ASWC has beef with meat dress, rejects appeal

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On Sunday, Dec. 4, ASWC Senate heard an appeal from junior Clare Spatola-Knoll, whose request to the Finance Committee for $450 to recreate Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress with prosciutto and wire had been initially denied. The refusal prompted Spatola-Knoll to rework the proposal and appeal for $100. The appeal was ultimately denied a second time in a 15-3 vote, but not without extensive debate. In a packed boardroom, Spatola-Knoll explained the driving idea behind her project.

Graphic by Huang

“My purpose in hoping to recreate the meat dress is to incite discussion on campus,” said Spatola-Knoll. “A lot of people have told me about the issues of sustainability and that it’s not supporting Whitman ideals, but I feel that many projects that Whitman funds are indeed wasteful. One of this project’s strengths is that it calls attention to this waste.”

Sophomore senator Kayvon Behroozian took a vehement stand against the project.

“While I understand and agree that this request has sparked discussion, I feel that this is an unsustainable request,” said Behroozian. “While we do have other requests, like funding airplane travel––that uses jet fuel, that’s bad for the environment and unfortunately that’s a real-world fact––but that goes to serve another purpose that ASWC has already agreed is a good thing. For example, we just funded three airplane tickets to go to the Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights. But this [meat dress] in my opinion is spending student dollars on something that will infuriate a number of students on campus. It’s their money. We should never be using their money to anger them. The next issue I have is that there’s so many people, not only on our campus, that can barely afford food. The fact that we’re considering to spend money on food that will not be eaten is disrespectful. It is a slap in the face to those individuals that are below the poverty line.”

Finance Committee member junior Kenn Kochi tackled the underlying assumptions about the nature of waste.

“How is not eating food wasting it? There are other uses for food. I don’t necessarily see this as solely being wasted. I think this will incite great discussion,” said Kochi.

Finance Committee member senior Tim Strother defended the project for its potential educational effect.

“First of all, I’d like to say that Kayvon’s research just proves the point of what this project is doing. Thank you for that graphic about the 52 percent of fourth-graders who are food-insecure. I didn’t know about that. If it wasn’t for this project, I doubt that any of us in this room would either. I feel like you’re showing what this project is capable of, in getting students involved and informed about these issues. In terms of wasteful once again, and in terms of fourth-graders once again, we could argue that the bowtie pasta used in fourth-grade art projects is wasteful as well and we should just force those fourth graders to eat their art projects.”

Senior senator Genevieve Venable provided further food for thought.

“I just had a really meaningful discussion with [senior] Jack [MacNichol] over email about this. Jack’s a theatre major; I’m someone who doesn’t know anything about performance art and didn’t want to vote based off of that,” said Venable. “Jack wrote, ‘I think that a hundred dollars for the dress falls within our mission and purpose. Clare is doing an awesome project that in my mind epitomizes the Whitman experience. She was inspired by classwork to do an independent art project and share it with the community. If this were to be made of fabric, we would have no problem paying for it; in fact, I think we would be excited about it.'”

First-year senator Tatiana Kaehler expressed hesitation over potential backlash from displeased students should ASWC support Spatola-Knoll’s request.

“Since the request was appealed, I have spoken to more of my constituents, none of whom want me to support this request. As a senator, although I will use my own judgment, I really want to represent my constituents well,” said Kaehler.

Spatola-Knoll addressed some of the senators’ criticisms to her project.

“In response to Kayvon, I qualified for free student lunches when I was in public school. At Whitman College, I am considered the poverty,” said Spatola-Knoll. “I know these facts and that’s one thing I’m trying to do, is make people aware of these things. If I could ask you for a hundred dollars to donate, I would do that, but I can’t. But I can try and make this piece of art that will make people aware of these things and possibly go from their own experience, maybe their extremely negative reaction to the dress, but taking that and then donating that money to an organization that helps these issues.”

Though her appeal was ultimately denied, Spatola-Knoll’s unusual request was successful in generating conversation about waste and the nature of performance art amongst Whitman students.

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