Class of 2023 faces competitive Student Assembly elections

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The class of 2023 has seen the most competitive Student Assembly races this spring, with 12 candidates running to ultimately fill five positions. GRAPHIC BY ETHAN BROWN / THE FLAT HAT. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Saturday, March 21, students running in the 2020 Student Assembly elections launched their campaigns on social media. With voting taking place this upcoming Thursday, April 2, students approach the end of a short 12 day campaign as they attempt to win positions within SA’s executive and legislative branches.

The class of 2023’s SA elections are among the most competitive races this year, with nine candidates vying for four Senate seats and three individuals running for class president. In comparison, the class of 2022 has four students running to fill four seats and only has one class presidential candidate. The class of 2021 features even fewer candidates, with only two senatorial candidates and two presidential candidates.

The three students running to lead the class of 2023 are Kieran Mangla ’23, Justin Oei ’23 and incumbent class of 2023 President Conor Sokolowsky ’23. Sokolowsky, who was elected last September, is focusing his reelection campaign on establishing class unity, improving sustainability efforts and increasing economic developments.

“This campaign season actually echoes a lot of what the fall campaign said about our class,” Sokolowsky said in an email. “We set a record for voter turnout and had incredibly competitive races in September, and I am glad to see the enthusiasm continuing into the spring.”

Oei, whose campaign platform focuses on reducing course fees and waiting times for the counseling and health centers, credits the competitiveness of his class year’s electoral contests to the class of 2023’s interests in political activism.

“W&M is definitely a civically engaged campus, definitely a lot more than my high school was, but a good number of people on my hall (Monroe 3rd) are really, really vocal about their political views,” Oei said in an email. “Last I checked pretty much every other door, on both the boys’ and girls’ sides, had some form of political statement on it, mine included. At least from where I stand, there seems to be some correlation.”

In addition to incumbent Sens. Madison Hubbard ’23, Eugene Lee ’23, Maheen Saeed ’23 and Abby Varricchio ’23, who are all running for reelection, there are five additional students running for senator positions in the class of 2023. They include Riya Chhabra ’23, Mikayla Fulcher ’23, Will McCleery ’23, Charles Pritz ’23 and Owen Williams ’23.

Williams, whose campaign centers around accountability and change, believes the increased number of students running for senate stems from dissatisfaction with the incumbent senators.

“I’m running to be a Senator because I believe that our current representation is inadequate.”

“I’m running to be a Senator because I believe that our current representation is inadequate,” Williams said in an email. “In the Class of 2023, we’ve had some of our Senators abstain from important votes such as to subsidize part of the cost for emergency contraceptives at the Health Center, and to encourage the Board of Visitors to divest from fossil fuels….I know some of them, and I’m sure they’re all great people, but after last year’s election they basically disappeared, and have only re-emerged for election season. If I’m elected I will be available year round for my constituents.”

However, Lee — whose platform focuses on transparency, diversity, accountability and fiscal responsibility — defended his fellow senators, citing that all four of them voted ‘yes’ for the sustainability resolution, and said that he abstained from voting for the Subsidized Emergency Contraception Act because it was his first session in the Senate.

“That bill came to us blind, and with what appeared to be conflicting opinions from the public. While I supported the aim, I didn’t feel comfortable voting an absolute ‘yes’ at that moment,” Lee said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of friends and other class of 2023 students, and they’ve generally been positive of the job we have done in SA … The other senators and our class president put in so much time and effort to get things done, which is why I’m so proud of campaigning alongside them.”

All four incumbent freshman senators and Sokolowsky are running for re-election this year. While each of their individual platforms differ, the five candidates decided to run a joint campaign in order to help each other win the election. Using social media, they have created joint graphics to post on Facebook and co-hosted a Zoom campaign call.

Saeed’s platform revolves around student diversity issues, financial transparency and bringing new food options to campus. Saeed believes that each incumbent having unique platforms yet running together, allows their team to work effectively together to amount more change.

“We believe that it is a good idea to run a joint campaign together because we truly understand how to initiate protocol as senators,” Saeed said in an email. “There is a super large learning curve that comes with becoming a senator from general senate protocol such as decoram etc. to drafting bills. We all really care about the W&M community and it is incredibly apparent in our actions and how we carry ourselves. We have worked so well together and have brought so many ideas to the table and we are actively working on continuing this change. We all work together in such a natural way that running together in a joint campaign arose organically.”

“There is a super large learning curve that comes with becoming a senator from general senate protocol such as decoram etc. to drafting bills. We all really care about the W&M community and it is incredibly apparent in our actions and how we carry ourselves. We have worked so well together and have brought so many ideas to the table and we are actively working on continuing this change.”

Hubbard, who is basing her campaign on transparency, sustainability, improvement to campus health and wellness resources and accessibility, said her work as a senator is not finished yet and indicated that her joint campaigning with other SA representatives demonstrates class unity.

“We all have varying viewpoints on different topics and I believe that is for the best,” Hubbard said in an email. “We openly embrace each other’s opposing thoughts and work to grow together, so why not campaign together? …I think that our unity helps create a strong front in the campaign. But in the end, I want people to vote for the candidates who they think will represent them the best, we truly believe that we are up to the task”

Pritz is running on a platform of focusing on sustainability, building community and promoting job opportunities for students and does not view the incumbent senators running together as an advantage or disadvantage.

“I am running my campaign with a focus on issues I am passionate about as well as representing the student body with experienced leadership,” Pritz said in an email. “I honestly find it a little unsettling to see our entire group of representatives running a joint reelection campaign. Change is an everyday reality; a continuation of the exact same in any context does not bring about real change, but instead promotes stagnancy.”

However, incumbent candidates are not the only ones launching joint campaigns for SA’s positions for the class of 2023. Mangla, a presidential candidate and senatorial candidate McCleery launched a joint campaign together which focuses on improving housing, student health and transparency.

“Will and I have a lot of things in common,” Mangla said. “We are both avid members of the Debate Team, brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and are from the same home state of Connecticut. However, the most important thing we have in common is our shared interest for Student Assembly. Through our many conversations, Will and I have shared our thoughts, concerns, and ideas for how we can improve Student Assembly and campus life for all students. As we got closer to the spring election time, we decided that it would be a great idea if we ran a joint campaign together so that we could both bring our ideas to be represented in Student Assembly.”

Mangla, who said the idea of running a joint campaign was suggested to him by a current SA member, believes running a joint campaign with McCleery allows them to increase their campaigning effort twofold and publicize their positions quicker.

“Two heads are always better than one and running with someone allows us to hone our campaign message and bounce ideas off of each other on how to campaign effectively,” Mangla said. “This also allows us to split up the work to get more done.”

Oei, who faces Mangla and Sokolowsky in the presidential contest, said that joint campaigns are something to be cautious of in future SA elections.

“If it’s successful, the President and Senator will still be in office with three other Class of 2023 senators,” Oei said. “It’s not a President-Vice President setup, especially since the class president is also a member of the senate. Personally, I stayed away from a joint ticket because I think that every single candidate running for Student Assembly brings something different to the table, and is eminently qualified. I think it would also be an awkward position if one of the pair is elected and the other isn’t.”

Even with seven freshman candidates participating in joint campaigns, each student running has to face the new challenge of only being able to campaign from home. Since the COVID-19 outbreak closed the College of William and Mary before campaigning began, no candidate started their campaign on campus.

This dynamic has led to an increased dependence of social media for campaigning.

Fulcher, who is running as a senator, wants to create an inclusive environment by partnering with groups like Black Student Organization, Latin American Student Organization and Undocutribe if elected. However, she noted that she was unprepared for campaigning being entirely online.

“I decided to run a solo campaign because I didn’t know anyone else running,” Fulcher said in an email. “If I had, I’m still not sure I would run a joint campaign but instead just post each other on Instagram and be like ‘oh yeah vote for them too. On campus you can hang fliers and talk to people but campaigning online the amount of people you can reach correlates to the amount of followers you have, which doesn’t necessarily make you a better candidate. Running a joint campaign increases the amount of people you can reach and shows a sense of solidarity in a time that is so odd.”

SA elections will take place Thursday, April 2.