“New Horizons” and “Thumbs UP for Jessup,” the two tickets campaigning for the Student Government Association (SGA) executive board, discussed their platforms in a debate on Monday.
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. Everyone except Williams is an incumbent candidate.
Thumbs UP for Jessup consists of sophomore Jessup Jong for executive president.
The candidates first discussed the University’s proposal to create a private police force. Both New Horizons and Thumbs UP for Jessup voiced their opposition to the idea.
Mebrahtu noted that a private Hopkins police force could damage the University’s relationship with the Baltimore community and that it could lead to racial profiling.
“Yes, there are pros. One is safety,” he said. “But the creation of a private police force is going to create more controversy and create more issues later than it does any good.”
Mebrahtu was also concerned that if such a force was established, any investigations into potential Hopkins police misconduct would be carried out at the discretion of the University.
“I’m not saying that Hopkins doesn’t have a moral ground or is acting in good conduct, but at the end of the day, it is an institution, and the first thing that an institution does is protect itself from any bad publicity,” Mebrahtu said.
Jong acknowledged the efforts of student activists who opposed the creation of a Hopkins police force over the last month. At the end of March the Maryland State Legislature decided to wait until the next legislative session to vote on the bill that would authorize the University to create its own police department. Jong views this as a victory but said that students need to continue to advocate against future plans to reintroduce the bill.
Jong believes that implementing a private police force at Hopkins is unnecessary and argued that restructuring the current patrol system of Hopkins security guards would be sufficient in helping students feel safer.
“We can be protected with a better patrol system with the Hop Cops,” he said. “If we do indeed need a private police force, the decision needs to be made after our voices are heard and our demands are fully reflected in the bill.”
The tickets also addressed their plans for funding student groups and organizations.
Tu noted that as the current executive treasurer of SGA, she has seen the budget for student groups decrease significantly.
“It is ridiculous that I had to place a 55 percentage cut last year,” she said. “That’s just tragic.”
Tu said that in the future, she would work to increase funding for student groups and would create an online database where each student group can view their current budget.
Jong agreed that the University does not allocate enough funds toward student groups and organizations.
“The administration should put more attention on student engagement and activity,” he said.
Jong believes that this can be alleviated by restructuring the current budget.
“We can reduce costs, try and have a more responsible plan, so we can allocate money where it actually counts,” he said.
According to Jong, this includes student activities, sexual assault and mental health issues, and dining and housing.
The tickets also discussed the lack of resources for students with disabilities on campus.
Williams said that the first step toward improving accessibility on campus is listening to the demands of students with disabilities.
“We need to listen to students with disabilities,” she said. “We need to make sure that as student representatives, we are giving them a platform in which they can speak, because at the end of the day, students with disabilities are the ones who can best tell us what they need in regards to accessibility on campus.”
Tsang noted that the Office of Student Disability Services (SDS) is currently understaffed. He said that to remedy this, the New Horizons ticket would work to reinstate Brent Mosser, the former director of SDS.
“Our SDS has been completely de-resourced in the past year or so,” he said. “To know that that office right now is understaffed is a huge detriment to student with disabilities.”
Tsang called for student resources overall to become more accessible on campus.
“It takes 25 minutes for an able-bodied person just to walk from the Rec Center to the Counseling Center. That needs to change,” he said.
Jong said that he would address the lack of resources for students with disabilities by creating a continual survey where students would voice their concerns. He also noted that many of the elevators on the Homewood Campus frequently require maintenance, posing an inconvenience for some students with disabilities. Jong said that his ticket would work to solve this problem.
“The elevators do go out of service very often at Brody,” he said. “We would like to change that.”
The candidates also addressed the disparity in compensation between Residential Advisors (RAs) who do and do not receive financial aid.
Jong believes that RAs should receive equitable compensation for their work. He said that since about 40 percent of RAs receive financial aid, he hopes to address this disparity immediately.
“This is an issue that has been overlooked for the past few years,” he said. “It affects actual people and their money. Their student lives and experiences are at threat because the financial aid is denied. It is unacceptable that you would have to pay in order to work as an RA.”
Mebrahtu agreed that RAs should be fairly compensated and noted that the current system favors students of a higher socioeconomic background.
“Inherently, it is discriminatory towards those members of a lower socioeconomic background,” he said. “It’s an excuse to not give students what they’re due.”
Williams echoed Mebrahtu’s sentiment and also noted that students are required to disclose outside scholarships to the University.
“When you have a system that is inherently classist, you have a lack of representation for students of low income,” she said.
Each candidate was asked what they believe is the biggest issue the SGA faces today.
Tu reiterated her concern about the lack of funding for student groups. Jong noted that there is a lack of mental health and sexual assault resources on campus.
“Currently, we do not have the appropriate funding or the staffing to appropriately deal with these issues,” Jong said. “I have heard often that it takes at least two weeks to schedule an appointment and to get help. If you’re at a critical stage at your life, this is enough to be fatal.”
Mebrahtu also believes that the lack of mental health resources at Hopkins should be addressed. He explained that he is currently advocating to make course syllabi available on the Student Information System (SIS) so that students can better plan for the upcoming semester.
Tsang said that in addition to mental health, a lack of transparency from the University underpins all student concerns.
“We need to make sure that administrators actually come out of their office in Garland and actually see student life and see the student experience for what it is so they can actually make reasonable and informed decisions,” Tsang said.
Williams believes that it is important for Hopkins to fully divest from fossil fuels companies and to increase resources for the Office of Sustainability.
In their closing statements, members of New Horizons noted that the high turnover rate in SGA makes it difficult for the organization to promote change in the administration.
“New people come in and they’re very passionate and they’re very idealistic, but it really takes time to understand how the bureaucracy works,” Williams said.
Jong believes that as a challenging candidate for executive president, he allows the SGA to explore new issues.
“I believe I represent democracy and change that can happen,” he said. “Just the fact that there is a challenging candidate helps us bring better issues to the table, talk about issues that are not represented.”
Sophomore Nana Bruce-Amanquah appreciated that the tickets discussed the issue of financial aid for RAs.
“I wasn’t expecting that to be brought up, but I’m going to be an RA next year, and that’s something that is a concern,” she said.
Sophomore Caroline West decided to attend the event because she wanted to make an informed decision before voting in the executive elections.
“I was guided by the same principle that guides me when I vote in any election, especially off-campus,” she said. “It’s important to be informed.”
West was interested in hearing about SGA’s role in administrative decisions.
“Our tendency is to think of them as sort of democratic representatives, but I think sometimes they can function as more ceremonial figureheads,” she said. “They should function as meaningful, substantive representatives that do have some power in the decisions that change our lives.”
West noted that the candidates did not address the difficulty of rearranging the current budget when they discussed funding for certain projects.
“There was a lot of talk about funding and ideas that need to be funded, how our budget is complicated, but I didn’t hear a lot of talk about how our system is structured in such a way that makes it hard to allocate money towards these different initiatives that were being discussed,” she said.
West also wished that there was more contestation and argument in the debate, noting that the tickets agreed on many issues.
“It was unfortunate that there weren’t other candidates or another ticket that could’ve offered some kind of oppositional force,” she said.