Candidates for Student Assembly class presidents face off

0
371
SYDNEY MCCOURT / THE FLAT HAT

Thursday, March 22, Student Assembly elections will be held, and every class president seat is contested, unlike last year, when all three class presidency seats were unopposed.   

Class of 2019

The class of 2019 will choose between Sen. Sikander Zakriya ’19, who has served as a senator in SA for three years, and Zauhirah Tipu ’19, an SA newcomer. Both would be new to the presidency, as the incumbent of three years, Class of 2019 President Jonah Yesowitz ’19, is not running for a fourth term.

“The reason why I initially ran for Student Assembly freshman year is similar to the reason why I’m running today: I really care about student voices,” Zakriya said.

Another part of Zakriya’s platform is building sustainability. Zakriya wants to foster a relationship between the Committee on Sustainability and SA. Zakriya also believes that SA should work towards acting as a liaison on campus to connect student organizations that have similar missions.

On the diversity component of his platform, Zakriya talked about the Inclusivity Resolution he sponsored his freshman year and how he has extended this focus on inclusion throughout his time in the senate. Many of Zakriya’s specific goals are based on past accomplishments in SA; for example, Zakriya seeks to extend the STI testing subsidies program.

“I think I’m the experienced candidate in the race,” Zakriya said. “Three years serving on the senate really does get you in that mindset for Student Assembly and tells you how to move forward.”

Zakriya cited his experience working as the chair of the senate finance committee as a an example of insight he had into how SA functions.

On the other hand, Tipu, an SA outsider, frames her lack of experience in SA as valuable, since it would mean bringing a new voice and new ideas to the organization.

Tipu’s platform focuses on diversity, transparency, student life, health and wellness.

For diversity, that means working toward a COLL requirement focusing on social justice and equity, referred to as a COLL 199 class, increasing funding to underfunded clubs and providing more nutritional accommodations for students.

Tipu, who started attending SA meetings this semester as a member of the public, found that she sometimes felt out of place. She said she wants to change this environment by making information about SA meetings more accessible and by inviting organizations and clubs to attend the meetings each week.

On student life, Tipu wants to work toward the College of William and Mary using fewer utilities, and to help students through initiatives like need-based test fee waivers for graduate and post-graduate tests.

Tipu said that she believes her leadership roles outside of SA, such as co-president of the Muslim Student Association, have prepared her for the role of class president.

“Adding a new voice to Student Assembly is ridiculously important,” Tipu said. “People grow content and complacent in the way things have been, and we forget that [there are] new avenues to take and new things that need to be added.”

Class of 2020

Current Class of 2020 President Kelsey Vita ’20 is running for her third term. Vita is facing competition from Abe Winterscheidt ’20, a newcomer to SA.

Vita’s platform focuses on what she calls personalized communication.

“A lot of students don’t know how to reach out to their representatives, or know what Student Assembly does,” Vita said.

To cross this divide, Vita hopes to create two outreach undersecretary positions, whose holders would attend other student organization meetings and reach out to communities across campus.

Vita has recently worked on outreach with Sen. Shannon Dutchie ’19 through SA FAQ week, a week-long program of in-person and online events addressing misunderstandings about SA and clarifying the role of student government, which took place in November.

Both candidates also emphasize mental health’s importance in their platform.

“As somebody who has anxiety, [mental health] is very personal to me,” Vita said. “One way of doing that is lobbying for the online booking of appointments. A lot of people have difficulty reaching out to a stranger and setting up an appointment, so doing that online would take some of that edge off.”

Diversity is also an important issue for Vita, who has worked specifically on issues of transgender rights during her freshman and sophomore years, sponsoring events like Transgender Awareness Week.

“[Transgender Awareness Week] is one of the most important projects I’ve worked on and [the] most fulfilling,” Vita said.

Vita also believes that her experience as incumbent is a cause for re-election.

“There’s definitely a learning curve during your first year, and I have the institutional knowledge now to know the steps needed to go forward,” Vita said.

Vita’s past terms reflect her current platform, which focuses on concrete, workable solutions to problems across campus.

Winterscheidt’s platform features a host of issues to address, namely mental health, sexual assault, income inequality, diversity and inclusion.

Like Vita, mental health is also an important and personal issue to Winterscheidt; however, he believes that different steps should be taken.

“We have a large focus on our stress culture,” Winterscheidt said. “Stress culture isn’t good by any means, but we overemphasize it.”

Winterscheidt took specific issue with Vita’s mental health policy.

“The biggest [problem] that I found is [Vita’s] mental health policies — let’s have online registration. And that’s not a bad thing by any means, but I talked to my therapist about it, and she laughed, because that’s not the problem,” Winterscheidt said.

Instead, Winterscheidt believes that the solution lies in increased funding for the Counseling Center and mental health organizations, along with an expanded dialogue on mental health, both with students and professors. Winterscheidt also believes that mental health days should qualify as legitimate reasons for absence.

“Taking a day off, staying in bed, is healthy sometimes because sometimes the weight of the world is too much,” Winterscheidt said.

Winterscheidt also believes that there is often an environment of cliquishness in campus communities, a personal issue to Winterscheidt due to childhood harassment and exclusion. Winterscheidt said that this cliquishness is also a part of SA, which is why he believes that an outsider’s voice is so important.

“I’m here fighting an uphill battle — not only do you have the incumbent advantage, but you also have a very well-established group [in SA],” Winterscheidt said.

In terms of diversity, Winterscheidt seeks to amplify minority voices throughout the campus.

“I find it disappointing that the class of 2020 has no candidates running for president who are people of color. I would step aside if I could because I think that’s something that needs to be represented much more in our school,” Winterscheidt said.

Overall, Winterscheidt wants SA to have a larger impact on campus.

“Somebody told me that in SA, they consider it a success if nobody has died in two years,” Winterscheidt said. “That is a really low threshold for success. I want to see real success and meaningful impacts on this campus.”

Class of 2021

The class of 2021 will be able to cast a vote for either incumbent Class of 2021 President David DeMarco ’21 or for Sen. Aria Austin ’21, who is coming from within SA to challenge DeMarco.

DeMarco describes his platform as focusing on the personal, the interpersonal and government policy. In the personal area, DeMarco put out an interest survey to find out what issues his class was interested in, which turned out to be dining facilities and dorm cleanliness.

In the interpersonal area, DeMarco said he is focusing on social and diversity issues. In terms of government policy, DeMarco is working on fixing what he believes are institutional problems in SA, based specifically in SA code.

DeMarco believes that he has demonstrated a level of commitment that Austin would be unable to manage as president.

“One of Aria’s best attributes is that she balances a wide array of time-sensitive activities … but the problem is that, comparatively, all of these activities have spread Aria and her platform a tad too thin,” DeMarco said. “The impact of that commitment is seen objectively in what I’ve done in senate compared to Aria.”

DeMarco also expressed concern about the specificity of Austin’s platform. In order to demonstrate his own specificity, DeMarco’s campaign poster features his achievements and future goals.

Austin described her platform as based on her personal motto.

“I have an overarching platform based on a quote that I try to live my life by, by Walt Whitman. The quote is, ‘The powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse,’” Austin said. “And I think the way to make our class grow is by capitalizing on people’s verses and working together.”

As senator, Austin sponsored bills on topics such as diversity and student accessibility. Most recently, she worked toward getting the class of 2021 a limited quantity of water bottles using class funds.

Austin believes that the best part of being involved in SA is connecting with the student body, and she maintained that she would be committed to the office.

“I’m not going to bash on David because I think David’s a great guy,” Austin said. “But I do think that I’m a bit more personable and passionate — when I do something, I put 100 percent into it no matter what.”

Despite potentially losing a spot in SA by running for president, Austin said that she will remain involved regardless of the election results.