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Student initiative field widens

By Joe Engleman 

engleman@grinnell.edu

This semester’s Student Initiative voting ran into an early technology issue, but since it was resolved, students have begun voting on one of the largest initiative fields in recent memory.

The increase in the number of initiatives appears to stem from an increased level of advertising from Student Initiative Fund Chair Lilianna Bagnoli ’15. This included an increase in the size and number of posters and all-campus emails, as well as placing a small reminder card into every student’s mailbox.

“I wanted to make sure that anyone that wanted to have their voice heard knew it was an option and that we were here to support them,” Bagnoli said.

The initiatives cover topics such as requesting professors to estimate the total cost of books and materials required for classes during preregistration, purchasing a barbecue grill as a step towards transforming 1217 Park Street, location of the old preschool laboratory, into a park accessible to all students and resurfacing Mac Field to ensure the safety of club athletes.

On a lighter note, Darwin Manning ’13 proposed an initiative to change the College’s mascot.

“It has become apparent that the American Bison is in need of an ally and there are hardly any better candidates for this position than the Grinnell College community,” the initiative states. “In order to do such I am proposing that in tandem with the evolution of the newly found revolutionary group ‘Save the Bison’, that we change our mascot to the Pioneer Bison and that we secondly invest in a majestic monument in front of Bucksbaum that would leave anyone in awe.”

There was also an increase in the number of initiatives that were more focused on gauging the opinion of the student body, rather than implementing anything directly through the StiFund.

This group of initiatives included a proposal to decrease the disparity between college punishments for alcohol possession and marijuana possession, a push to close the School of the Americas, and “Measures for a More Inclusive Grinnell,” an initiative which originated through a series of discussions at the Posse Plus Retreat.

Thomas Neil ’14, a sponsor of both the Alcohol and Marijuana Policy Initiative and “Measures for a More Inclusive Grinnell” Initiative, wanted to clarify a fundamental misconception about his proposal to decrease the level of punishment that students receive from the school for possession of marijuana.

“This is not a pro-substance use thing,” Neil said. “A similar initiative has been passed at fifteen other schools. … This is solely a school response to disincentivize the behavior which is alcohol use and abuse.”

JaMaLand Senator Brian Silberberg ’14, one of the authors of “Measures for a More Inclusive Grinnell,” credited the Posse Plus Retreat with bringing the initiatives authors together. The problem was translating the discussions from the retreat into action.

“People keep having conversations, but everyone still has this feeling that you’re not seeing these direct changes,” he said. “If we came up with a list of very specific goals and just pursue them until they were completed, then we could maybe start seeing the changes we want to see.”

“Measures for a More Inclusive Grinnell” proposes a total of six policy changes aimed at easing problems due to socioeconomic status. The measures include an increase in the number of textbooks held on reserve at the library, the addition of Multicultural Leadership Council representation to Joint Board, development of a financial literacy curriculum at the College, and a method for publicly listing all student job opportunities.

Silberberg said the purpose of the initiative is not as much to institute these changes as much as it is to get a sense of what the student body thinks about them.

“We want to use [Student Initiatives] because it’s a good forum to get student opinion on different stuff,” he said. “Once we have that, we want to go forward to SGA or the administration, depending on who each specific line-item would pertain to, and push them to get them through.”

Perhaps the most anticipated initiative is the Foam Machine Initiative, sponsored by Administrative Coordinator Ron Chiu ’13.

“I think it’s a great tradition that we have this frequently on the ballot,” Chiu said. “Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m an outgoing senior this semester and I’d like to revive something that’s been pretty reoccurring in my time at Grinnell.”

In order for any of the student initiatives to pass, at least 50 percent of the student body must vote.

“It all depends on the will of the people,” Chiu said.

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