Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 3, 2020 | °F in Baltimore

SGA Executive Board candidates face off at debate

By EMILY MCDONALD | March 7, 2020

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Candidates for the Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Board discussed their platforms at a debate on Thursday in Gilman Hall. Two tickets, Focus Forward and Taking Flight, and independent candidate Sam Mollin participated. The voting period began on Friday. 

The Focus Forward ticket includes sophomore Pritika Parmar running for executive president, sophomore Mehak Ali for executive vice president, junior Addy Perlman for executive treasurer and freshman Breanna Soldatelli for executive secretary. Parmar is currently SGA’s executive secretary; Ali is the incumbent executive vice president; Perlman is a junior class senator; and Soldatelli is freshman class president. 

The Taking Flight ticket includes sophomore Eric Armstrong running for executive president, freshman Daniel Weber for executive treasurer and freshman Greta Maras for executive secretary. Armstrong is currently the executive treasurer, while Weber and Maras have no previous SGA experience. 

Junior Sam Mollin is running for executive president as an independent candidate. Before spending his fall semester in Washington, D.C. as an Aitchison Public Service Fellow, he previously served as a senator on the freshman and sophomore class councils. 

During their opening statements, each candidate highlighted the main points of their platform. Parmar outlined a variety of goals for her ticket, from improving mental health resources on campus to providing free printing for all majors. What sets her ticket apart, she argued, is her plan to maintain a respectful distance when dealing with administrators.

“We want to have small, tiny goals that we’re also trying to accomplish in addition to long-term initiatives that SGA has been pushing for forever,” she said. “Some of you may have looked at the platforms for each of the tickets, and I think what you’ll see is that they’re pretty similar. All of us have similar goals about what we want to accomplish, but the way in which we’re going to go about it will determine who you’re going to vote for.”

Armstrong explained that he would be the most capable executive president because of his experience as executive treasurer. He believes that one of the most pressing issues facing the Hopkins community is confusion surrounding the budgeting and registration process for student organizations. This year, many student groups faced budget cuts and restructuring due to a joint audit by SGA and the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI).

Armstrong believes that his work improving these processes qualifies him to be executive president. 

“This year I’ve made monumental strides to rectify the utter lack of transparency and unfair funding policy that has plagued student financing for years. Annual budget requests will now be processed months earlier, student groups will receive their budgets before the end of the academic year, and the [Student Advisory Committee] guidelines were completely rewritten and approved by the Senate under my guidance,” he said. “My track record speaks for itself.”

Mollin argued that he would make the best executive president because of his experience as a political organizer for the New York State Democratic Party. He argued that his plan to be more firm in his negotiations with administrators, especially on contentious issues like the private police force and fossil fuel divestment, sets him apart from the other candidates. According to Mollin, he is the only candidate who understands that the administration’s values often misalign with the student body’s.

“The executive president is the officer in SGA in charge of making sure that the big picture things happen. The executive president in SGA is the one who has to make sure that we actually have influence on campus, and I'm the only candidate on this stage who has the organizing experience to do that,” he said. “When we rely on the same old tactics of going up to administrators and asking them for things without any backup, we’re going to lose every time.” 

Candidates then described how they would solve SGA’s current problems surrounding transparency and student organization reform. 

Ali suggested collaborating with student leaders to improve the student organization process. 

“One of the key things that we should focus on is more working with student leaders than creating legislation that they will follow later on. One way that we can help fix this issue is by having a forum between SLI, student leaders and SGA to answer any questions that student leaders may have,” she said.

Weber added that as the person in charge of SGA’s budget, the executive treasurer has a unique impact on the student organization process. 

“The goal as the treasurer is to empower [students], in order to get them the funding they need to make their ideas a reality. But right now SGA is not empowering those students; it's stifling them. I can speak from experience as the treasurer of two clubs when I say that the hoops they need to jump through to plan any event, big or small, make it a complete chore to to bring any great experience to this campus” he said. “But it doesn't have to be this way.”

Both candidates for executive secretary, Maras and Soldatelli, agreed that transparency was an issue in SGA and vowed to improve it by updating the SGA website and sending regular email announcements if elected. 

Armstrong criticized the Focus Forward ticket, saying that they were providing vague answers to the questions. Some concrete solutions to the lack of transparency in SGA, he suggested, include livestreaming meetings, publicizing SGA meeting dates, sending out monthly executive board emails, keeping the SGA website updated with meeting minutes and legislation, publishing Student Activities Commission (SAC) guidelines and publicizing class senators’ contact information.

Mollin pointed to his history on SGA, saying that as a freshman and sophomore class senator, he published much of the legislation that he helped pass on his personal social media accounts when SGA did not publicize it. As executive president, he said that he would continue working toward transparency. 

Parmar added that, this year, SGA has passed legislation to improve its transparency; she noted a suggestion box on campus and plans to livestream meetings.

“A lot of these reforms that we’ve made this year just need to be implemented, and we just need somebody saying this needs to be done,” she said. “I’m the most organized person who can do that.”

Next, candidates responded to questions about improving diversity on SGA. 

Soldatelli, who recently introduced and passed legislation creating a Latinx and Hispanic Caucus within SGA, stressed the importance of such groups. 

“The interests of Latinx and Hispanic students weren’t represented,” she said. “It’s really important to make sure that everybody’s issues, no matter where you’re from, what gender you are, anything, are all part of SGA.”

Ali suggested encouraging members of cultural student groups to run for SGA positions. Armstrong agreed and proposed reaching out to students from the Whiting School of Engineering to encourage a diversity of opinion.

Maras believes that a failure to communicate with and recruit underrepresented students could lead to a lack of diversity in SGA. 

“[Diversity continues] to go along with the issue of transparency and making sure that people know that SGA is an accessible body, it’s a body that represents you, and visibly and intellectually these representations of diversity are super important and we should absolutely continue to emphasize them,” she said.

Mollin, too, stressed the importance of outreach and suggested providing people with financial incentives to attend SGA meetings and become more involved. 

“SGA has $16,000 left in the budget this year, and I don’t think we should be spending it on stuff like a hypnotist at an SGA retreat. We should be spending it on a gift card lottery to recruit people to show up at meetings and give their opinions,” he said. 

In addition, Mollin pointed to his past work in the Office of Sustainability and as an executive board member of Refuel our Future. He said that he would use those connections to continue to push for sustainability by banning plastic bottles on campus and making sure new buildings are certified as LEED Gold.

To combat climate change, Parmar said that she would reach out to environmentally-oriented student groups for advice. 

Ali emphasized the importance of advocating for fossil fuel divestment, while Armstrong plans to also focus on smaller goals like increasing the number of composting bins on campus. 

The next question asked candidates how they plan to address sexual assault on campus. 

Soldatelli said that in addition to collaborating with the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) and the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), educating students on consent is important. Perlman agreed, and described her plans to implement Sex Week, an event which would promote sex positivity and consent. 

“I presented on Sex Week last week, and one of our days is completely dedicated to consent,” she said. “That needs to be a larger presence on campus: understanding consent and understanding what OIE does and having OIE be more present on campus.” 

OIE is in charge of responding to reports of sexual misconduct in accordance with Title IX regulations. According to Armstrong, the main reason OIE often fails to resolve sexual assault cases within these federal guidelines is because the office is understaffed. As executive president, he said that he would advocate for hiring more OIE staff. 

Senior Aran Chang, who organized a group of student leaders to attend an SGA meeting on Tuesday as well as the debate, expressed his concerns with some of the candidates’ answers, particularly on the issue of student groups’ budgeting.

“There are some concerns that we had with a lot of these answers and the fact that a lot of them seemed to be repeated off of one another,” Chang said. “There isn’t one solution to a problem, but all of you are saying the same solution to the problem, which is a very vague ‘we’ll reach out to student groups.’”

Junior Michele Lan, treasurer of the Hopkins Sport Taekwondo Club (HST), also expressed her frustration with the lack of specifics in the debate.

“There’s no actionable items. There’s nothing that they said that you can actually do,” she said. “The big word right now is transparency, but I don’t see that defined anywhere. I don’t see you saying ‘This is what transparency means to me.’”

Deputy President of HST, junior Sam Chun, agreed. 

“We’re not seeing any systems of accountability for the things they say they’re going to do,” she said.

The voting period for the Exec. Board elections will end on March 11. Initially, SGA’s class council and executive board elections were going to be synchronized, unlike years past. According to Committee on Student Elections (CSE) Chair Bahira Ahmed, this was intended to encourage voter turnout and decrease student apathy toward SGA elections, while also extending the transition period between the incoming and outgoing executive boards. 

However, the CSE announced to the student body on Friday that the class council elections are being postponed until after March 27. This decision, the CSE wrote, follows an appeal made by members of the Senate that was voted on by the Judiciary, SGA’s decision making body. 

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