Analyzing the Joseph-Vasquez presidential platform

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Sens. Anthony Joseph '21 and Kyle Vasquez '21 are running in an uncontested election for Student Assembly President and Vice President. GRAPHIC BY ETHAN BROWN / THE FLAT HAT. COURTESY PHOTOS / JEREMY SIMMONS

This year’s Student Assembly presidential election is uncontested for just the second time in the College of William and Mary’s history. Senate Chair Anthony Joseph ’21 is running unopposed to lead the College’s 328th session of student government, alongside his vice-presidential candidate, close friend and fellow senator Kyle Vasquez ’21.

Since announcing their candidacy March 23, Joseph and Vasquez have centered their campaign around 14 core platforms. Many of their policies complement measures that were implemented or proposed by the outgoing administration of SA President Kelsey Vita ’20 and SA Vice President Ellie Thomas ’20, indicating a continuity of government that is likely to persist throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

Jump to specific points of Joseph and Vasquez’s platform here:

COVID-19      Diversity and Inclusion      Mental Health and Wellness      Graduate Inclusion

Public Affairs        Campus Safety      Outreach and Engagement         Accessibility

Title IX and Sexual Assault Prevention      Student Rights and Expression       Finance

Dining Services          Sustainability        Academic Affairs

COVID-19 Emergency Relief

Joseph and Vasquez’s platform begins by acknowledging the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, which has moved SA campaigning entirely online for the first time in College history. Their approach towards the novel virus emphasizes active communication with the College’s administration, while also encouraging officials to release more frequent updates to students regarding any new university policies. They also express a commitment to soliciting feedback from diverse student populations and state their intent to lobby College officials about potential financial assistance for students severely affected by the pandemic. Notably, while Joseph and Vasquez both personally support student demands for a Universal Pass system, they indicate they will communicate those interests but still work with the College in implementing the optional pass/fail policy adopted by administration.

Regarding the potential cancellation of the class of 2020’s graduation ceremony this May, Joseph and Vasquez indicate they are exploring alternative commencement exercises and will work with graduating students and administration moving forward.

Diversity and Inclusion

The diversity and inclusion component of Joseph and Vasquez’s platform integrates existing projects within the Vita-Thomas administration while introducing several new initiatives. In addition to continuing SA’s advocacy for ethnic and gender diversity in faculty hirings, they call for the creation of a College virtual walking tour that explores slavery’s legacy at the university. Joseph and Vasquez also plan to initiate discussions regarding reparations for African Americans at the College. While they remain flexible towards this program’s implementation and scale, the candidates reference a mandatory student fee model like the one established at Georgetown University as a possible framework.

In dealing with diversity and inclusion, Joseph and Vasquez predominantly focus on advocacy and dialogue facilitation, yet still propose some immediate executable strategies.

Mental Health and Wellness

On mental health, Joseph and Vasquez mirror previous SA campaigns by advocating for the expansion of counseling services, including group therapy and explorative classes, while also encouraging the College to hire more diverse therapists and counseling staff. They call for increased data collection of Integrated Wellness Center appointment rates and other data points in an effort to provide better service but decline to clearly define what these data points will be. In addition to carrying on policies from the Vita-Thomas administration regarding collaborative working relationships with University Advancement and the Parent and Family Council, Joseph and Vasquez seek to provide more communication about mental health resources at the College and ensure that students are cognizant of both on and off campus options.

Joseph and Vasquez approach mental health holistically, seeking to create an environment of ‘flourishing’ among students and staff by maximizing communication, improving transparency and advocating for expanded resource allocations at the Counseling Center.

Graduate Inclusion

To promote graduate students’ inclusion on the College’s undergraduate campus, Joseph and Vasquez pledge to create an entire Graduate Affairs department within SA’s Executive Branch. This new department will draw closer ties between the College’s undergraduate and graduate populations by promoting events and initiatives that bring the two groups closer together, though Joseph and Vasquez’s platform focuses more broadly on facilitating collaboration and does not provide specific examples of planned joint ventures between undergraduates and graduate students.

Public Affairs

A perennial fixture of electoral bids at the College, Joseph and Vasquez promise to forge a stronger relationship between the university and Williamsburg during their tenure. Their platform emphasizes the importance of increasing meeting frequency between student representatives and Williamsburg officials, with special attention being granted towards facilitating discussions on renters’ rights, bus transportation availability and off-campus housing. Joseph and Vasquez say they will lobby Williamsburg officials to provide more economically friendly dining options for students, yet do not clarify how these messaging efforts will be distinct from those that have occurred under previous SA administrations.

Campus Safety

Joseph and Vasquez aim to continue existing SA policies towards campus safety. These include working with Parking Services and Transportation in analyzing pedestrian safety trends, as well as advocating for improved lighting at Richmond Hall and along pedestrian walkways on Richmond and Jamestown roads. They also seek to foster new discussion about the quantity and quality of blue lights on campus and demonstrate willingness to continue conversations with WMPD on how to best promote student safety. In several aspects of their campus safety platform, Joseph and Vasquez reference data collection as a way of responding to students’ needs. However, it is unclear how this data collection will be executed, nor is it apparent what specific data points will be evaluated.

Outreach and Engagement

In engaging members of the College community, Joseph and Vasquez encourage the development of multi-organization events and initiatives and pledge to improve SA’s publicization of these projects. They promise to increase communication between SA and registered student organizations and release more social media updates about these organizations’ work, bringing together diverse cohorts on campus. Joseph and Vasquez also commit to broaden SA’s outreach by reaching out to student publications, including ROCKET and The Flat Hat, with the goal of promoting SA through these organizations.

While their commitment to outreach and engagement is commendable, Joseph and Vasquez’s platform would have benefited from directly referencing which student organizations they feel are currently being excluded and disengaged by SA. Furthermore, it is unclear how SA’s efforts to engage media organizations will be different from current projects pursued by these student publications, including The Flat Hat’s coverage of SA elections and its weekly reports about SA’s Tuesday evening meetings.

Title IX and Sexual Assault Prevention

Carrying on policies pursued by the Vita-Thomas administration, Joseph and Vasquez will revisit conversations about implementing Callisto as the College’s sexual assault reporting software. They also pledge to bolster outreach and collaboration with student organizations that work on behalf of survivors and awareness and will solicit students for feedback about campus resources to determine areas of improvement. Their platform calls for all information about sexual assault prevention to be easily digestible and available to students, but do not state how they will accomplish this objective or what types of information are currently inadequately accessible.

Joseph and Vasquez also say they will closely monitor any potential alterations to Title IX during their tenure and will work with the College in creating policies that prevent adverse consequences for students.

Joseph and Vasquez are basing their campaign on 14 core platforms. GRAPHIC BY ETHAN BROWN / THE FLAT HAT

Student Rights and Expression

Joseph and Vasquez rightly acknowledge students’ right to free speech in their platform and call for students to be aware of their rights by creating simple informational pamphlets and conducting other forms of outreach. Their platform seems to support the Chicago Statement of Free Expression and pledges to continue working, with both students and administration, towards the adoption of a statement that explicitly ensures freedom of speech on campus. However, the candidates decline to provide examples of what speech or protesting forms they feel are currently prohibited or discouraged at the College. They also do not indicate their position on how they would address any controversial guest lecturers being brought to the College, an issue which has garnered attention at universities throughout the United States.

Accessibility

Regarding accessibility on campus, the candidates say they will ensure that accessibility concerns are prioritized over aesthetic appeal when discussing new construction with administration. They call for meaningful progress to made on several accessibility topics, including appointing an SA liaison to Student Accessibility Services, increasing programming designed to reduce stigmas of registering with SAS and facilitating accessible forms of campus traditions that may be otherwise implausible for some students to complete. These concrete, specific suggestions highlight areas of needed change.

However, Joseph and Vasquez are less convincing in their argument that they will convincingly sway the College to refit all residence halls for accessibility concerns. While this is a noble objective, it remains to be seen how SA will specifically influence the College’s timeline for renovating residence halls, nor is it obvious how that timeline could be expedited or changed based on SA leadership.

Finance

Likely due to their tenure in the Senate overseeing the body’s budget, Joseph and Vasquez will seek to revise SA’s flawed and convoluted finance process during their tenure. Their platform illustrates a clear plan, starting with a commitment towards making sure student organizations understand the budget process thoroughly and by reiterating two primary objectives: financial efficiency and fairness. Joseph and Vasquez promise to apply new rigor when analyzing outstanding contracts and memos to student organizations, and also pledge to reaffirm ongoing efforts to improve funding accessibility for diversity and minority organizations on campus.

Notably, Joseph and Vasquez also reference the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in their finance platform, stating that they will explore different avenues for reinstating cancelled spring semester events and may offer refunds to affected student organizations. Their desire to maximize SA’s responsiveness on this issue is worth applause.

Dining Services

Joseph and Vasquez will largely continue existing SA policies towards dining services while in office. They pledge to advocate for more vegan, gluten-free, halal and kosher options, call for greater meal plan flexibility and indicate interest in establishing an additional Tribe Truck location on New Campus. They also plan to conduct another survey reviewing campus food, but do not clarify how this survey will be substantively different from ones taken by previous SA administrations. They also do not provide a plan for exactly how they plan to execute their demands of Sodexo and the College administration.

However, their platform also commits to improving relationships between SA and dining employees, a step which demonstrates a genuine eagerness to protect campus staff and ensure their equitable treatment and working conditions.

Sustainability

Regarding sustainability, Joseph and Vasquez argue that SA is in a unique position to integrate initiatives pursued by both the College’s administration and registered student organizations in advancing environmentally conscious policies. As promised with other components of their platform, Joseph and Vasquez will meet with administrators in discussing short-term and long-term sustainability goals and will employ SA’s resources in aiding those efforts.

Beyond open communication with College officials, their sustainability platform also incorporates useful and executable projects, including improving compost opportunities, promoting campus beautification and continuing efforts to reduce plastic water bottle usage. They also advocate for all students to receive a trash can in their dorm room in addition to a recycling bin, presumably to ensure that students properly use each receptacle. While these initiatives take place on a smaller scale, Joseph and Vasquez are justified in promoting them alongside longer-term projects.

Academic Affairs

The final aspect of their platform, Joseph and Vasquez reference the importance of utilizing student feedback on academic affairs throughout the College’s ongoing Strategic Planning process. Their administration aims to promote courses that lie outside traditional Western academia, especially in humanities departments like philosophy, history and modern languages, where they seek to add non-Western language classes including Swahili, Hindi and Twi. Their platform also seeks to improve fine arts offerings at the College by soliciting student feedback, encouraging joint arts events with the Williamsburg community and communicating with other Virginia institutions.

Joseph and Vasquez also reference the possibility of creating a support group for students struggling academically, but they do not illustrate how this support group would differ from existing campus initiatives, including the Dean of Students Office’s coaching program or the College’s peer advisers network.