Candidates for the Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Board discussed their platforms at a debate on March 10. Juniors Breanna Soldatelli, Raymond Perez and Karen He are running for executive president. Sophomore Kobi Khong is running for executive vice president, freshman Kya Nicholson is running for executive treasurer and sophomore Elaina Regier is running for executive secretary.
Currently, Soldatelli is the executive vice president, He is executive treasurer, Regier is executive secretary, Khong is sophomore class president and Nicholson is a freshman class senator. Perez has no prior SGA experience.
Candidates were first asked about how they plan on improving student engagement and the communication gap between SGA and the student body.
Soldatelli outlined a plan that includes internally restructuring SGA to eliminate miscommunication to improve how representatives interact with the students. She explained the need to restructure SGA to properly streamline information to the student body and be adequate representatives for the students on campus.
Soldatelli also brought forth a program called Text to Talk, which allows students to directly message SGA members with real-time feedback and concerns.
“Any time people have issues with SGA, they can text [SGA], and someone on the Executive Board will be able to respond through text or email,” she said. “I want to encourage open and direct communication to continue our legacy of transparency.”
Regier called for an Instagram campaign that would provide students with information on how SGA runs, emphasizing that a social media platform would be user friendly and accessible to the student body compared to looking for this information on the SGA website.
In her response, He emphasized the need to support student organizations and plans on reorganizing the student groups and the financial structures for the organization to allow for easier communication.
“I hope to continue reforming the financial structure to make it easier for student groups to request money and communicate with SGA to get funding for all their events,” she said.
Soldatelli highlighted her prior experience in SGA and her leadership positions in other student organizations when candidates were asked about their qualifications. She explained that having these leadership positions have given her the opportunity to connect and build relationships with administrators and the student body. She noted that having experience on the Executive Board is vital to ensuring that SGA can properly and successfully represent the student body.
Nicholson explained that her experiences as freshman class senator and on the Finance Committee have allowed her to grow in the skills necessary for executive treasurer.
“Going into SGA, there is a lot of information that is thrown at you in a short amount of time. I had to quickly adjust to understand the financial structure,” she said. “I have worked with the current executive treasurer to learn the backends, and I now feel very comfortable working in that department."
Perez argued that his experience working with the College Democrats of Maryland has given him the necessary skills to translate student interest into actual change.
In regards to student engagement through COVID-19 and online learning modalities, Khong discussed the varying perspectives on virtual and in-person learning. He explained that although virtual classes and meetings can be monotonous for many students, COVID-19 has had a major effect on many students’ lives.
“COVID-19 has been a lot, and there is some trauma with that, and some people will not be ready to come back in person,” he said. “We have to accommodate both parties because there are people who aren’t ready to go back to normal.”
Perez agreed that there is a need to accommodate everyone. He also noted that COVID-19 has shown lapses in communication between the University administration and the student body. He explained how many students were unaware of what was happening during the beginning of the pandemic, and there is a need for SGA members and students to be in agreement moving forward.
Similar to Perez, He also emphasized the need for improved transparency, referencing the beginning of the pandemic as a point that showed the lack of communication between students and the University.
“When we went online for the first time, it was a very big shock. I think it’s been two or so years, and many of us have been online for a whole year,” she said. “We should have a hybrid version, and lectures should continue to be recorded for students, not only because of COVID-19 but also other circumstances.”
Candidates discussed how they plan on better representing underserved and minority students at Hopkins.
Regier emphasized the need for including a Students with Disabilities department in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. She believes that this plan can be extended to other minority groups to focus on identity groups that may be smaller on campus.
Khong discussed how there is a lack of representation for many minority groups on campus.
“For a lot of the minority groups at Hopkins, there is a lack of representation, not only as students but within administration and faculty,” he said. “I remember last year, COVID-19 came with a rise of Asian hate crimes. I remember waiting for an email from Hopkins discussing this subject, and I remember having to type up a response to apologize for the University’s lack of poise. It’s an issue when administrators don’t understand us.”
Perez highlighted the need for greater support for first-generation, low-income (FLI) students, especially after the recent news regarding the lawsuit over collusion to reduce financial aid. He emphasized that FLI students are not getting support from many institutions, including Hopkins, and this should be addressed.
Soldatelli stressed the need to improve the support system for LGBTQ students.
“I tried to get into contact with the Office of LGBTQ Life and the support system there, and there was a lot of administrative rearrangement that makes it hard to find someone to go to when their point of contact isn’t there,” she said. “We have been working on that within SGA with pronoun resolution and mandating training on diversity and inclusion.”
Soldatelli also believes that there needs to be an ADHD evaluator at the counseling center because of the difficulties that many students face when trying to get accommodations from the University.
Candidates agreed that the SGA caucuses representing various minority groups on campus have allowed SGA to recognize students' concerns and improve communication between minority groups and SGA.
To better understand students’ interests and recognize how SGA can better support students in minority groups, He introduced a plan to include liaison pairing between the caucuses and feedback surveys.
Soldatelli, creator and chair of the Hispanic/Latinx Caucus, explained how current caucuses represent larger minority groups because of the sampling system used to represent students on campus. She emphasized that if students don’t feel represented on campus, SGA needs to make an effort to communicate to these students to better address their needs and concerns.
“If students don’t have representation, we can be their representatives even if we are not part of that community,” she said. “It is our job to uplift those voices and not speak over them.”
Nicholson is a member of the Black Caucus, and she explained how the caucus has been in contact with other Black student groups on campus to listen to concerns and partner with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to know how Black students’ voices can be made more heard. She also added that tabling events allow students to speak to SGA members.
Candidates agreed that accountability is important in ensuring that members of SGA are held responsible for what they promised to the student body in the effort to be more transparent to the student body.
In an email to The News-Letter, Freshman Class President Ryan Chou emphasized the need for the student body to interact with SGA elections and candidates running for the SGA Executive Board.
“The composition of representatives within SGA influences which initiatives SGA pushes forward and how the student community, which includes student organizations, is structured,” he wrote. “Attending the executive candidates' debate and asking questions allow students to determine which representatives best match their interests, making them more informed voters.”
Chou noted that although the debate did provide some insight as to what each candidate was interested in, the vast majority of the questions did not target the most complex questions that SGA representatives deal with.
“The questions didn't really allow candidates to clearly differentiate themselves, ' he wrote. “Increased engagement of the student body, who submits these questions, should lead to more effective questions.”