The youngest spate of candidates in recent memory spread across the election assembly stage in the early evening of Wednesday, December 1. Of the five candidates for senator, four were first years, and both candidates for the executive members of Senate were sophomores. Of the three Quest editor candidates present two were sophomores, and one was a first year. The questions before the Senate and Exec candidates were about their involvement on campus, and how potential student body representatives go about the work of representing students with identities other than theirs. The potential Quest editors were asked about how they planned on improving the Quest , and how they think about the role of objectivity in the student newspaper. Two questions were posed by the audience, one by a current student body senator, and another by the student body president. The former question addressed the nature of the work that students had undertaken with Disability and Accessibility Resources (DAR) and what they viewed the largest issues to be; the latter question was in regards to the candidates’ relationship to the administration.
The overall theme of the night was accessibility, and how inaccessible many of Reed’s basest functions are to students with disabilities of all kinds. Nina Baca spoke about the importance of healthcare accessibility at Reed, and Jefferson Ratliff spoke about his struggle with dyslexia. Mack Marsaw and Lennox Reeder spoke both about advocating for themselves and for other students to DAR, and how frustrating that process was. Nana Branker-McLean focused on how difficult Reed can be for survivors, especially those with intersecting marginal identities, particularly BIPOC; she went on to directly reference the events at the beginning of this semester.
Due to the relative youth of the candidates — as Sajid Bin Mahamud said openly, most of them have only been attending Reed for a little more than two months — much of the practical experience they brought up when questioned centered on their high school experiences. Branker-McLean and Reeder spoke about their time advocating for themselves in the rural south; Marsaw, surprised to have found two other rural southerners on the stage, agreed with their points about how difficult advocating for themselves had been in high school while also speaking to their specific experience as Missed Connections (MC) editor. Marsaw called out their experience as MC editor as a way to directly relate their role to how they envision themselves as an advocate for greater support of BIPOC students on campus. Reeder talked about their experience helping a friend in a wheelchair access the gym on campus, which has been primarily accessible via two separate sets of steps. Ratliff’s experience was with his friends, how little they knew about Senate, and how hard it was for him to get involved in changing things from the academic to the personal. Baca envisioned more student-led groups that were directed at certain problem areas, namely food delivery for mentally ill students or a service matching students with therapists. Baca also envisioned these groups might be able to assist students by being a source of employment.
The Quest candidates formed a united front throughout their questioning process because unlike the other students running, they came in with the knowledge that they would all be elected due to the number of seats available. When asked about their impact on campus, Albert Kerelis spoke about the accessibility of the Quest, and how writers are currently unpaid and generally uncompensated — long time contributors may remember a dream of pizza, which no longer persists. Mahamud’s emphasized his experience as an international student, and the lack of international news in the Quest, particularly in an investigative sense, and the importance that Reed puts on being an educated global citizen in other aspects of its programming. Sabrina Blasik echoed Kerelis’s concern regarding compensation, reflecting that the writers for the Quest tend to skew white, and tend to skew wealthy, that this semester has been one of, if not, the most diverse editorial boards in a long time. Blasik continued that the Quest has the rare job of holding both the Senate and the administration accountable. She also spoke about her long time as a contributor to the Quest.
The second question posed by the czars was accompanied by a hard one minute time limit. Many of the students on the stage hold intersecting marginalized identities and were asked how they might advocate for students holding other identities. Reeder’s answer focused on their time working long hours to access gender affirming healthcare for queer people in the south while in high school. Branker-McLean’s answer similarly focused on advocating for Black inner cities high schoolers in the south. Branker-McLean’s time on Honor Council meant she has experience translating their experience to Reed’s admin, and how experiences of students can be invalidated. Using the experience she has and will continue to garner on Honor Council, Branker-McLean sees her role to help others along their personal journeys. Marsaw reflected on their experience helping a partner with ADHD through the DAR process. Ratliff remarked that as a white student, his role was to ensure that other white students were aware of the space that they might be taking from students of color, and listen more. Baca’s experience with advocacy came from their time advocating for their parents as a child, and as they got older, they advocated for themselves as they worked through a chronic illness and autism diagnosis. The consensus of all of the candidates was embodied by Baca’s remark that Reed should not be impossible to attend for students who are admitted.
When pressed on what their largest issue when working with DAR would be, the general trend was a reference to a desire for increased accessibility. Marsaw focused on how students are often left in the dark, or receive no response, when reaching out to DAR. Reeder echoed the sentiments of DAR not responding to students or canceling meetings and spoke about how able bodied you have to be to navigate the physical campus. Baca focused on healthcare, and that professors should be more accountable to students in regards to respecting accommodations. Ratliff focused on the ideal role of DAR as an effective advocate, to take the burden off the disabled students.
When asked by the current student body president about their personal relationship with the admin, candidates reflected on the admin’s opacity. Ratliff proposed that a portion of orientation be dedicated to learning about who comprises the administration. Baca reflected on how hard it is to form relationships with administrators from outside of Senate. Branker-McLean’s experience with admin was openly negative: she cited that a lot of the structural aspects of admin are intentionally hidden from sight. The lack of administrators choosing to engage with students was a commonality that Branker-McLean directly evoked in her remarks. Marsaw grounded the common thread that the admin is profoundly unapproachable in student relationships with DAR and how the admin didn’t know about students’ problems until they were in open crisis. Reeder related the lack of student participation to the administration’s opacity; they continued by remarking that developing student autonomy again will take time. Reeder’s strategy for bringing accountability back centered on the idea of working with the student accountability groups to take the burden off of individual students while holding admin accountable.
Safi Zenger and Margot Becker are the sole candidates for their role as Senate’s executives, Zenger as President and Becker as VP. As long as 25% of the student body vote in the election—this is known as “reaching quorum”—and no surprise write-ins sweep the field, they will be elected. The future exec team answered the same questions as the Senate candidates with their combined five semesters of Senate experience. Zenger reflected on the reciprocal relationship between her time on Senate, and her time at Reed, and how one has shaped the other. Becker’s remarks about her Senate experience likened it to an intense and transformative experience and went on to reflect on how the admin can affect the work Senate does by leaving the institution. One administrator that Becker was developing her project with suddenly left the institution, and they used that as an example in regards to the importance of documentation. The soon-to-be exec team agreed on the importance of maintaining Senate consistency in projects to address the student body’s problems, and hopefully, as a means to address low student engagement. Zenger’s focus was on the accessibility of information so that students who may know that there is a problem could become connected to the senator working towards addressing the issue. Breaking with tradition, there were no beverages for the thirsty candidates and audience at the end of the seventy minute meeting.