The Melt is on, Don’t Stop the Heat

Christina Aushana and Zachary Watson/Guardian

For all you fortunate souls who spent last night somewhere other than the fourth floor of Price Center East: It was mayhem.

Not mayhem by the magnified standards we usually put on A.S. Council affairs, all tangled up in bureaucratic floss over something as inconsequential as a sheet of paper proclaiming either “we condemn” or “we condone.” No, we’re talking real-live mayhem: 200 angry students packed into every corner of the boardroom, split into two viciously opinionated camps, ready to fight to the death over their right to exist equally/comfortably on this campus.

Student-media orgs wanted their money back, with no threat of content regulation. Minority students and supporters did not want their money going toward publications that degraded and alienated them on campus. Affirmative action somehow became a hot topic, heaped onto a pile of irrelevant court cases and personal attacks. At one point, it seemed members of the crowd were ready to make it physical.

But the most frightening part of the whole mess was the seated U-shape of ex-ASB hotheads, invested with jurisdiction over $3 million in student fees and a penchant to rock the coming A.S. elections (or head a gallant stampede into a gray area of law before even stepping foot into law school). All while Associate Vice President of Student Life Gary Ratcliff stood a few feet away, peacefully watching students bite off each others’ heads — essentially doing administrators’ dirty work for them.

And just when we thought things were going to quiet down. According to the A.S. Standing Rules, the freeze could only have lasted until yesterday night. Offensive humor newspaper the Koala — whose racial remarks were the reason A.S. President Utsav Gupta froze funds in the first place — had already released an issue on borrowed cash, and satirical rag the MQ put one out using an alternate Muir College bank account (unfortunately, no one was laughing at the latter).

Plus, a committee Gupta formed three weeks ago — to determine whether new funding guidelines were necessary — was getting along just swimmingly.

Which now looks suspiciously like a scheme, as everyone appointed to the committee had a similar stance: All were generally unwilling to recommend any funding model with content bias. So committee members — including Koala Editor in Chief Kris Gregorian and very vocal Sixth College Senator John Condello, a presidential candidate for spring — let their guard down, thinking they had this one in the bag. Gupta fooled them momentarily, moping around like a defeated servant of the people. He and partner-in-crime Vice President of Finance and Resources Peter Benesch stood by dopely while the rest of the committee trumpeted no-bars content-neutral funding, then wasted a week making friends and out-articulating each other on exactly the same points.

Gupta and Benesch were the odd ones out. They advocated an unpopular “government speech model” that would allow the council to fund only publications that aligned with its principles. Gupta assured the committee it shouldn’t bother with PowerPoints, and would only have to present a casual recommendation to the council.

The committee didn’t even bother to take an official vote on its stance, too busy waxing starstruck by Gregorian and drooling over the Bill of Rights. Condello literally set his feet up on the table during their final get-together (really more a wine garden than a meeting). So imagine the cool kids’ surprise when, at last night’s official media-funding presentation, Benesch whipped out the PowerPointed legislation for a government speech model — hoping to charm the council with nicely packaged research he had kept under wraps from the estranged committee.

In such a chaotic environment, with so many emotional students begging for action, there was the danger that councilmembers would join Gupta and Benesch under the pressure. But Benesch’s model was obviously terrible: Basically, every single newspaper would exist within the overly sensitive ideals of A.S.. Every newspaper would be an A.S. newspaper. Fortunately, that red flag flew above the mayhem, and the ‘Yes’ vote didn’t wildfire off the duo’s arson.

But something else happened amid all the political plotting: The original problem was brushed aside. Sure, it was ridiculous for Gupta to at first suggest that there be seven Student Affirmative Action Committee representatives on the media-funding committee, but he swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, and discussion never really surpassed the First Amendment and Gregorian’s theories on our “post-racist” society. Campuswide Senator Wafa Ben Hassine, one of the only voices that could have balanced out the committee, didn’t even show up for meetings — no doubt for fear of bad publicity for her presidential campaign.

Gregorian is patting himself on the back for getting everyone to rise from the apathy and give a crap — but Gupta, in the role of evil dictator, is to be equally credited. Sadly, the debate is largely lacking an articulate voice against the Koala — the other side is blinded by hurt, and it’s unfortunately an argumentative disadvantage. The Koala is knowingly beating the backbone of a marginalized few within a hostile environment, who find it hard to be numb to racist stereotypes because it’s still the majority laughing at the minority — us versus them. The only thing we can hope is that some particularly articulate member of the opposing party has the passion and initiative to upstart an opposing newspaper, under new streamlined rules.

And that is, in the end, what the committee has proposed: easier access to free press. More flexible deadlines, applications, access. Indeed, what a beautiful day that will be. We’d also like to see some anarchists with the balls to withdraw their A.S. fees completely, as a speaker during public input suggested. And that brings us to the best part, without a doubt: We’re all talking. Thanks, Pupta. We love you.