Students elect Union leaders
Hannah Brown ’19 took home the Student Union presidency in the Union Executive Board elections last week, which saw 13 candidates facing off for seven open positions.
The elections for the Executive Board positions of president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, junior representative to the Board of Trustees, representative to the Brandeis Sustainability Fund and junior representative to the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee took place on Tuesday, with the results announced Wednesday.
In interviews with the Justice, the winners detailed their ideas for tackling the University’s most pressing issues and goals for their terms, as well as how they plan to further connect students and administrators.
Union President-elect Brown stated in an interview with the Justice that affordability is an urgent issue. “People have focused on … affordability, and I think that’s kind of where the people have spoken,” she said.
Brown elaborated, saying that affordability’s effects are far-reaching and it is “an intersectional issue; it has to do with so many parts of student life.” On her platform, Brown also mentioned the practice of “nickeling and diming,” or charging fees as punishment for things like forgetting a room key. However, Brown acknowledged that on the larger scale, the University generally “make[s] pretty good decisions on … [where] the money [should] go,” — such as constructing the new Skyline housing — but stated that it could still do better.
Though the University would no longer take in the same amount of revenue with her proposed changes, Brown emphasized that the changes would not raise tuition, but rather would force the University to “use its finances more wisely,” as she thinks the University has “a lot of pockets of money that maybe just aren’t being spent in the best ways.”
Student Union Vice President-elect Benedikt Reynolds ’19 also discussed finances in his interview, but focused on compensation for student labor. He said that student workers for secured clubs like the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps and Student Sexuality Information Service are not compensated, even though they provide essential services for the University.
Reynolds emphasized that this is a big problem for work-study students who would otherwise join these organizations but cannot because they need to seek paid employment elsewhere. Reynolds stated that he has been meeting with Assistant Dean of Students Stephanie Grimes about considering making these positions included in work-study, saying, “It opens up a lot more opportunities for students to prioritize doing something they are passionate about, rather than working for Sodexo.” However, Reynolds added, non-work-study students could also take these positions and be compensated.
Zosia Busé ’20, the elected Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees, centered her platform on health care. In an interview with the Justice, she stated that “vital resources to students on campus, such as the Brandeis Counseling Center, are in such a position that needs intervention on an institutional level.” Speaking as the director of the Office of Student Rights and Advocacy, she added that she has heard student testimonies about the lack of adequate health care, saying, “It’s just disheartening.” Busé stressed that “since the Board of Trustees hold [sic] a lot of the power, they can delegate some of that power to resources such as the Brandeis Counseling Center.”
The newly-elected officers also told the Justice some other initiatives they would like to undertake. Busé stated she wants to create “a platform for student voices” and to give students the opportunity to speak out on issues relevant to them. She elaborated that she wants to work with the Board of Trustees to allow students to testify in front of the Board.
Reynolds discussed building on his work with the Union Senate’s Sustainability Committee, stating that he wanted to focus on strengthening the culture of sustainability at Brandeis. He added that as vice president, his goal is to “push the envelope” of the Student Union’s approach to sustainability.
Reynolds explained that he would like to continue and expand the newly-revived Brandeis Sustainability Ambassadors program, which went through a test run during this year’s Midyear Orientation. In the same interview, Reynolds emphasized the success of the program’s trial run, stating that it “got a really great response. … We got a message from the Village area coordinator saying that recycling rates and the cleanup has never been that high.” He added that community advisors have reported lights being turned off consistently and that “some of the students [said], ‘Hey, I never really thought about sustainability, but I guess Brandeis is a good time to make it happen and give it a shot.’”
Like Reynolds, Qingtian Mei ’21, the secretary-elect, also stated in an interview with the Justice that he would like to focus on sustainability. Outside of his position, Mei said, he would like to continue his work on the Sustainability Committee and work on a project to revitalize the Massell Pond.
Finally, the officers addressed the common student complaint of a disconnect between the student body and administrators. Reynolds talked about the importance of conversations between students and administrators concerning relevant issues, bringing up the work done by current Student Union President Jacob Edelman ’18 to improve the services of the Brandeis Counseling Center and the Health Center. Reynolds stated that the BCC is “open 9 to 5,” and that “now they have extended hours, but before they didn’t necessarily consider that students are in class from 9 to 5.” The student perspective is important, Reynolds said, because it is “something that wouldn’t be very apparent to [administrators] if they’re sitting in their office from 9 to 5.”
Brown also raised the open community forums Edelman began recently as a good way to bridge the student-administrator gap, explaining that at these meetings learning happens “on both sides, for all the participants that are there, both admins and students, and I think that’s a good start.”
She also proposed informal events like “coffee with Brandeis Police” and “brown-bag breakfasts, which are basically just bringing your own breakfast and talking to administrators.”
She added, “I’ve often heard complaints that students just don’t see some of the administrators out in the open or attending events,” praising University President Ron Liebowitz for attending Hoops for Help, a students vs. faculty and staff basketball game which fundraised for the Hiatt Career Center’s World of Work Internship Funding Program.
However, Brown acknowledged that though bridging the gap is important, she “understand[s] that that can be difficult for administrators to just kind of insert themselves.” She suggested that “maybe the Union can try to make that easier.”
Busé also emphasized the importance of connecting students and the Board of Trustees, stating that she hopes that “through this role, I can create a more humble connection between the trustees and the students” to reduce the distance between the two groups.
Mei and Carrie Sheng ’20, the newly-elected junior representatives to the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, added that they would make efforts to conduct outreach to the student body both to relay their opinions to administrators and to make students aware of campus activities organized by fellow students. Mei said that as secretary, he would transition from using emails and Facebook to communicate with students to Instagram and, for Chinese students, the Chinese social media app WeChat, stating that these media are more efficient and widely-read. Sheng responded that she would hold office hours and create Facebook polls to reach out to students about the new General Education Requirements.
Brandeis Sustainability Fund Representative-elect Tamara Botteri ’21 and Treasurer-elect Jerry Miller ’19 did not return the Justice's request for an interview.