Union members reflect on past year, look to future
Union leaders celebrated the year’s accomplishments and acknowledged shortcomings.
Members of the Student Union gathered for the spring semester State of the Union in the Shapiro Campus Center Multipurpose Room on May 2. In their speeches, Union members spoke about the year’s accomplishments and their visions for the future.
“It has been an eventful year, to say the least,” outgoing Union President Hannah Brown ’19 said during a brief introduction.
Treasurer Adrian Ashley ’20 spoke first. “It’s been really nice getting to work with all the club leaders and making sure that people are spending responsibly. The process is ultimately getting easier for them,” he said. Coming into this role, Ashley said, his goals were “making sure … [club] treasurers had a better idea of what was required of them, and … that [he] and the other treasurers were as available as possible.”
Ashley also announced that the Slate system will replace the Student Union Management System next year. “It’s looking extremely promising,” he said about Slate. “The system is a lot more straightforward than SUMS and I know students have been asking for a replacement for a while.” SUMS allows clubs “to make check requests and view their club’s budget/financial data,” according to the Department of Student Activities’ Funding Resources website, while Slate encompasses all the resources necessary for managing an application process, per Information Technology Services. In addition, he said, the Union will be allocated $50,000 next year, which will pay for projects such as a commuter rail subsidy for students working in Boston.
Chief Justice Morris Nadjar ’19 bemoaned the lack of communication between branches of the Union. “Although we all work really hard at what we do, we really need to take the time to appreciate one another, and to look at each other as fellow students, as opposed to letting our egos get in the way,” he said. Nadjar also advised the Judiciary to listen carefully and respect people during and outside of hearings, stressing that “with power comes responsibility.” He concluded, “to listen is the best way to speak.”
Allocations Board co-Chair Aseem Kumar ’20, who will be leaving the board after two years, spoke next. Though A-Board has done “routine” activities like completing Marathon requests, “what we feel the Allocations Board is responsible for on this campus is influencing campus life. It’s not just about looking at requests and giving out money,” Kumar asserted. He also emphasized the need for the Board to be approachable, saying, “It should be easy to come talk to us. … We are not above anyone else.”
In his closing remarks, Kumar looked back at the progress the Board has made, noting that, “Two years ago, when I joined the A-Board, all I heard was complaints from club leaders [and] treasurers … about how the system was difficult, how it was inefficient.” Many of these issues have been fixed, and with the Slate system which Ashley mentioned, club leaders will have fewer troubles, Kumar said. The Board’s future projects include treating club sports and sport clubs equally, mainly through allocating equal equipment storage space. Club sports include ultimate frisbee and rugby and are secured under the ‘club sports’ organization, while sports clubs include Quidditch and archery and must apply for funding each year.
Allocations Board co-Chair Rebecca Shaar ’21 then thanked Kumar, saying that he “gains the respect of people, not by demanding it or commanding it, but by being the person that deserves that respect.” Kumar has also been a role model and a mentor for her, Shaar said. “Working alongside Aseem and seeing how he taught me how to move forward and seeing the passion that he puts into his work is truly inspirational,” she said. Next semester, A-Board will work to facilitate a smooth transition to the Slate system and to “reevaluate” some of its funding policies, Shaar said.
The junior and senior representatives to the Board of Trustees, Zosia Busé ’20 and Christian Nunez ’19, both reported a good working relationship with the Board. Summarizing his work, Nunez said, “From mental health to divestment and issues with financial aid and community living, we have stood with the student body and have brought these issues to the attention of the Board of Trustees.”
In the future, Busé and incoming junior representative to the Board of Trustees Zoë Fort ’21 plan to create student summaries of the Board of Trustees’ meetings and to give reports of the meetings to student media to increase transparency.
Outgoing Student Union Vice President Aaron Finkel ’19 then summarized the achievements of the Senate committees. The Senate Sustainability Committee, led by Executive Senator Kent Dinlenc ’19, had solar panels installed on multiple buildings, held a sustainability symposium and passed a ban on sales of disposable water bottles on campus, which will be instituted next year.
Along with passing the Club Consultant amendment, Noah Nguyen’s ’21 Club Support Committee changed the process of club chartering, Finkel said. In a message to the Justice, he explained that the committee “introduced new mandatory club leaders info sessions.” Additionally, the menstrual product initiative, which began last year, is now a permanent resource thanks to the Facilities and Housing Committee, led by Taylor Fu ’21.
In his final State of the Union speech, Finkel reflected on his time in the Union, stating that it has been “a really rewarding experience” and has changed his outlook on leadership. “Brandeis is a wonderful institution and it’s really been fantastic for me,” he said. In the future, he encouraged the student body to listen to one another and to reach out to people who may have differing views. “It’s easy to separate ourselves into our individual communities, but at the end of the day we are all one Brandeis. No matter who we are or where we come from, this is our home,” he said. Finkel traditionally ended every Senate meeting with a fake quote from Confucius, ending them with humor and puns. As an homage, Finkel closed his State of the Union speech with a real quote from Confucius — “The more a man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and world at large.”
Finkel and Brown then gave out the Senate awards and superlative certificates, an annual tradition at the State of the Union. Committee of the Year went to the Dining Committee, which under Chair Leigh Salomon ’19 had frequent meetings with Sodexo to ensure higher food quality, Finkel said. The Senate Legislator of the Year was Village Quad and 567 Senator Jake Rong ’21, who as chair of the Rules Committee passed 400 percent more bylaws than last year. The Senator of the Year award went to Class of 2022 Senator Nancy Zhai. The superlatives included “Most Opinionated” for Busé, “Most Likely to Ironically Take Over the World” for Dinlenc and the “Cleanliness Award” for incoming Student Union President Simran Tatuskar ’21.
In the penultimate part of the event, Brown gave her speech to the Union. Though the year was “a roller coaster,” she said, the Union still had many accomplishments. This year, she said, the Union funded the Branda app, and introduced Presence and the commuter rail subsidy, among other projects. Union members also met frequently with administrators to bring concerns about campus issues like accessibility, and brought the MyDeis Facebook groups back under the control of the Office of Communications.
Although the Union has not “always made the right choices,” Brown said, it has used the experience to “learn and … grow from ... mistakes.” Brown concluded her speech by saying, “If I had to summarize this past year’s Student Union, I would say, goal-oriented, driven and persevering. I am proud of the work that the 2018–2019 Student Union has accomplished.”
Brown and Finkel gave way for the transition to next year’s Union leadership — Brown inducted Tatuskar and Finkel inducted incoming Student Union Vice President Guillermo Caballero ’20. Brown then issued the Oath of Office to next year’s Senators.
Tatuskar gave a brief speech thanking her Union mentors for preparing her to assume the presidency. Caballero did not give a speech.
—Editor’s Note: Nancy Zhai ’22 and Jake Rong ’21 are staff members of the Justice.