Recently, Brandeis’ Student Union has gone through a new round of elections in preparation for the 2023-24 academic year. On April 26, The Brandeis Hoot spoke with Noah Risley ’24, the new Student Union President, and Erica Hwang ’25, the new Student Union Vice President about their plans for their time in office, why they serve in Student Union and more.
Explaining why they wanted to run for Student Union president, Risley noted that “as someone who’s been in the union for close to three years now, I have a pretty good grasp on what the president is and isn’t able to do. And that’s sort of why I ran. I’m excited to do it.” They went on to say that “small things in the union have big impacts outside of it, like who the co-chair of A-Board [Allocations Board] is or what is in our club policy. So I’m excited to take a big whack next year with our process called constitutional review.”
Risley noted that high levels of student involvement are the keystone to an effective constitutional review process. They hope to have “as much participation as we can on what [the] Student Union can be for other people. Small things that can have a big impact, like adding caste into our anti-discrimination policy. But [I also hope to take on] really big things like changing how [the] Student Union does event planning.”
Constitutional review, which happens every three years according to Risley, last happened during “the prime time for COVID on campus. And this is no fault of the people doing it, but it was a really small process. I think only two or three people ended up being involved in it and it was really rushed.” This time around, though, Risley hopes to improve things like the “procedures for an impeachment trial.” Risley and Hwang hope to be “a transformational team for the Union and really set the tone …. We just had a conversation with [secretary] of alumni relations. We’re going to be the president and vice president duo for the 75th anniversary of Brandeis, so we really want to look back and [ask], ‘how has it been done in the past,’ but also ‘how can we set the tone for the next 75 years?’”
Risley and Hwang also noted that their first big challenge in office will likely be “housing … because it’s a big problem facing students. It’s our job to represent students, so we’ve had a lot of conversations about hitting the ground running. Risley also noted that they aim to be “a bit more open about what we’re demanding [from administrators] with students,” going on to say that they “think that sometimes the Student Union gets a bad rap, [and students ask] ‘what are y’all doing, What have y’all done for us?’ We feel like we’ve done so much or we’re asking for so much [from Brandeis], but it’s hard to go to students and say, ‘well, we’ve asked for this, this, this and this.’” Speaking about a concrete example, Risley noted that, for the menstrual product initiative, “no matter how many trials we run, no matter how much we prove that it’s effective and that students want it, the university at this point has just said ‘we are not paying for it.’”
Hwang added that “student engagement is a huge thing for me, because [on] this campus, while we are known for social justice and student activism, it’s not happening in tangible [ways].” She added that she hopes to have “more of a connection between students and Student Union.”
Risley said that their past experience in Student Union has informed their plans for their time in office, noting that that time “got [them] a really good look of what the Senate is, what the Senate does [and] also let me know that I wanted to be on e-board and do some of the backend stuff.” They added that they’ve “been on e-boards of other clubs and I also just love Brandeis, so I like to go to events and I’ve tried to make myself as big of a community member as I can.” Risley said that all of those experiences have “really informed how I want to be president because I think that being as involved as you can makes you a better leader and a better representative for students.”
Hwang spoke on her leadership experience too, adding that her time in the Student Union has allowed her to become “really passionate” about working more on Union activities. Her time in the Student Union “empowered [her] to want to do things, and she is now “looking forward to broadening that leadership.” Hwang has also held leadership positions in other clubs and is “really looking forward to applying the stuff [she has] learned in [her] organizational behavior class.”
Risley also wanted the Brandeis community to know that “the Student Union does more work than people think that we do.” They went on, adding that “some of our job is to keep things private because we’re asked to keep things private and some of our job is to silently push for small changes that eventually snowball into big changes.” To promote Union activities, Risley and Hwang will “have a time every week where the Student Union office is just open, the door’s gonna be propped open and we’re gonna be in the office. [We want you to] come talk to us, we want to know what’s on your mind.” Risley concluded by saying that “some of the best things that have come out of the Union have [come from] other people getting involved or telling us something they’re concerned about and then we turn that into a policy.” Risley added an example, noting the creation of an HWL module as a “union success story.” They referred to this as “a concrete change that came from someone who was not on Student Union last year coming in and saying, ‘I want to make this right.’”
Hwang and Risley look forward to serving the Brandeis community, and hope to communicate with students effectively to create positive changes for everyone.