SGA President is sole contested seat in exec. elections

By DIVA PAREKH and KATY WILNER | April 5, 2018

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Two tickets are campaigning for next year’s Student Government Association (SGA) executive board elections. “New Horizons” and “Thumbs UP for Jessup” will face off in a debate on April 9, and the voting period will begin on April 11.

The New Horizons ticket includes junior Noh Mebrahtu running for executive president, junior AJ Tsang for executive vice president, junior Mi Tu for executive treasurer and freshman Aspen Williams for executive secretary. All except Williams are incumbent candidates.

The New Horizons platform incorporates eight core pillars: civic engagement and the University’s relationship with Baltimore; student mental health and wellbeing; diversity and inclusion; academic support and financial reform; environmental advocacy and sustainability; transparency and accountability from both the administration and SGA; working toward a student center; and increasing school spirit through athletics.

Thumbs UP for Jessup consists of sophomore Jessup Jong for executive president. 

He said that though he has no previous SGA experience, his time as an interpreter in the South Korean military and his work with Liberty in North Korea, a student group that advocates for North Korean human rights, qualify him for the position.

Sophomore Omar Lloyd was initially running for executive vice president on Jong’s ticket but was unable to obtain the 300 signatures required to be eligible for SGA executive board candidacy.

Lloyd addressed his decision to step down from the campaign in an email to The News-Letter.

“I wasn’t prepared for the petitioning and campaigning processes, and I’d like to get more experiences in these things (like class council) before running for executive board,” he wrote.


COURTESY OF NEW HORIZONS AND THUMBS UP FOR JESSUP

L: The New Horizons ticket consists of Noh Mebrahtu, AJ Tsang, Mi Tu and Aspen Williams. R: The Thumbs UP for Jessup ticket comprises Jessup Jong.


Thumbs UP for Jessup’s platform consists of three main points: standing against a private Hopkins police force; opposing the establishment of a student center at Mattin Center; and addressing the lack of reliable access to affordable and nutritional food on campus.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Jong addressed an upcoming SGA proposal to construct a student center in the current location of Mattin Center and Whitehead Hall. According to the proposal, the student center is expected to cost $120 million in initial construction costs, at least 50 percent of which would come from a major donor.

Jong said that after he talked to over 400 students, he gathered that there is support in the student body for a new student center.

However, Jong believes that the University should find a better alternative than tearing down Mattin Center and focus instead on renovating an existing building and repurposing it as a student center for a lower cost. He said that this building could be chosen using data from a survey of which areas on campus experience the most foot traffic. 

For Jong, there are more important aspects of student life that the $120 million which would be needed to create a student center could be redirected to.

“If I can drastically reduce that amount of money, that would mean that I would have more money to use elsewhere, where it actually matters — mental health and sexual assault issue as well as housing and dining options,” he said.

According to Jong, faculty and staff have a responsibility to report sexual assault cases as soon as they become aware of them.

“If the faculty knows all the details or knows some of the details and is sure that sexual assault has happened, yes, it should be reported and redirected, but it shouldn’t be revealing all that information to the public, that’s for sure,” he said.

He believes that the University needs to improve the way it handles sexual assault cases. 

“Issues that are reported have to be dealt with efficiently and responsively so that people can have a sense of closure for those who have suffered sexual assault,” Jong said.

He proposed spending greater resources toward relocating offices like the Counseling Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs to more central locations on campus or introducing a shuttle service that could make these offices more accessible for students.

In an attempt to further engage the student body, Jong has been asking people who sign his petition, the collection of signatures required for candidates to run, what they would like improved at the University and using that information to build an idea bank.

“We will be taking actionable measures with each procedure to look into every idea and concern a student has voiced,” Jong said. “They propose the activities, and we provide funding and the attention needed to foster the students’ need for engagement.”

According to Jong, students are primarily concerned about the private police force that University President Ronald J. Daniels and Hopkins Medicine CEO Paul B. Rothman proposed in an email to the Hopkins community on March 5. 

Though the bill to enable this force will not be voted on during this legislative session, many believe that it will be reintroduced next spring. Jong feels that Daniels still needs to answer student concerns that remain about the proposed force.

Jong said that he would address the concerns of students in fraternities and sororities, placing these concerns in the context of the proposed police force.

“I would like to fully support the fraternities’ and sororities’ activities in a safe environment,” he said. “A lot of fraternity and sorority members have shown the sentiment that Greek life is under attack. A great example is the private police issue and we are at the forefront of trying to address this issue.”

Jong cited alternative ways in which Hopkins could improve campus security by increasing the number of Hop Cops patrolling the area surrounding campus or by increasing the patrol boundaries, adding that he personally feels safer when Hop Cops are present.

As part of the third pillar of Thumbs UP for Jessup’s platform, Jong said he would like to focus on improving housing and dining facilities.

“A lot of people have voiced that the internet is slow, that people have to pay for the laundry service, which we could possibly look into changing, and [the need for] renovations in most facilities,” Jong said. 

He also addressed the difficulties of eating healthy as a Hopkins student and emphasized the importance of increasing the amount of healthy, nutritious food available closer to campus.

“There are options for food, but these are not healthy enough, they are not affordable enough, so that students and residents are effectively barred from having a healthy diet. I believe that University-sponsored grocery options are limited,” he said. “There should be more options for fresh vegetables in that sense as well as meat.”

New Horizons is running on a multifaceted platform, which includes improving student education. One initiative the ticket plans to tackle is encouraging teachers to post class syllabi on SIS, so that students would be able to see the content of the course before enrolling.

“Students would have access to see when [assignments] are due so they can better organize their year so they wouldn’t be as stressed as they are currently,” Noh Mebrahtu, the current SGA Executive President, said.

In their current positions on SGA, Mebrahtu and Executive Vice President AJ Tsang said they have been working to improve both academic and mental health resources.

Tsang reported that after the removal of covered grades, the PILOT program has grown exponentially, and the ticket plans on making this program available for humanities classes, too.

“We were in a meeting recently with deans of [Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Whiting School of Engineering],” Tsang said. “The deans were surprised to hear from us that students didn’t like the loss of covered grades and that there weren’t enough resources provided.”

Tsang also expressed the ticket’s interest in nominating a student to be placed on the Board of Trustees so that student’s opinions could be voiced in serious decisions, like covered grades or establishing a private police force on campus.

The New Horizons ticket has a history of promoting mental health with the implementation of “Wellfest” — an event in October dedicated to providing the student body with information on mental health as well as the resources available to them.

Another large focus for New Horizons is student civic engagement at the University. 

“We’re looking to make sure that IDEAL and Discourse are working very closely with the Agora Institute because they are the student groups that focus on civic engagement on campus,” Aspen Williams, the candidate for executive secretary, said. 

The ticket is also working to bring voting booths to campus during the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. This would make voting more convenient and accessible for the student population. 

New Horizons believes that its experience and commitment to student needs are key reasons its members should be elected for this term.

Mebrahtu said that with a second term as president, he would be able to follow through with a lot of the ideas he has proposed to the administration this past year.

“I think a big issue with SGA is a lack of continuity,” he said. “A year is not enough time. In order to really push something you need continued effort, year by year.”

Mebrahtu added that there are very few meetings set up between SGA and the administration, and these meetings are spaced very far apart. He said that this past year, he has been trying to create a more politically and civically active SGA, and many of his proposed initiatives require longevity in order to be properly executed.

Tsang also has been involved in student government since middle school, saying that he currently commits around 15 to 20 hours every week to SGA.

“I cannot remember a day in the past decade when I haven’t been trying to fight or advocate or strive to improve the lives of my fellow students and our generation as a whole,” Tsang said. “I have committed my life to student service and government service.”

According to Mi Tu, the current SGA Executive Treasurer, her experience on SGA’s executive board in the last year is part of the reason she should be re-elected this year. She said that it is a difficult transition to be treasurer because there is so much information to understand before doing the job well.

Tu said that her previous training as treasurer would allow for a smoother budgeting process because she is familiar with the organization and paperwork required.

“The reason I am running for re-election is because I want my next term to be in good hands,” Tu said.

She also said that one of her goals for next year will be to enforce better training for those who become treasurer so the transition into the role isn’t as rough as hers was.

Another goal Tu has is to increase finances from the Dean of Student Life because this past year she was forced to cut 55 percent of the funding SGA provides to student groups.

According to Williams, her experience in SGA as freshman class senator and as a freshman who has authored and co-authored more legislation than any other student in her class would lend itself well to the position of executive secretary. 

She said that she works closely with the mental health facilities on campus to reduce mental health stigmatization at Hopkins. Williams also works with the Task Force on Student Mental Health to better allocate mental health resources to students.

“Sometimes it’s an issue of knowing the resources that exist, and sometimes it’s an issue of the access to them because sometimes it can be difficult to navigate the bureaucracy of the school,” she said.

Tsang believes that these proposals put forth by New Horizons are their responsibilities to the student body as a whole.

“It’s our job to not only focus on what [SGA] wants to do, but what students actually want and to focus on issues that can be sustainably advocated for, for years to come,” he said.

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