‘We’re going to earn this vote’: For first time in SA history, candidates run unopposed in presidential race

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Sen. Brendan Boylan '19 and Samir Tawalare '19 are unopposed in their bid for election. COURTESY PHOTO / PATRICK CANTEROS, GRAPHIC BY SARAH SMITH / THE FLAT HAT

By Sarah Smith

Each year, the two weeks after spring break are filled with debates, campaign posters and the launch of new websites and Facebook pages as pairs of students prep for Student Assembly elections. The last two years, these election cycles have ended in narrow wins: both former SA presidents Eboni Brown ’17 and Elijah Levine ’18 won elections by less than 50 votes. This year, Sen. Brendan Boylan ’19 and his running mate Samir Tawalare ’19 face no opposition.

According to Boylan, he wasn’t always sure that he wanted to run for SA president. He said that in previous years, he assumed he would run for re-election in senate, where he has served for the past three years, and potentially campaign for senate chair.

“I figured there were going to be other people in the field or that it wasn’t worth the fight or that I wouldn’t be good enough, but through the influence of getting to know Samir more, I feel like we can have good people who know this stuff and who have direct connections to different circles on campus and we could build a cool team that could make a lot of change happen,” Boylan said.

Tawalare, who Boylan first met freshman year, said that he first got the idea to run while serving as an Orientation Aide under Brown, who suggested that he get involved with student leadership. When Boylan asked him to run as his vice presidential candidate a few weeks later, he said the stars aligned.

“I had that little extra confidence from Eboni’s support and Brendan was just someone who I had seen be very active, making his voice heard and speaking out about things,” Tawalare said.

While Boylan and Tawalare said they were aware of different rumors that other students might run against them, the candidate list was finalized the Friday before spring break. After that, it was clear that the two were running unopposed. Campaigning for all positions officially began Monday, March 12.

According to the team’s campaign manager Rachel Becker ’19, this is the first time since SA began that tickets for the top leadership spots have been unopposed. Becker said that when they first found out that the team was running unopposed, they were happy for two reasons.

“One, it does make our lives easier and we also hated the idea of running against someone, because we knew our competitors, and they were people whose ideas we supported and wanted to make sure their ideas were represented as well,” Becker said. “The second reason is that we can really focus on our energy now on preparing to govern. … Even though it is ‘easier’ the caveat is we have to prove ourselves now. … We’re really working hard to make sure our campaign time is used to spread our message.”

Although Boylan and Tawalare finalized their platform — which highlights three pillars: engagement, intentionality and joy — by Thursday, March 15, the platform has still not been publicly shared. The two have made campaign pages on Facebook and Instagram, where they have shared information about two of their three pillars as well as endorsements from members of their campaign team, including Class of 2018 President Laini Boyd ’19 and Noora Abdel-Fattah ’20.

The team decided to not make a website, which has previously been a staple of SA campaigns, as they are running unopposed. Traditionally, websites are used to house candidate’s full platforms, contact information and endorsements from campaign team members and other students.

While the team has not yet made any campaign appearances at student organization meetings, Boylan and Tawalare said that they plan to incorporate these events not just in the final days of their campaign, but throughout the rest of their time in office.

When they do release their platform, Tawalare said he hopes to receive student feedback both in support and against their work, because his team is viewing it as a “living document” that it plans to change throughout the rest of the campaign.

“I have been telling people to get ready to have some views,” Tawalare said. “We say at the beginning of the thing that it is a living document, it’s not an agenda, it’s a plan, it’s a graphic organizer for an essay. It’s not immutable. We are going to have goals, people are going to disagree with them, we are going to take them into consideration, but we can maintain those priorities.”

According to Boylan, while the platform accurately reflects the content he and his team wanted to see, he believes that perhaps it is not as in depth or specific as he initially would have liked.

“This is not as developed as we would maybe like, we don’t have as many ideas here,” Boylan said. “We are still going to earn this vote, it’s going to be really weird when we earn 100 percent of the vote and it’s going to look like a Banana Republic. … Would we have created a website? Yeah, probably. Would the platform have been done earlier? It would have been rolled out at midnight [March 12]. We are taking a more relaxed approach, but no less intense.”

Becker said the initial urgency to face off against competition has been translated into a thoroughness that she believes is a strength. Tawalare said he is viewing this new approach to campaigning as a way to have fun as candidates.

“When you are in school and you have to get good grades there is a pressure, but if you are learning out of a genuine interest it makes it more fun and more effective, it lifts a pressure of spreading our ideas and our mission to those who ask us about it,” Tawalare said. “It makes it more enjoyable, it allows us to dedicate our authentic and genuine brainpower to this, make it marketable in a competitive setting. When life gives you lemons, we did not ask for this to happen, but it is the case, but we might as well roll with it, take what comes and I guess, use it to the best that the situation can be used.”

Boylan said that while he is still feeling stress during the campaign process, he is coming to terms with the fact that in just a few weeks, he will be president of the student body.

“It’s a different kind of stress. Now we are here, we don’t have to react to another party, we have to react directly to the students, to their questions, to their critiques,” Boylan said. “We have to establish that rapport that we want to have throughout the entire year, that’s a jump start.”

By Leonor Grave and Sarah Smith

Each year, candidates for Student Assembly president and vice president recruit a team of students from across campus. These students are responsible for influencing platforms, running campaign social media and adding new perspectives to the work of candidates. Historically, campaign members have also been seen later represented in a president’s cabinet as secretaries or in the role of chief of staff. This year the unopposed team of Sen. Brendan Boylan ’19 and Samir Tawalare ’19 have a team of 15.

The Flat Hat talked with members of their campaign, as well as individuals they’ve previously worked closely with, to gain insight on who they are, what matters most to them and who influenced their platform.

Boylan and Tawalare’s campaign consists of individuals with a variety of experiences. Their manager, Rachel Becker ’19, first met Boylan freshman year and said they bonded about their shared backgrounds and values, shaped in part by the fact they are both the children of social workers. Some members of the campaign have served on the SA senate with Boylan, such as Class of 2018 President Laini Boyd ’18, Sen. Clare DaBaldo ’20 and Sen. Sikander Zakriya ’19. Others, like Gowri Buddiga ’18, were acquaintances of the team until they reached out leading up to the announcement of their candidacy.

COURTESY PHOTO / RACHEL BECKER

One of Boylan’s fellow SA members, DaBaldo, says that she views her role on the team as offering input on how they can reform the senate once in office, since she is also running for re-election.

Who is Brendan Boylan?

Boylan has served in SA since his freshman year, and now serves as both the senate historian and as the chair of the senate’s policy committee. Over these last two years, many of his projects have included reviewing the SA’s code and constitution, and he has sponsored several pieces of legislation aimed at cleaning up outdated code.

Sen. Shannon Dutchie ’19, Sen. Alexis Payne ’19 and Zakriya have all served with Boylan since freshman year. Payne, who is also running for re-election, said she believes issues such as Title IX, subsidizing transcripts, diversity and health and safety are all important to Boylan based on the legislation on which she has seen him work. She said that, in previous years, he has struggled with following through on bills, but that he has worked to improve this recently and that she considers him a great co-worker.

“I would say his strengths include his initiative and ability to pinpoint ideas that benefit the campus community,” Payne said in an email. “In addition, he has been an integral part in promoting transparency in SA. Brendan is always great about reaching out to fellow senators to collaborate, which only makes initiatives more successful. I see this translating very well to his presidential candidacy.”

Dutchie said she also believes that, while Boylan is in many organizations that take up his time, he knows SA very well and is aware of the commitment that SA requires. She said that it is not abnormal for members of SA to see their GPA suffer, but she hopes that Boylan and Tawalare will find a balance with the College’s administration to make their jobs more reasonable.

Outside of SA, Boylan serves as the Filipino American Student Association’s fundraising chair, a development coordinator for Branch Out Alternative Breaks and is a fiddler in the Appalachian Music Ensemble. Sean Balick ’19, another member of the Appalachian Music Ensemble, said that he first met Boylan his freshman year when he was knocking on doors to campaign for a seat in the class of 2019’s senate.

“I don’t know too much about their platform,” Balick said in an email. “I remember when Brendan came to me freshman year he said working towards ending rape on campus was one of his biggest priorities, so I would assume that is still big for him. I have a strong faith in them as representatives. Having gotten to know both of them personally I have found a lot of love and concern in their hearts for William & Mary and all of its students. I have no doubt they will put the students before themselves, because that is how they live their lives.”

Balick said that he feels “100 percent comfortable” voting for them, but had another candidate run against them, he still believes that he would support them.

“I know I can trust them,” Balick said in an email. “There are no two more-able, no more-deserving people of representing the student body.”

Gowri Buddiga ’18 served as diversity undersecretary her junior year and was campaign manager for Danny O’Dea ‘18 and Nami Sikranth ’19 last academic year. She said one of the first questions she asked when joining the team was how the two candidates would make sure to avoid stepping on the toes of people who belong to marginalized identities on campus. However, she said she believes Boylan to be a good listener and has shown great care about diversity issues in particular.

“Brendan does a great job of not putting himself at the center of the narrative, especially when it comes to race,” Buddiga said.

Salem Regetie ’20 became part of the campaign after meeting Boylan through Branch Out, for which she is a site leader. She saw her role as being able to provide input as a student of color on campus. She said an issue she considers especially important is the hiring and retention of faculty of color, an issue which was reflected in the campaign platform.

“They really do care,” Regetie said. “I think they have the best intentions and anyone can see that.”

Who is Samir Tawalare?

Tawalare had no direct experience with Student Assembly before Boylan reached out to him about running to be his vice president, but was involved with other organizations on campus. Tawalare is a member of the South Asian Student Association, served as an Orientation Aide, tutors for the French department, volunteers with Griffin School Partnerships and plays drums for campus band Talk to Plants.

His Talk to Plants bandmates spoke to his qualities as a leader, mentioning thoughtfulness and compassion as characteristics he embodies. Sam Wiles ’19 said he was especially struck by Tawalare’s dedication to the Meridian Coffeehouse despite never having an official staff position, and that he brings this willingness to help to other organizations as well.

“He’s so incredibly passionate about every organization he participates in,” Wiles said.

Ben Chase ’19, another Talk to Plants member, said he believes Tawalare will listen wholeheartedly to the concerns of the student body.

“Samir always brings a lot of love and happiness to the situations which is important especially in a group setting,” Chase said. “… I have an incredible amount of faith in him and in Brendan as well.”

The Team Dynamic

As the campaign manager, Becker said she attempts to reconcile Tawalare’s enthusiasm with Boylan’s institutional knowledge of SA. However, she refuted the idea that because they are running unopposed they are taking the campaign less seriously. She said running unopposed gives them two advantages: it lessens the stress of the campaign, and it allows them to focus their energy on preparing to govern.

“We take this very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously,” Becker said.

Boylan and Tawalare and their team, she said, embody a love for the College, but a love that is accompanied by a critical approach.

“I think loving William and Mary means looking at it with a critical eye and leaving it better than you found it,” Becker said. “We’re not going to be able to change everything that we want to but we can start by changing everything we can that’s in our reach.”

The dynamic of campaign team meetings, according to people on the team, was collaborative. At the first meeting in a small classroom in Tyler Hall, Becker said everyone talked about their experiences and bounced around ideas.

“After that meeting, I was just like, ‘Yes, I am so proud to be on this team and I feel like we really can make a difference,’” Becker said.

John Teague ’19 echoed this idea. Teague, a former Orientation Area Director, first met Tawalare when the two were Orientation Aides. While he did not have a specific title, Teague said that the team was egalitarian in terms of who could contribute opinions and did what work.

“Brendan would set the agenda and open it up for people to present their ideas and discuss things,” Teague said. “The platform reflects the scope and scale of the campaign team and reflects the fact that there are so many activist organizations reflected in the campaign.”

Camryn Easley ’19, the editor-in-chief of The Black Voice, is also part of the campaign team. She said the issues she is especially passionate about are education and inclusion and she brought that to the campaign. Easley said that, as a minority student herself, she has experienced firsthand the challenges marginalized communities face on campus and was able to relay those particular concerns to the team.

“Brendan and Samir really believe that including and uplifting marginalized groups on campus will bring attention to outstanding issues that others may not be aware of and make the student body more united,” Easley said in an email.

Those involved in the campaign speak to its collaborative nature and to a collective hope that Boylan and Tawalare will continue to listen to their voices should they transition into leadership roles.

Buddiga said that Boylan and Tawalae both embody ideals of servant leadership.

“They’re not there necessarily to do everything, but to support students who are already doing things,” Buddiga said. “Or, at the very least, not getting in the way.”

Buddiga said that, while the two dream big and their vision might not always be feasible, she believes they have surrounded themselves with a solid team of people doing the work of campus activism on a day-to-day basis.

Beyond the team members quoted by name, the campaign also includes Sophia Brodnax ’20, Noora Abdel-Fattah ’20, Laini Boyd ’18, Zach Meredith ’19, Cameron How ’20, Sean Roberts ’18, Seema Sethi ’19 and photographer Patrick Canteros ’20.

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