Undergraduate Student Government & The Political Culture Of DU

At DU’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) meeting on Tuesday, February 16, Officers and Senators met to discuss DU’s internal affairs and activities. Tess Greenwald, Junior Senator and future English Education graduate student, quietly reported on her upcoming events, only later telling how she was studying each of her fellow Officers and Senators, sizing them up.

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Organized Outreach: Every USG member promoted the Global Reveal via Facebook groups on February 16, 2016. Photo by Paige Evans

The Future

Greenwald, 20, intends to run for USG President this spring, keeping her platform under wraps until she chooses and announces her Vice President and running mate. Meticulous in her selection, she has rejected offers by Alec Fertel, Joe Bellafiore and Gunnar Solberg to be her right hand in the potential   USG administration.

Greenwald, after developing and actualizing DU’s Global Reveal on February 19th, said, “a candidate’s VP could make or break them. DU is relatively small, politics is all about relationships and perceptions and being a Senator has shown me how USG should look and feel. I have a lot of big ideas and I need someone who will stimulate more goals and motivate more growth. I want to leave a legacy and who I want that to be with matters to me as much as it would to a US presidential candidate.”

USG elections occur every spring, requiring candidates to run for student body President and Vice President, as a team, with a developed campaign. This year’s elections will take place concurrent to the US presidential campaign cycle, heightening student attention to government and policy programming.

 

The Present

President Cam Hickert and Vice President Jess Davidson, both seniors, were elected spring 2015 using the campaign: Bridging Experience & Action. Likewise, all USG members won their respective positions after campaigning exhaustively for the 2015 elections and have since implemented initiatives aimed at cultivating a campuswide political climate that enables students to connect with each other and administration.These initiatives include the Founders Celebration, the Global Reveal and the future of Driscoll Student Center.

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Now-President Hickert and Vice President Davidson’s Spring 2015 campaign: “Bridging Experience & Action” Photo by Paige Evans

Large-scale plans to improve student life are in the works for USG, most importantly, concerning the Driscoll Student Center’s redesign and reconstruction, aiming to create space by students, for students.

Jack Arrix, Senior Senator, when asked about his ideas for the hours of the new student center, said that a problem with DU is, “everywhere on campus that people gather is so serious. The library is the only place we know we can all go to see people… we should hate it [there].”

President Hickert, challenged the Senators to collaborate in designing Driscoll’s replacement, emphasizing that their ideas should not be limited by perceived restraints: “dream big.” Groups presented to Officers and Advisors, visualizing the new student center having local and popular food/beverage vendors, a bowling alley, a rotating cultural appreciation floor, quiet space for meditation and relaxation, study space, gender inclusive bathrooms, an interactive touchscreen calendar, chambers for student organizations and other resources–all powered by solar panels and open 24/7. Each stressed that the new center should have a bar where students can safely drink and socialize.

 

 

The Culture

The student center conceptualization project marks the first of many enterprises to be devoted to the future student center. USG and its administration attempts to exemplify collectivity, open-mindedness and rapport, indicating political semblance by undertaking projects like renovating the Driscoll student center. The political culture created by Hickert, Davidson and the other USG members elevates personal relationships, as USG’s Officers and Senators are all friends outside the organization. In fact, USG funds its Senators and Officers night-away retreats and Avalanche tickets for each member, stressing the importance of bonding. In order to replicate the Hickert Administration’s ambience amidst heightened student attention to government and policy, the continuation of Driscoll’s remodel and more contemporary program initiatives, USG will need to be structured around friendships.

Having already turned down friends Fertel and Solberg in her campaign for USG President, Greenwald will be facing a change in scenery if she’s elected. While the candidate recognizes the prominence of relationships in politics and genuinely enjoys her time spent in meetings and planning events, Greenwald understands the importance of diversity in choosing her team. Like President Obama’s selection of Joe Biden and John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin, Greenwald intends to choose a Vice President that is passionate about her platform and can help her to reach untapped corners of the student body.

Chipotle: Extra Guac, Hold the E.coli

Before the outbreak of E.coli in Chipotle restaurants in October 2015, the chain left such a satisfying taste in its customers’ mouths that the only cohesive complaint was shared through the t-shirt design and Facebook group saying, “Yes Chipotle, I know guac is extra.”

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From the University of Denver, students looking out the western-facing windows of Anderson Academic Commons can watch the sunset over the Rockies and the first-ever Chipotle, usually with a line out the door. Fall quarter ended and winter quarter began without a line streaming out of the shop: $1.95 for guacamole may have been doable for Denver citizens, but biting into E.coli apparently wasn’t. Citizens across the US alike have avoided the fast-casual Mexican chain following months of E.coli reports, resulting from bad tomatoes.

On February 2, Chipotle published a press release detailing their loss in profits during the fourth quarter of 2015 and the end of the CDC’s investigation against the restaurants. During 2015’s final quarter, revenue decreased 6.8% and net income decreased 44% compared to Q4 of 2014.

Weeks before announcing the end of the CDC investigation, Chipotle published new food safety and regulation initiaScreen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.13.23 AMtives, including new high-resolution DNA testing of ingredients, paid sick leave for ill employees, in-store vegetable and meat preparation and more thorough employee training. Along with bacteria-free burritos, the Denver-based restaurant buttered up clean-eating customers and farmers by pledging a $10 million donation to local farmers.
This $10 million dollar investment eased the mind of Kelsi Krakauer, working toward a BS in Biology, who said that a “lack of on-farm control strategies could easily lead to [an E.coli] outbreak.” Krakauer studied bodily manifestations of bacteria from contaminated food and water while studying in Cape Town, South Africa last fall.

Apologetic and Absent

Chipotle’s Public Relations team has not answered multiple information inquiries or tweets regarding how they plan to win back customers.

“The fact that anyone has become ill after eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry… Throughout our supply chain we are implementing high-resolution sampling and testing of many of our ingredients to prevent contaminants, including E.coli, from getting into our restaurants. We are also working with our supplier partners to further enhance their food safety procedures.”                                         – Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle

Still walking on eggshells with the public, the burrito bar made up for their nationally executed close on February 8th for 4-hour employee training by offering free burrito coupons to anyone willing to text, “RAINCHECK” to 888-222 for a limited time only.

This was the icing on the cake for some loyal customers. “These new safety procedures make me confident in Chipotle’s food again and I was happy to get a free burrito to make-up for months of bad news surrounding [Chipotle]” says Hadley Barlow, a junior studying Biology.

To others, the coupon never came, unlike further disappointment in the company. Meghan Mendez, DU Communications major, is more skeptical about the company after having texted the coupon code to receive her free burrito without any response: “I tried to trust Chipotle again, but I, as a customer, was ignored even after complaining. This is not the Chipotle I know, I’m so disappointed that they let people be infected with E.coli, then failed at making up for their mistakes”. Other customers have had the same problem, leading many to be further annoyed at the chain, taking their anger out over Twitter.

Employees at Chipotle’s first restaurant were unable to comment on the possible lack of free-burrito supplies, the new safety regulations or their thoughts on customer satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction.

With some customers right back in line and others increasingly angry, Chipotle, a Mexican-food mogul in the midst of a crisis comeback, is in hot water, still trying to turn down the boil.

 

 

Protecting Privacy, Punishing Politicians & Pocketing Prosperity: News Never Ends

The world never stops turning and, like this inherent truth, neither does the news. With #DUreporters, there’s no need not to be in the know. From February 22nd to March 4th, the Denver housing market, the Oscars, corrupt politicians and privacy in the tech world were all the rage. If your WiFi failed or your TV was busy recording missed episodes of this season’s The Bachelor, here is what you missed in the news:

 

Denver: Defending Housing Market Champion

On February 24th, the Denver Post reported the reigning success of Denver’s housing market with the mile high city ranking in the top three cities with fastest appreciating home prices. In a race with San Francisco and Portland, Denver has been moving around within this top three echelon since 2014. Holding the top spot for the first quarter of 2015, then falling into second, then third place for the remainder of the year, the  303 area’s housing price index for 2015 showed its strongest gains since the early 2000s.

Despite Talladega Nights‘ Ricky Bobby’s claim, “if you ain’t first, you’re last,” Denver residents can rest easy in third place. After all, what’s better than making money by just living in Denver?

 

Corruption in California

Also on February 24th, the LA Times reported that ex-Senator Leland Yee has been sentenced to five years in prison. Yee, after losing the race for mayor of San Francisco, intended to run for Secretary of State but was subsequently caught illegally exchanging political favors for cash and potential votes. The Democrat, active in legislation aimed at gun control and water regulation, pled guilty to avoid a trial, insisting that his priority is his sickly wife.

“That will always weigh on me, and that will haunt me for the rest of my life.” — Ex-Senator Leland Yee on the shame he has brought the state, his family and supporters

With the upcoming Presidential election, weariness around the integrity of government officials is a rising concern, according to the Pew Research Center. Now, not only will Americans be closely monitoring candidates’ policy ideas and positions, their trust-worthiness will be on the table too.

 

Culminating Controversy & Catholic Corruption at the Oscars

This year’s Oscar’s ceremony has been talked about since the announcement of the 2016 nominees in January. Twitter’s trending hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has been consistently present on the social network and in the news, citing complaints about the absence of diverse, non-white nominees for the second year in a row.

On February 28th, the New York Times published the successes of 2016’s Academy Awards: host, Chris Rock and the investigative journalism phenomenon, Spotlight. Rock maintained his position as this year’s host despite calls for an Oscars boycott by other black actors, actresses, producers, directors and Hollywood personalities, like Will Smith.

Rock addressed the controversy in an engaging way that illuminated the problem while still entertaining the audience with his comedic banter: “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get the job.” Spotlight, the film chronicling the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic church’s decades-long coverup of pedophilia, molestation and rape of young boys and girls in 2001, was nominated for various awards. The film won Best Picture, beating out Bridge of SpiesMad Max: Fury RoadThe RevenantThe MartianThe Big ShortRoom and Brooklyn.

As exemplified by Chris Rock’s hosting and Spotlight‘s win, using the media to challenge powerful institutions gives the public a voice and is necessary in birthing change.

 

Justice for Privacy or Security: The FBI vs. Apple

February 29th produced a piece by the Washington Post, detailing the ongoing privacy war between Apple and the FBI, a concern for every American with an iPhone. Following the 2015 San Barnardino shootings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asked Apple to unlock the perpetrators’ phones to explore any digital evidence of the planning or undertaking of the attacks. Apple refused, citing the importance of citizens’ personal privacy as paramount.

Apple’s general counsel, Bruce Stewart, said that Apple has “no sympathy for terrorists,” but that this request by the Department of Justice would set “a dangerous precedent.” In fear of cyber criminals and havoc-wreaking hackers, Apple has no plans to weaken its privacy and security measures. Alternatively, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, finds access to backdoors in personal phone privacy “absolutely” necessary in solving, prosecuting and preventing cases of mass violence.

Citizens’ stance on the value of privacy vs. that of national security and safety is wide-ranging and is likely a result of their stance on technology privacy and the priority of violent crime prevention. Whether this Apple vs. FBI contest will result in the maintenance of personal privacy or open the door to public protections, the First World’s affinity for technology will be impacted.

 

The week’s wins in housing market prosperity, punishing political perversion, personal privacy protection and the power of media projection, parallel the winnings of a battle, not a war. These ongoing issues are sure to develop further and, as Spotlight demonstrated last Sunday, the necessity of investigative journalism is more prevalent than ever.

Stay tuned for more of what you miss with the #DUreporters.

 

 

Featured Photo: Chris Rock, host of the 2016 Academy Awards, helping Girls Scouts sell cookies and critiquing the lack of diversity. Taken by Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times