SA presidential campaigns focus on mental health, diversity initiatives

0
751

Thursday, March 21, election day, will mark the conclusion of campaign season for Student Assembly President and Vice President, as well as for individual races for class president and senators. For the past week and a half, prospective candidates have posted flyers, released websites and interacted with students around campus in hopes of implementing their policy visions within SA.

Unlike last year’s uncontested presidential contest, which resulted in the election of President Brendan Boylan ’19 and Vice President Samir Tawalare ’19, two tickets are currently vying for SA president and vice president. Class of 2020 President Kelsey Vita ’20 is running for president with Senate Chair Ellie Thomas ’20, and Class of 2021 President David DeMarco ’21 with first-time candidate Nyla Pollard ’21. 

Vita and DeMarco have vowed to run campaigns based on positivity and support for each other in their own campaign efforts to destigmatize negative, finger-pointing narratives that frequently plague political campaigns. 

To demonstrate this goal, the two tickets have shared areas around campus where elaborate chalk messages are drawn about their individual campaigns. Furthermore, Vita and DeMarco tabled next to each other at the Sadler terrace throughout the first week of the campaign and sat together at SA’s March 12 meeting to exemplify their dedication to positivity and kindness on the campaign trail. They concluded the meeting by reiterating their goals to each run positive campaigns. 

Vita and DeMarco have centered their respective campaigns around similar campaign points, with both tickets emphasizing mental health and wellness, sustainability and diversity. 

Vita and Thomas’ platform totals 11 campaign promises and in addition focuses on Title IX and sexual assault prevention, student rights, dining services and community building, public affairs and campus safety, finance reform, academic affairs, accessibility, communications and transparency. 

As a nod to Pollard’s position on the women’s basketball team, DeMarco and Pollard created a five-point platform entitled “The Starting Five”, which focuses on parking advocacy, curtailing polarization and food reform. 

Both Vita and Thomas have been members of SA since their freshman year. Vita said that during that time, she believes she has seen SA go from spending money without full intent to demonstrating more policy-driven approaches.

Much of their campaign platform revolves around facilitating a campus community where all students feel physically and mentally safe.

“There’s certainly an aspect to that where you feel safe walking home at night; you feel safe crossing the street, but it’s not just about that,” Vita said. “Safety is about knowing that you have access to proper mental health resources. Safety is about knowing that when you file a Title IX report, it will be handled properly. Safety is knowing your rights as a student on this campus, and safety is really a lot more encompassing than that.”

DeMarco, who has served as class president since his freshman year, decided to run for SA President in hopes of fostering an SA governance that stays relevant to, and in touch with, the College’s student population. He also believes that including an SA outsider as his vice presidential nominee adds a fresh student perspective to his campaign.

“When you look at the difference between our team and Kelsey and Ellie’s team … it’s very clear from their website that it’s a lot of people that are already in Student Assembly…” DeMarco said. “I think that’s really good in a lot of ways, but what I’ve found is that when a large majority of people on their team have already been on exec, and in fact, in their flyer, literally right behind them is Brendan Boylan, the current president — is that the best thing, to have everyone on your team already be in Student Assembly, already be in the current administration? … While experience is important and knowledge about that is important, I think bringing in new voices is also important.”

Vita said that their ticket emphasizes the role of students as important change makers on campus and that through fostering strong relationships between the student body and SA, greater collective action can materialize at the College. According to Vita and Thomas, their platform supports greater student advocacy in school policy, and includes ways that the College can improve certain aspects of school policy to better reflect student needs.

In his two years in SA, DeMarco has attended different club meetings on a weekly basis and has sent out surveys to students asking what changes they wanted to see on campus.

“When I got here, I was like, ‘If I get elected, I am giving 100 percent to Student Assembly,’” DeMarco said.  “… I’ve been able to dedicate a lot of time in comparison to a lot [of] other people in Student Assembly to it and that turns into me being the only one going out to club meetings and chapter meetings, which is something that we should standardize.”   

During his campaign, DeMarco has claimed that SA does not sufficiently represent the student body, evidenced by a survey that he has placed at the forefront of his campaign. This survey indicates that SA’s top priorities revolve around internal affairs, while the primary priority for the rest of the student body is dining reform.   

“That’s why talking to students is so important, because you can’t do collective action and getting things done unless you’re actually talking to students,” DeMarco said. 

“That’s why talking to students is so important, because you can’t do collective action and getting things done unless you’re actually talking to students,” DeMarco said. 

On a similar note of collective reform, Vita and Thomas both want to change the voting practices of SA and instead support bills that promote tangible change on campus. A particular concern for Vita and Thomas is education on Title IX, as well as further reform on how the College handles sexual assault cases. 

Vita’s ticket plans to increase communication between the Title IX Coordinator and student body, so that students can have a better understanding of how Title IX claims are processed. They want the College’s Title IX Coordinator to set up an action plan related to the proposed changes of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, as well as a statement that the College will not drop its standards because of a potential change. Vita and Thomas also want executive board members of clubs to take a training class to provide them with tools to protect members of their organizations. 

“The next two parts of training include supporting survivors and also how to deal with if you think you might have a perpetrator in your organization,” Vita said.

“The next two parts of training include supporting survivors and also how to deal with if you think you might have a perpetrator in your organization,” Vita said.

Vita wanted to run for SA President with Thomas as her vice president primarily because they share similar visions for the College. The two met during their freshman year serving in SA, and have worked on numerous bills together in the past three years. 

A particular favorite of the two is “The . Act” which sought to bring menstrual products to bathrooms around campus, including gender neutral bathrooms.

According to DeMarco, he decided to approach Pollard — who has no prior SA experience — to run with him in order to imbue his campaign with ideas from the student body at large.

“She is outside of Student Assembly, and she is really active in the community, so she really also is in touch,” DeMarco said. 

DeMarco and Pollard have centered their campaign on listening to other people’s stories and experiences with a focus on improving representation on campus. Pollard believes that playing for the women’s basketball team and being a member of the Black Student Organization have helped her get to know the concerns of diverse groups of people on campus.   

Both Vita and DeMarco want to increase the number of therapists available in the counseling center as well as improve the diversity of the counseling staff. They both hope that by doing so, all students will feel comfortable attending counseling sessions. 

In addition to mental health, DeMarco and Pollard also plan to establish a “wellness clause” that would institute a policy that would provide relief in the form of extensions for students who have a certain number of exams or projects within one week.

If elected, Vita and Thomas hope to work with University Advancement and the Parent and Family Counsel to set up an endowment to fund more counselors in the College’s counseling center. They would also look to bring Callisto — a software which time-stamps a sexual assault if the victim records it while simultaneously searching for repeat offenders and allowing the victim to remain anonymous unless they choose to come forward — to campus.

“This could be really impactful on campus in helping survivors and also with finding perpetrators and protecting people, and that kind of follows the theme of keeping people safe on campus,” Thomas said.

“This could be really impactful on campus in helping survivors and also with finding perpetrators and protecting people, and that kind of follows the theme of keeping people safe on campus,” Thomas said.

They also want to advocate for more uniform expectations for faculty hiring practices across departments, such as ensuring the presence of a diversity committee in each department and exploring having potential new faculty members give trial lectures to students are hired. They have also proposed potential one-credit vetted courses taught by students. 

Vita and Thomas aim to reform SA finance and make it a less difficult process for student groups to ask for funding for events. In addition, they would like to enact a “price-per-head” policy when groups seek event funding to ensure that events are well-attended and that money is being allocated fairly.

Vita and Thomas are investigating the possibility of removing calorie count displays in the dining halls, and instead allowing that information to be viewable online for students who explicitly wish to see it.

“That can be kind of triggering for people with eating disorders … we still need to have conversations about the feasibility of it,” Vita said.

Improving dining services is similarly a priority for DeMarco, who has paired up with Sodexo USA to provide better food items to the College’s dining halls and reviving the Tribe Truck, where students are now allowed to use meal swipes instead of Dining Dollars.  DeMarco has stressed that he was the first member of SA who reached out to the administration to bring forward concerns about Sodexo’s food quality.

DeMarco and Pollard are also prioritizing student life. As a commuter, Pollard wants to advocate for reorganization of the parking spots and the ticketing policy on campus, something that she believes has often been looked at as an unsolvable problem.

Current President of SA Brendan Boylan ’19, current Vice President Samir Tawalare ’19, current Chief of Staff Rachel Becker ’19, Class of 2019 President Sikander Zakriya ’19, Sen. Cody Mills ’20, Sen. Vicky Morales ’22, Sen. Meghana Boojala ’22, Secretary of Student Life Samyuktha Mahadevan ’19 and Undersecretary of Williamsburg Affairs Caleb Rogers ’20 have all endorsed Vita’s campaign on social media. 

Sen. Margaret Lister ’21 and Sen. Mark Smith ’22 have endorsed DeMarco’s campaign. 

The student body will also vote for SA senator positions and class presidents March 21. The class of 2020 senator and presidential races are uncontested. A special election will take place next fall semester to fill vacant 2020 senate positions.