Student Union candidates debate, present ideas for Brandeis

March 20, 2018

Candidates for multiple Student Union positions debated and presented ideas surrounding issues of Brandeis’ affordability, club chartering policy and relationships with administration to student voters on Monday, March 19 at a debate moderated by The Brandeis Hoot and The Justice.

Vice presidential candidates Vidit Dhawan ’19, Aaron Finkel ’20 and Benedikt Reynolds ’19, as well as candidates for president, secretary, treasurer, Board of Trustees representative and the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee discussed their platforms in preparation for the election, which will open at 12 a.m. on March 19 and close at 12 a.m. on March 20.

In his opening remarks, Reynolds, the Class of 2019 Senator, expanded on his platform, which includes creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly culture, introducing an amendment to provide stipends and opportunities for student labor and building a “feedback loop” in order to bridge the gap between administration and students. Reynolds is also the chair of the Senate Sustainability Committee, where he has worked to create a Sustainability Ambassadors program, and collaborated with the Brandeis Sustainability Fund, which helps finance sustainable projects on campus.

Throughout the debate, Reynolds made a distinction between “intersectionality” and “duality of purpose” in the club chartering process, which has become a point of contention after the Senate voted against chartering the Jewish Feminist Association of Brandeis (JFAB) in January.

“It’s important for Senators to recognize what [intersectionality] is, how important it is to include student opinions and allow student cultures to prosper, especially through clubs,” Reynolds said.

Finkel’s opening remarks focused on affordability, as well as improvements to community, resources and facilities on campus. In a later segment of the debate, Finkel, a Senator-at-Large, echoed Reynold’s remarks on intersectionality, adding that he would like to reform the chartering system and focus on holding existing clubs accountable to contributing to on-campus life after they are chartered.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘there’s nothing going on that’s fun,’” Finkel told The Hoot in an interview last week. Finkel does not want the campus community to feel divided due to the large number of student organizations. He wants to ensure resources are used wisely to support high-quality events, he said at the debate. Finkel is also the Executive Senator and chair of the Services and Outreach Committee, which organizes the Midnight Buffet.

Last semester, the Union approved a new club chartering process which includes a 14-week “probationary period” for all new clubs and a shift from requiring student signatures in support to testimonials from interested members to demonstrate there is interest.

Dhawan, a Class if 2019 senator, also discussed the necessity for student and administration collaboration, as well as collaboration between clubs. He supported the Senate’s recent amendments to the club creation process, arguing that there is a “divide in the community from having too many clubs” and that collaboration between existing clubs would be a way to “promote social justice.”

Reynolds said he was thankful for the past chartering process for allowing the Union to assess whether the clubs are sustainable. However, he proceeded to disagree with Dhawan and Finkel saying, “We are a university. We are supposed to be influencing growth and giving people the opportunity to be a leader and try things out…I think we should lower the barriers when it comes to charterdome.”

Unopposed presidential candidate Hannah Brown proposed ways for the Student Union to be more accessible and ways for Brandeis to be more affordable for students, including evaluating need-based aid and work study jobs that prohibit students from engaging in aspects of the college experience such as extracurriculars. Brown, who is this year’s vice president, also expanded on her plans to eliminate unnecessary fines in order to prevent Brandeis from “nickeling and diming” students, as well as encouraged President Liebowitz to listen to the students when making decisions. Brown would like to explore curbing library fees or offering some free laundry or printing.

Board of Trustees representative candidate Zosia Busé ’20, who is also running unopposed, emphasized issues with “vital resources” on campus, especially resources from the Brandeis Counseling Center. Through her past leadership experiences in ’DEIS Impact and as the director of the Office of Student Rights and Advocacy (OSRA), she said she has gained valuable listening skills that will help her validate and empower student voices.

When an audience member questioned Busé about her ability to be committed to the two year position, Busé confirmed that she does not plan to graduate early.

In the lightning round in which all candidates gave quick answers to the same questions, Reynolds said that if he were to have unlimited power he would focus on Brandeis’ identity. “Right now there seems to be no direct identity from the institution and how that lack of identity affects students…there seems to be no unilateral image of what this university should be and what our values are. I would want to make sure every student understands what this university stands for in comparison to other universities nearby and internationally.”

In response to the same question, Busé responded that if she were to have unlimited power she would change the idea that Brandeis needs to have a cohesive identity. “Brandeis was built on diversity, or at least says it was built on diversity” Busé said. “The beauty of Brandeis is that it’s diverse, and we don’t need to compromise that by finding this one identity that we all identify with.”

Finkel disagreed with Busé on the grounds of Brandeis’ identity. “We do need to focus on developing a unique identity that is Brandeisian and it is made up of everybody,” Finkel said. “No matter where you come from, what language you speak, whom you love,  it doesn’t matter. What matters is you are part of something bigger than yourself.”

Candidates for Secretary Rachel McAllister ’21 and Qingtian Mei ’21 both discussed increasing the Union’s social media presence to reach students. Mei focused on reaching students through Instagram in place of emails, while McAllister highlighted the Union’s Snapchat, weekly emails and discussing events with students in person as effective methods for informing the student body.

Jerry Miller ’19, candidate for treasurer, said his priority was changing the “ineffective” training process for club treasurers. He proposed including simulations in the training to engage the students and teach them treasury skills they will need to know, rather than giving a PowerPoint presentation. “The current state of the training is totally unacceptable,” Miler said. He also discussed the treasury process, proposing to consolidate the number of steps through collaboration with the administration and the A-Board to make the process more effective and efficient. Miller’s opponent, Yaoyao Gao, was not present at the debate.

Candidates for the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee Carrie Sheng ’20 and Kavita Sundaram ’20 discussed communicating with administration on behalf of students. Sundaram focused on improving student advocacy and empowering student voices of students from diverse backgrounds, while Sheng focused on improving communication on campus and accessibility to educational activities.

Brandeis Sustainability Fund Representative candidate Tamara Botteri ’21 gave a one minute opening statement in which she cited her experience working with the fund and was not present for the remainder of the debate. Jack (Junsheng) He ’20, Botteri’s opponent, was absent for the debate.

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