ensured access to health care for transgender individuals — signs that the administration recognized that individuals who don’t conform to the gender-binary were vulnerable to discrimination. The proposed narrower definition of gender described in the memo would mean health insurers that currently cover procedures related to gender-affirmation would be less likely to cover the cost of transition services; hiring discrimination against transgender individuals could become legal and the decision would likely be deeply felt in school and college locker rooms and bathrooms. If the Trump administration successfully redefines gender to exclude transgender individuals from Title IX protections, the ramifications for college students could be even more extensive.

The Trump administration’s failure to recognize the legitimacy of transgender existence is ignorant and its pursuit of an exclusionary redefinition of gender is a legal codification of discrimination.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.

Do you know where your $92 Student Activities Fee (SAF) is going? A Wheel reporter tried to find out by attending a recent College Council (CC) session, but he was removed because CC went into an “executive session.” When the reporter asked to read copies of the bills passed during the session, he received versions with financial information redacted.

Student government institutions like CC are meant to give students a voice in how their SAF is spent. The procedure described above completely negates that purpose by closing off meetings that determine funding. Though CC claims to be protecting clubs’ financial privacy, they are destroying the necessary mechanisms of transparency and accountability. These claims are unfounded: Student Government Association (SGA) publicizes funding requests they receive, and the Wheel has published student government budgets in the past. CC should follow the lead of SGA, their parent organization, by holding legislative meetings open to the student body and releasing financial documentation.

To justify the procedural changes, CC Vice President Hemal Prasad (19C) and Chief of Staff Jacob Hicks (18Ox, 20C) both cited Robert’s Rules of Order, a rulebook for legislative bodies adopted by CC in Spring 1971. While neither the latest revision of CC’s constitution nor standing rules reference Robert’s Rules, the rules would allow those bodies to call for private, executive sessions. However, the rules of procedure of CC that Hicks sent to the Wheel should supersede Robert’s Rules, and they fail to mention any such executive session. What’s worse is that CC is currently using executive sessions for legislative activity, which, though permitted under Robert’s Rules, violates their spirit and undermines transparency.

CC has also said Student Government Services (SGS), an office of University employees hired to assist student government process finances, has urged them not to make financial documents public. SGS’ claim is based on a poor interpretation of the SGA constitution, which reads,  “All meetings of the Student Legislature shall be open … [and] the papers of SGA shall be considered public records.” SGS has repeatedly interpreted that clause to exclude financial documents when Wheel reporters requested financial documents. Such an interpretation is completely unjustified by the Constitution’s text, and interpreting the student Constitution is outside SGS’s purview.

SGS officials are unelected. These administrators do not pay into the SAF, and there is no constitutional mechanism through which their interpretation should hold any weight. If CC concedes that SGS can interpret the student constitution, they are handing sovereignty over to a wholly undemocratic body. Further, using SGS’s interpretation to close legislative meetings also breaks from the norms of other student government bodies; none of them actively remove observers while passing bills.

This would be less of an issue had student government bodies not repeatedly demonstrated a need for oversight and electoral accountability. While CC has largely avoided scandals, its members should continue to act openly and responsibly instead of hindering public access to information.

It’s worth noting that CC’s use of executive session followed the Wheel’s decision to regularly send reporters to its meetings this semester. Preventing media access to CC meetings severs a vital link in communication between the student government and students, many of whom do not have the time to regularly attend meetings. CC’s decision is an unnecessarily adversarial stance toward the press that ensures students will vote in the spring with incomplete knowledge of their elected representatives’ performance.

We understand that funding diverse student organizations and organizing CultureShock are difficult tasks that may require heated debate, but that does not justify anti-democratic action.

As long as Emory students are required to pay the $92 Student Activities Fee, the financial process of student government organizations should be open to scrutiny.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei. Kimia Tabatabaei is a freshman legislator on College Council and recused herself from this piece.

A new Emory College seminar set to pilot next semester addresses a gap in the curriculum, as it will help liberal arts majors follow a more career conscious path during their undergraduate education.

The seminar is part of the Emory Edge initiative, which connects students with academic and career mentoring and other resources. Listed as “Emory College Seminar (ECS) 120: The Liberal Arts Edge,” the pass/fail course teaches freshmen and sophomores how to leverage a liberal arts education in the professional world. In essence, it ameliorates tensions between Emory’s liberal arts and pre-professional cultures.

The new course bears resemblance to the Goizueta Business School’s one-credit “Professional Development” class (BUS 380), which helps BBA students prepare for success beyond Emory. Both courses require students to work on resumes and cover letters, do mock interviews, network with alumni and create LinkedIn profiles. Whether you’re majoring in art history or biology, these skills translate directly into the job-seeking process.

Students in the seminar will roadmap their futures, network, explore interests and goals at Emory that connect to potential career paths and learn liberal arts skills as well as how they can be applied to life in the workforce, strategizing for the college-to-career jump, according to Director of Emory’s Quality Enhancement Plan and seminar instructor Tracy L. Scott. These aspects will equip liberal arts majors with tools to outline career paths that pre-professional tracks do not exist to serve. Adding this seminar would be a big step in addressing student complaints of a lack of career coaching in the College, and might alleviate some pressure on underclassmen to attend the Goizueta Business School solely for secure post-graduation employment.

We commend the College for innovating and piloting the seminar program. It seems more useful than Pre-Major Advising Connections at Emory Program (PACE), and we hope the seminar moves beyond the pilot stage and becomes available to a wider array of Emory students.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.

Emory’s Ph.D. student stipends finally caught up to those of its peer institutions when the University announced that the base stipend for students pursuing doctoral degrees will increase to $31,000 from $24,000 beginning in Fall 2019. This is a necessary reform to address concerns voiced by Emory graduate students about inadequate stipends and to ensure Emory is competitive at the graduate level. However, the University should take further steps to address other graduate student needs.

The stipend increase addresses the increasing disparity between stipends and Atlanta’s rising cost of living. By bumping up base stipends by 29 percent, Emory is preserving its culture of innovation and research and providing graduate students more financial security. And since the National Labor Relations Board considers graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants as employees, they should be treated more similarly to other Emory employees; graduate students should be focused on producing high-quality research and on providing high-level undergraduate instruction, not on taking second jobs to cover skyrocketing rents.

However, this stipend increase is only the first in a series of steps necessary to keep Emory a top destination for doctoral candidates. Concerns expressed by the voluntary graduate student union EmoryUnite as well as the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) include calls for better transportation and housing options, career advising and cheaper childcare.

Fortunately, Emory has already demonstrated a willingness to address graduate student conditions. The University created a half-month stipend for first-year graduate students in August, addressing concerns about the dead-period period they previously faced. This half-month pay is better than no pay, but it does not cover all the expenses incurred by graduate students moving to Atlanta. Moving, rent and student fees represent financial constraints that could prevent the best graduate students from coming to LGS. As EmoryUnite has requested, full stipends should be dispensed earlier to ease graduate students’ transition into the academic year. The University has argued that obtaining I-9 documentation makes this difficult, but Emory should still take the lead among its peer institutions and do away entirely with the dead-pay period.

Emory should take a similar approach to increase campus accessibility to graduate students. Emory only guarantees two years of housing for undergraduates, and graduate students do not receive on-campus housing assignments. Because of this, graduate students are forced to seek off-campus options. “Most [graduate students] cannot afford to live anywhere near Emory on our stipends,” EmoryUnite Organizing Committee member Jonathan Basile (24G) wrote in an email to the Wheel.

While the University may not be able to provide more accessible housing, it can provide graduate students with better transportation options. GSGA, for example, called for a more convenient shuttle schedule. Even though MARTA has announced plans to build the Clifton Corridor that better connects Emory with Atlanta, the University should still accommodate GSGA’s request since that project is years away from completion. In addition, graduate students do not have access to the same parking benefits extended to Emory faculty, leaving them no choice but to pay $672 annually for a parking pass. Providing graduate students with this pass is a concrete way to reduce their expenses.

LGS should also help graduate students with dependents pay for child care. Currently, the cost of sending a child to the on-campus Clifton School is up to $326 a week, or nearly $16,000 annually — more than half of a graduate student’s base stipend. And though the Emory-affiliated Clifton School offers tuition assistance to Emory employees earning less than $58,000 per year, this offer is not extended to students. For those with dependents, covering this expense even with the improved stipend is often impossible. Should it be an option financially, Emory should take similar steps to make child care more affordable.

While the Editorial Board commends Emory for increasing graduate students’ base stipends, the University should ensure that their increased pay isn’t bogged down by high transportation and other costs.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.

One-and-a-half months is not enough time for Emory’s Student Government Association (SGA) to conduct an audit that could cause long-lasting consequences with due diligence.

While the audit’s intention is to equitably distribute the Student Activity Fee (SAF) between clubs, its limited scope will ensure that it does just the opposite — the audit will lead to the division of money in a way that may not represent the needs of Emory’s clubs. Since the audit is limited to the period of Sept. 31 to Nov. 19, midterms, fall break and Homecoming will skew findings about student participation rates. Furthermore, clubs that held activities earlier in the Fall or have larger activities planned for the Spring are unfairly punished by the audit’s time constraints. Instead of a rushed audit, SGA should have approved the proposal by College Council Vice President Hemal Prasad (19C) to extend the audit for a full year.

Because the audit is so short, there is no guarantee that its outcome will lead to fairer allocation of the SAF.

Worse, the credibility of the audit is undermined by the lack of buy-in from most divisional councils. According to SGA Executive Vice President John Priddy (19C), only the BBA Council expressed interest in the audit.

Instead of immediately implementing changes based on the audit’s results, SGA should send any proposed changes to the SAF split to an undergraduate referendum. This would add a democratic check and provide needed legitimacy to any changes. Although a shorter audit may be the most politically expedient move, its inherent limits indicate that SGA does not prioritize long-term success over short-term accomplishments. Extend the audit to a full year to ensure fairness.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei. Kimia Tabatabaei is a freshman legislator on College Council and recused herself from this piece.

UPDATE (10/4/18 at 5:17 p.m.): Emory’s Student Government Association has disabled access to their website

The webpage that greets a user once they click ‘I want to find my representative,’ on the current Emory SGA website./Courtesy of Emory SGA

Emory’s Student Government Association website is, in its own words, an embarrassment.

There is no way to view active representatives. Those seeking to get involved on campus are greeted with a page that has not been updated since 2014. Concerned constituents can report their problems to John Darby — who has not been the SGA president for four years. For a body tasked with addressing the issues of Emory students, SGA’s website is an abject failure; it’s not unreasonable to expect that SGA either update its website or improve its OrgSync.

The former SGA administration under Gurbani Singh (18B) failed to update the website, despite the November 2017 creation of the Communications Committee, which promised to better facilitate the transmission of information to the public. Last semester, several SGA candidates mentioned updating the website during their campaigns. In interviews with the Wheel, both SGA President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) and SGA Executive Vice President John Priddy (19C) promised prompt updates to the government’s digital presence and transparency. More than half a year into their tenure, the pair has failed to produce results thus far. While SGA has uploaded an updated version of the Constitution to its OrgSync page, this improvement is the bare minimum — especially considering that OrgSync is rarely used. SGA can go a step further by sending out periodic announcements like College Council did last year or live streaming their weekly sessions.

SGA’s lackluster efforts to properly update its website limits interaction with a student body that is already uninterested in participating in student government. At a time when people are increasingly receiving their information online, SGA should be expected to maintain a website that is both engaging and consistently updated. Without an accessible website, students have one less avenue to voice concerns or contact their representatives. SGA leaders cannot expect to receive consistent input if there is no central platform for students to give it.

And while SGA occasionally uses its Facebook page to update students, the page has a mere 1,400 followers — a fraction of Emory’s more than 7,000 undergraduate students. Because Facebook reaches such a small percentage of the student body, the organization should emphasize relaying important information on other platforms like OrgSync, the undergraduate listserv or their website, which should be accessible to more people.

The modifications could also include the regular uploading of meeting minutes. Should SGA elect to switch to OrgSync completely, they must delete their outdated website to clarify online communication with the student body.

Fortunately, SGA’s transparency problem has quick and easy solutions. SGA can either update its website or include more information, such as how to contact representatives, on their OrgSync profile. And they should have the capacity to do so, especially since the vice president of communications has proposed creating a new communications officer position. Until significant changes are made, students cannot easily find who their representatives are and cannot hold SGA accountable.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei. Kimia Tabatabaei is a freshman legislator on College Council and recused herself from this piece.

For years, Emory has stood as the largest center of employment in metro Atlanta without any easy access to public transportation or an interstate highway. Anyone who has sat in Clifton Road’s glacial-pace traffic can attest to the frustration and lost productivity this causes while over 50,000 cars pass through the area daily. The Clifton Corridor, a proposed light rail line currently sitting on MARTA’s docket, is a potential solution to this issue, but it’s currently at risk.

An Oct. 4 vote by MARTA’s Board of Directors could delay this project because of advocates who claim that the Clifton Corridor proposal is unfairly taking money away from other Atlanta transit projects. While this is a valid concern, the amount of congestion and economic importance of the Clifton Corridor should make it a top priority for public transit. A decision by MARTA’s board to cut funding would have negative consequences not only for Emory, but also for all of metro Atlanta by preserving gridlock, pollution and barriers for low-income people in accessing key Atlanta educational and health care institutions.

Atlanta would also benefit from the project in more direct ways. The impact of Emory’s community service programs would surely expand alongside this increased access to Atlanta; it’s easy to imagine the Corridor allowing more Volunteer Emory trips and boosting participation in educational outreach programs like the Atlanta Urban Debate League and Graduation Generation.

“As we seek to have deeper engagement in Atlanta, we need more ways to do so and the Clifton Corridor would be a huge step in that direction,” Senior Director of Civic and Community Engagement James Roland wrote in a Sept. 24 email to the Wheel.

When Atlanta annexed Emory in January, it was no secret that a key reason was access to $2.5 billion in transit funding, raised by a half-cent increase in sales tax that Atlanta voters approved in 2016. However, activists have raised concerns about MARTA’s plan to give the Clifton Corridor $503 million of this funding, the largest allocation to any single project. The group Beltline Rail Now has called for MARTA to instead fully fund a 22-mile streetcar loop of the Beltline, citing that this project would serve areas that have been in Atlanta far longer than Emory.  

The concerns of this group are fair; the Beltline also deserves transit funding, especially for historically underserved areas in Atlanta’s west side. However, completing the entire project at the expense of Clifton Corridor would be a mistake. As the project with a higher projected ridership, the Corridor has the greatest likelihood of securing federal funds necessary for construction. The proposal before MARTA’s board to complete the segment connecting Emory to Lindbergh station is a sensible middle ground, which would still leave funding for a third of the Beltline streetcar.

Ultimately, those on both sides of this debate must face a stark reality: there simply is not enough funding to go around. Cannibalizing funding for the Clifton Corridor to fully fund the Beltline streetcar would be a disservice to all residents of metro Atlanta, including the majority of respondents who indicated in a survey conducted by MARTA that the Clifton Corridor was one of their top three priorities. While Emory’s annexation into Atlanta is recent, MARTA has been actively planning the Clifton Corridor since 2000. The current proposal before MARTA’s board is the best chance to bring this decade-long effort to fruition, finally connecting Atlantans to one of the largest employment centers in the metro area.

We urge MARTA’s board of directors to ensure the Clifton Corridor project receives adequate funds; it’s in the best interest of both Emory and Atlanta writ large.

The editorial board is composed of Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju and Isaiah Sirois.