Eight candidates running for SGA exec. board

By MEAGAN PEOPLES and RUDY MALCOM | March 14, 2019

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COURTESY OF SHERRY KIM The Humanities Center in Gilman Hall offers interdisciplinary courses.

Two tickets, Hop Forward and Change, and an independent candidate, Claire Gorman, are running for the Student Government Association’s (SGA) executive board elections. The voting period will end on March 17. 

According to Executive President AJ Tsang, the election timeline is earlier and more compressed than usual because the Committee on Student Elections (CSE) didn’t want elections to take place during religious holidays. The CSE also wanted to extend the transition period between the incoming and outgoing executive boards.

The Hop Forward ticket includes sophomore Aspen Williams running for executive president, junior Dean Chien for executive vice president, freshman Nathan Mudrak for executive treasurer and freshman Pritika Parmar for executive secretary. Williams is currently SGA’s executive secretary; Chien is the junior class president; and Mudrak and Parmar are senators in the Freshman Class Council.

The Change ticket includes junior Jessup Jong running for executive president, freshman Eric Armstrong for executive treasurer and junior Ahmed Elzokm for executive secretary. Elzokm has no previous SGA experience, whereas Armstrong is a freshman class senator. Jong was elected to be a junior class senator this fall but spent the semester in Washington, D.C. as an Aitchison Public Service Fellow. He remotely served without voting power, on SGA’s Academic Affairs Committee. 

Gorman is running for executive vice president. She is currently a junior class senator.

Hop Forward’s Platform

Williams stated that the reason her ticket is called Hop Forward is that their platform is future-focused. 

“Pursuits can be accomplished in four years, but it’s important that we look beyond our time here at Hopkins and do work for those coming into the school,” she said. 

Parmar elaborated on this issue.

“A lot of the things that we do in SGA are not something that gets accomplished tomorrow. It takes long-term efforts, just like the student center,” she said. “They require constant pushing of admin.”

Williams noted the importance of sustained advocacy in light of the high turnover rates in the administration. She stated that often, administrators are moving through the school faster than students, meaning that students are the ones who have to hold the institutional memory of the issues on campus. 

Junior Dean Chien, who is running for the position of executive vice president, spoke about the goals of the ticket. He emphasized accountability and transparency in SGA proceedings. 

“If the only time that people hear bout SGA is during campaigning, we’re not doing our jobs correctly,” Chien said. “We need to be able to answer people.”

Mudrak noted the importance of accountability and transparency and pointed to his experience implementing these goals in the Freshman Class Council. 

“That’s something I’ve tried to spearhead and something I’ve seen huge success with, whether it’s the surveys we’ve sent out or the feeling that we’ve been having a two-way street in terms of students,” he said. “When we assess student satisfaction with the Freshman Class Council, specifically, we have some of the highest approval members that I think we’ve seen in a while.”

Williams used the example of the student center to emphasize the importance of transparency. Last week, the University announced plans to build a student center where the Mattin Center is currently located. She noted that, if elected, she would institute a task force responsible for interfacing between students and administrators about issues that arise during the student center construction. Students have already raised concerns about what will happen to the services and offices currently located in the Mattin Center. 

Williams also pointed to some of the work that SGA has done in the past year to improve their communication with administrator including the Powers and Authorities Act which is intended to expand the influence of SGA in University decisions. 

The legislation calls for shared governance between SGA and administrators. It also advocates for the incorporation of young trustees and alumni who have graduated no more than three years ago into the Board of Trustees.

“A lot of the work we’ve done is making sure that students have representation on a broad variety of administrative task forces, committees, boards. Anywhere that decisions are being made about students, students need to be in that room and they need to be at the table,” she said.

Mudrak further emphasized SGA’s role in aiding and funding student organizations. According to Mudrak, some student organizations have had problems this past year with receiving their budgets on time. He spoke further about some steps that SGA is currently taking to address this, including working with the Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka. 

“Even though we’re looking towards long-term solutions, a lot of organizations are struggling now. The money requested is not the money we are able to give. In addition to long-term fixes with Dean Ruzicka and members of the administration for sustained funding availability, we’re also looking to figure out what we can do right now to make sure that organizations are able to function effectively,” he said. 

Mudrak said that one potential solution is forming additional grant programs that would be able to supplement these organizations. 

“I’ve been very intimately involved with discussions with administrators about a new grant program,” he said. 

Parmar also spoke about her background interacting with University administrators, as well as her organizational skills. In particular, she pointed to her experience spearheading the organization of Freshman Formal. 

“Even as a young member, I have a lot of relationships with higher admin already, and that came from speaking at the [President Ronald J. Daniels] dinner to going to multiple meetings about different initiatives with a lot of the upperclassmen,” Parmar said. 

Williams also pointed to her past experiences working with administrators as benefiting her in the executive president position. She further emphasized the importance of SGA members maintaining a diplomatic relationship with administrators. 

“As the only current exec member running, I’ve already built a relationship with a number of administrators...That being said, a cordial relationship does not mean I’m easily pushed over by admin,” she said. 

Williams stated that this past experience has made her better understand the role of the executive board.

“Our job is to make sure that we can lift Senate so that Senate can lift students. I want to be the ladder so that Senate can go higher, and so that they can be the ladder for student voices to then get to administration,” she said.

Change’s Platform

Armstrong believes that SGA has failed to produce the changes students want to see on campus. He argued that many SGA members have forgotten to represent student interests.

“A lot of people in SGA become blind to the fact that they’re no longer directly talking to students anymore,” he said. “They’re pursuing this top-down approach where they’re interested in something, they pursue that. They push a bill forward without ever thinking ‘Do students really care about this? Is this really the greatest allocation of SGA funds? Are we really advocating for the student voice here?’”

Jong echoed Armstrong’s sentiments, adding that, should their ticket be elected, they would better represent student interests than current SGA members. According to Jong, current SGA members prioritize their own interests before their constituents’. 

“Every agenda we will be looking at will be completely representative and proportional to the issues that students consider important. We have a petition form where students can talk about their organization affiliation and the issues they care about,” Jong said.

Armstrong hopes to bring more transparency to SGA. He cited the impeachment trial of former Executive President Noh Mebrahtu and the announcement of the student center as recent incidents where SGA was criticized for a lack of transparency.

He believes that the student body generally does not know how SGA functions or about its ability to provide funding to different student organizations. 

“[Students] don’t know what SGA can do to help them. We have a very direct link with the student body. It’s important for students to know that that direct link exists,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong believes that serving on the executive board would allow him to help improve SGA culture, which he described as toxic and contentious. 

“A lot of the times people within SGA have beef with each other because they disagree on certain legislation. Exec has a more central role in controlling the dynamics of inter-senator relationships, so cultivating a culture that’s more friendly and conducive to working together would be a goal,” he said.

Elzokm believes that his experience as a residential advisor (RA) as well as organizing events for the Office of Residential Life have helped prepare him for the position. In particular, he noted that these experiences have improved his communication and management skills. 

Elzokm added that his experiences in the Whiting School of Engineering inspired him to run for office and informed his platform. He hopes to standardize grading policies.

“I’m trying to be an engineering voice in SGA and bring that perspective because that’s half the school,” he said. “A lot of issues happen in Whiting that nobody’s bringing to anybody’s attention. People are just not standing up for themselves in [the Whiting School of] Engineering.” 

The Change ticket believes that the new student center should not replace Mattin Center. Rather, Mattin Center should be renovated to accommodate the student center. 

Elzokm noted concerns that students have raised for the performing arts spaces currently located in Mattin. 

“People already want to say something about [the new student center], they want their voice to be heard about it. There has been no communication at all about the student center,” he said. “If there is a way to have their voice be heard on this issue, people will actively go out and participate.” 

Further, Armstrong stated that the Change ticket will work toward improving mental health and dining resources, as well as addressing sexual assault on campus. 

He noted that the lack of dining services during Thanksgiving and spring break can be a burden for low-income students who rely on the dining halls for meals. Armstrong also stated that his ticket would work toward increasing staffing at the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). OIE is in charge of appropriately responding to reports of sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment in accordance with Title IX regulations.

To address sexual assault on campus, Jong wants to make it easier for fraternities and sororities to register their parties. By easing this process, Jong argues, more groups will register their parties, and registered parties are required to have sober monitors who could be trained to intervene in situations that could potentially lead to gender violence. 

“Some have argued that with fraternities, when there are events with alcohol, there can be situations where sexual assault can happen without the oversight of that organization or the school, and we would like to take that seriously,” Jong said. 

Jong emphasized his desire to work with leaders of Greek life to combat sexual assault. He further stated that increasing spaces for social engagement could also positively impact mental health on campus. 

“Some narratives try to shut down Greek life in general. I think that worsens the situation,” he said. “Rather than bringing it underground, we bring it aboveground,” he said. “If the event is not registered, there is no oversight. There is no accountability.”

Jong further highlighted his ticket’s commitment to listening to student voices. He said that he plans to reach out to students in a variety of ways including email, online petitions and panels. Jong argues that current SGA members running for executive positions are not good at prioritizing student voices because they are incumbents. 

“I bring a grassroots movement where we hear directly the student, those issues get solved,” Jong said. “Things that may seem very petty, like improving Wi-Fi and air conditioning, things that actually impact people’s lives on a daily basis — we would like to solve that and improve those things.”

Jong elaborated further on the changes he wants to make to dining on campus. According to Jong, dining workers have to work on various tasks at a time and therefore can’t put as much effort into improving the student experience. For this reason, Jong would like the executive board to meet with Dining and Facilities in order to improve worker conditions. 

“People who work at dining facilities have a low satisfaction rate, and that permeates to the environment of dining facilities. We would like help employees have a better experience,” he said. 

Jong is also advocating for more dining options, including establishing partnerships with different companies so students can use J-Cash at a wider variety of vendors. 

“There is reason for students to be excited about new change. We have to hope that we can bring change, and students should be able to participate in the process of bringing that,” Jong said. “We believe in the student’s ability to bring change. We are such a talented community of people.” 

Claire Gorman’s Platform

One pillar of Gorman’s platform is improving mental wellness on campus. As junior class senator, she recently wrote and passed a bill that will bring snacks and Counseling Center workshops to the Beach during the first week of April. She hopes to make programs like these more frequent. 

“I’m hoping to make mental wellness a part of the structure of the school by continuing to reach out to professors and administration and getting little bits of Wellness Week implemented semesterly,” she said.

Gorman said that although the Counseling Center has workshops for stress management and dealing with depression, many people don’t attend them because they are multi-week commitments. She said that, if elected, she would work with the Counseling Center to condense their programs in order to increase attendance. 

Gorman is spearheading the Pink Wave/Rainbow Wave Initiative, which hopes to make SGA more diverse by encouraging women, people of color and people from the LGBTQ community to run for office. She believes that this will make SGA legislation more representative of students’ needs.

“We can do our best to collect ideas from everyone, but ultimately the bills that are going through are the things that we think are the most important,” she said.

Gorman plans to collaborate with students arts groups to push the administration to prioritize the arts. She is authoring legislation to protect Bamboo Cafe from the financial repercussions of the loss of the Mattin Center and to find somewhere to house Student Disability Services (SDS), which had been scheduled to move into the Mattin Center before the announcement of the new student center. 

She believes that before Mattin is knocked down, the administration must build or renovate an alternate space to accommodate performance groups. 

Using her knowledge from working at A Place To Talk (APTT), Gorman said she could train SGA members in active listening, which would make meetings go more smoothly.

“The vice president needs to be very perceptive about what people are feeling, how people are interacting, what tensions might be coming up and any other problems,” she said.

She added that she’s held leadership positions in a variety of groups, including Ketzev, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Baltimore First. She believes that her experiences will help her tailor her leadership style to best serve SGA.

The headline in the original version of the article stated that there are seven candidates running for SGA executive board elections. There are eight candidates running. The News-Letter regrets this error.

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