Student leader, activist speaks up, stands out

by Heidi Moeller / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2011

Ethan Silverstein sits at the Student Government Association meetings each week, sometimes eating his vegan spring rolls and taking notes on his laptop—which is covered with environmentalist bumper stickers.

He has said he doesn’t believe in individuals having the right to govern society and is a firm believer that communities should make decisions for themselves.

“I view my participation in student government as working within a system that I fundamentally don’t believe in,” the class of 2012 senator said.

One could say that he is not the typical SGA member. Molly Adams, video, media, production commissioner, said that Silverstein is different from other members because he voices his opinions with a certain degree of protest.

“Ethan contributes another perspective and sometimes it’s very different from what other members are saying,” Adams said. “He vocalizes things in more of an advocacy way. I really enjoy having him there to balance things out.”

While he is involved with other groups on campus, this is his first year as a member of student government.

“[I ran after] seeing a lot of decisions that were being made with student funding and I wanted to have a voice in that,” said the junior video, media, arts major.

Silverstein certainly makes his confident voice heard by responding to other inquiries, and questioning the situation at hand.

He was part of the fight for cage-free eggs, he fought against the SGA allocating $10,000 to em magazine, and he is currently working on a resolution stating SGA will not support a tuition increase next year.

“We all have friends who can’t come back to school because it’s too expensive,” Silverstein said. “Now it’s like Emerson is taking in a lot more money because more and more people are forced to live on campus. That coupled with a tuition increase definitely rubs a lot of people the wrong way, especially when there is cheaper housing elsewhere.”

However, getting the SGA to pass this resolution might not be easy. Silverstein said the SGA spends too much time on things he said he finds unimportant.

“I remember when we were passing the cage-free eggs initiative and the sustainable food initiative. We had to spend like 15 minutes changing the word ‘demand’ to ‘we need you to’ or something like that,” he said.

At the Joint Session meeting on Feb. 15, Silverstein abstained from voting on writing a letter to the Board of Trustees asking them not to increase the student activities fee next year. During an open discussion on the topic at the previous meeting, Silverstein claimed his ideas for the student activities fee were “shot down,” and he therefore did not want to participate in the vote.

“I’m not involved with SGA to govern people, I’m involved with it to voice concerns students raise that oftentimes aren’t addressed,” Silverstein said in an e-mail. “Counting on any representative to make serious change is like voting for Barack Obama and expecting the war to end, it’s not going to happen.  If students want to see change at Emerson it’s far past time to start organizing in a non-hierarchical and direct manner.”

Tau Zaman, SGA vice president, said that while he may not always agree with what Silverstein has to say, he would encourage Silverstein to run for office next year. Zaman leads the SGA senate members and therefore not only interacts with Silverstein at the joint session meetings, but also at the senate meetings.

“In senate he is always willing to help, but he suggests a lot of ideas that are grandiose,” Zaman said. “That said, I like the fact that he’s a big idea kind of guy because I’m a big idea kind of person too. I like that he’s fearless.”

Silverstein said he is not used to being in an environment where people have different opinions, yet are forced to work together.

His other on-campus activities include being involved with Emerson Peace and Social Justice, Emerson Anti-Authoritarians, and he recently started Students for Justice in Palestine. He is also part of different community groups around Boston, such as Food Not Bombs.

According to their website, Food Not Bombs is a global movement to share vegan food in protest to the war, poverty, and destruction of the environment. Every Wednesday and Sunday, Silverstein cooks and serves the food to residents of Boston.

“It’s a lot of homeless people but anyone is welcome to eat the food and help out with cooking,” he said.

Larissa Sapko has worked with Silverstein as a member of Emerson Anti-Authoritarians and Emerson Peace and Social Justice. She said she hopes he not only runs for office next year, but runs for the highest position possible: president.

“I think Ethan brings a really fresh perspective to SGA and represents the opinions of a large group of students who don’t get their voices heard and don’t feel represented by other SGA officers,” the junior political communication major said.

Sapko further stated that Silverstein has a real talent for listening to the student body.

“I would describe Ethan as a visionary, an independent thinker, a fantastic leader, someone who has always shown great potential to be a highly affective political leader,” she said.

Despite his uncertainty regarding reelection, Silverstein hopes to see student government pass more decisions in direct correlation with the needs of the student body.

“I think that lots of times we underestimate what we’re capable of, but I think we have the ability to do more things and demand more things, but we don’t often times because people are worried about maintaining ‘professional relationships,’” Silverstein said.

Silverstein said he is still undecided on whether he will run for office next semester.