April 01, 2011

On Saturday, March 26,  a competitive Student Body Government (SBG) Election Week ended with a burst of color when the winning candidates were announced during the Gallaudet Club NEON party hosted by the SBG and Campus Activities in the Rathskellar, the Gallaudet evening café. With 246 out of 455 votes cast, Dylan Hinks and Derrick Behm will be the new SBG president and vice president, respectively, for the 2011-2012 academic year.

The SBG Election Week takes place every spring, and students attend the various events set up by the Election Week committee to get to know the candidates better. Events include platform presentations by the candidates; a “What If” question and answer session when candidates are asked questions regarding how they would handle certain scenarios on campus; a debate night; an open forum when the student body can share opinions about either team without the candidates being present; and the organization cookout social when the candidates socialize with the student body and various campus organizations.
Hinks, who is a second-year student, and Behm, a transfer student who arrived in the fall, went up against fourth-years Scott Keller and Ryan Hawkins, making for an interesting race. The Hinks-Behm team provided fresh ideas, while Keller-Hawkins brought experience to the table.  Both candidates used motivating campaigns and extensive advertising to reach out to the student body throughout Election Week.

The Hinks-Behm team’s campaign message of “what is RITE for Gallaudet (Refine, Inspire, Thrive, and Empower)” was aimed at getting students to speak up for the future of Gallaudet.  Hinks and Behm want the students to thrive through the SBG’s empowerment and this can only happen if students speak up about issues in the community and with academics, they say.

Hinks and Behm took a tip from the Rainbow Society–the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer and straight alliance–which ran a campaign of chalking uplifting messages on buildings and walkways. The Hinks-Behm team blanketed the campus with messages like “Let your voice be heard.”

The Keller-Hawkins team took a leadership-oriented approach of accountability, empowerment, and success as its campaign themes. They emphasized various issues that will need to be addressed, such as cuts in academic programs and the controversy over methods of communication used on campus.
A major question reverberating throughout the student body during Election Week was the question of whether the Hinks-Behm team was experienced enough and had enough knowledge about Gallaudet and its workings.

“They [Hinks-Behm] may be young but the Student Body Government needs a new face, and their plans work out for the long term,” said freshman Jeremy Cormier.

With the uncertainty of academic programs being cut and the need for greater unity on campus, students need a voice-and many students were looking for just that while they evaluated the candidates throughout Election Week.

One area of specific concern is that Gallaudet has been admitting students with a broader range of linguistic backgrounds.  Many community members have noticed friction between students based on whether they use spoken languages or ASL. The University and has been actively working to resolve the issue through campus-wide dialogues.

“Gallaudet is a unique bilingual environment, which brings rich complexities as it relates to language and communication,” said Associate Provost for Diversity Dr. Angela McCaskill. “At the most recent dialogue on March 29, we addressed questions such as ‘How can we strengthen the unique American Sign Language/English bilingual environment and recognize the diversity of language backgrounds of the language community?'”

This very question will need to be addressed by the SBG in the fall, and when asked how they would confront the controversy over communication currently occurring on campus, both teams acknowledged that the problem couldn’t be solved overnight.
The Keller-Hawkins team proposed using media outlets to produce a visual campaign to unite the student body regardless of language, as well as continuing outreach efforts being used currently-such as the campus-wide dialogues and the “Embracelet” campaign.
Hinks-Behm pointed out that hearing undergraduates currently have to sign a language contract which requires them to use only American Sign Language and written English on campus, and pointed out that “all students, as equals, should be required to sign this language contract.” 
The Hinks-Behm team wants to promote sign language affirmation through contributions of student organizations and mentorship programs. Faculty will also be expected to meet the expectations, and Hinks-Behm believe that as professors and students interact more, communication issues will be less likely to arise.
The candidates were asked how they would handle further cuts on academic programs.  The Program Prioritization Task Force has evaluated various programs to decide whether they are worth retaining, and the Student Body Government will surely have to deal with these issues next fall.
Keller-Hawkins pointed out that without students, there would be no university, and proposed coming to a compromise through dealing with the administration.
“One of the positive things about the Program Prioritization Task Force’s cutting of programs is that it won’t be effective immediately,” Keller said in an interview with  On the Green. “We have time to ensure that administrators understand the importance of these specific programs and meet [students] halfway.”
Hinks-Behm had a different vision in bringing together student representatives from the various academic programs at risk to negotiate the issues with the administration. “We want to establish an ad-hoc Student Body Government committee to collect the students’ voices and opinions,” Behm stated.
Students were also concerned about how the SBG would prioritize complaints from the student body. Hinks-Behm stated that priority is based on how widespread throughout the community the problem is, while Keller-Hawkins maintained that all students are equal and complaints would be approached with the same priority, excluding emergencies.
When Hinks and Behm take office in the fall, be sure to let your voice be heard!
–Tanya Sturgis, student writer, Office of Public and Media Relations

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