The President and Vice President of Student Union discuss this year’s goals
The Union is planning initiatives to improve its reputation, connect with students more, and improve school spirit.
On Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, the Justice held interviews with Vice President Erica Hwang ’25 and President Noah Risley ’24, respectively, to outline the Student Union’s goals for this year.
Before becoming Student Union president, Risley held several other roles in the Union. As a first-year, they were a Class of 2024 senator and the chair of the Social Justice and Diversity committee. In their sophomore and junior years, they were the director of communications and a chief justice, respectively. As the president, they will appoint and oversee the Executive Board, represent the Student Union when interacting with the administration, and set policy. Risley is proud of the Student Union’s diversity this year. “To my knowledge, I am the first nonbinary trans person to be [Union] president,” Risley said. “In a national moment of anti-trans attitudes, it’s really humbling to be in charge of a large organization as a trans person.”
Hwang also previously held roles in the Union as the Class of 2025 senator and chair of the Health and Safety Committee last year. As the vice president, she is the president of the Senate and serves on the Executive Board.
Every three years, the Student Union conducts a review of its constitution and bylaws. After the review, the student body votes on, and either approves or rejects, new changes in the spring. Risley understands that students may be fatigued with so many Student Union elections and wants to reduce it to three elections per year; one in the fall and two in the spring. The Constitution states that if there is a vacancy, an election must be held within 10 days and Risley intends to change this rule.
Moreover, Risley referenced growing domestic movements around caste discrimination — they want to include caste as a category in anti-discrimination clauses. They are also working on revising the constitution for the Brandeis Sustainability Fund so money is more easily distributed to students. While current students may not feel an immediate impact from the amendments, the Student Union hopes that future classes will feel its effects.
An overarching goal for the Student Union is to offer more support to clubs. The Union created a new position on the Executive Board called the director of club support that will assist the club support Senate committee and the committee’s chair. The new position allows the Student Union to collaborate more with clubs and answer their needs. Moreover, the Events Senate Committee — previously called the Services and Outreach Senate Committee — can help clubs promote their events more by creating a calendar to avoid double booking and increase event turnout.
Risley highlighted the importance of devoting more time to listening to clubs’ concerns. They attended the Student Leaders Round Table at the Gender and Sexuality Center and talked about what the Student Union does and collaboration opportunities with women-led and LGBTQ+ clubs. They discovered that clubs were confused about the club funding process, so they want to set up a town hall in the GSC where the Allocations Board co-chairs will answer funding questions. Julián Cancino, the ddirector of the GSC, told Risley that this was the first time a Student Union president came to talk to students at the GSC in his tenure. Risley also wants to respond to the Intercultural Center’s concerns, as well as meet with LeManuel “Lee” Bitsóí, the vvice ppresident of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Another main goal for the Student Union is to strengthen school spirit. Some potential ideas included creating more student spaces, funding more Campus Activities Board events, and organizing spirit weeks.
Additionally, the Student Union wishes to improve mental health resources, particularly the Brandeis Counseling Center. They are working to expand the BCC’s online presence by revamping their website, creating an Instagram account, and providing an option for students to book an appointment online as opposed to calling the BCC. Hwang acknowledged that seeking mental health care can be daunting and adding an online option can mitigate those fears.
Risley stated that they want to “bake accessibility into decision making,” and Student Union’s Director of Accessibility David Cahn ’26 has been developing some proposals. For example, future projects include buttons that open doors outside of the Sherman dining hall, more ramps, high visibility stairs, captions for videos, and photos that have the ability to be read by a screen reader. Cahn has also been collaborating with the Disabled Students’ Network to incorporate students’ concerns.
The Student Union formed another new position, the assistant director of sexual health, which supports the director of sexual violence prevention. These two positions along with the director of Health and Wellness will be engaged in conversations with the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center, the Office of Equal Opportunity, and the Student Sexuality Information Service about students’ health and wellness concerns.
In terms of dining, Risley is ready to dive into conversations with the administration about the new meal plans, problems with meal exchanges, and moving kosher dining on Shabbat to Sherman instead of the International Lounge. If students want to discuss providing more meal options, such as halal food, Risley encourages them to send a message to the Student Union.
Risley and Hwang are aware that housing is a vital issue and point out that the inability to force the administration to build more dorms, as well as waiting to see what the situation is like next semester limits their capacity to address the problem. However, the Student Union will continue to act as a liaison between students and relevant administrative departments like the Department of Community Living and the Division of Student Affairs. Moreover, they want to create a survey for off-campus students that would ask students if they plan to live off-campus, what their rent is, if they like their landlord, and more. These statistics do not exist, and the data could provide valuable insights that can influence future housing decisions.
Similarly, the Student Union explains that the new transportation vendor needs to be active for longer to see if recurring problems emerge. Since student drivers were replaced with professional ones, the Student Union also has less say over transportation. However, Risley knows that some people living in the Charles River apartments do not like that the combined route is slower, and they are open to hearing feedback.
Parking reforms are also a priority for the Student Union. They are working with the Office of Parking and Traffic to institute new policies, such as allowing community advisors to park near their dorms.
The University denied funding for the Period Activists at Deis’ Pilot Program, and the Student Union will not fund it either as it is not their job to finance capital investments. They still want to demonstrate that the initiative is effective in the hopes of convincing the administration next year to fund it.
The Student Union also wants to organize a Student Union library or repository with textbooks or implement a textbook dropbox system where students can leave and take a textbook. Textbooks can be expensive, and forming a collection of them can help students save money.
Risley and Hwang are forming more connections with Brandeis Athletics and discussing funding for a refurbishing of Gosman Sports and Convocation Center and additional sports equipment. “We also want student athletes to feel empowered to come to us,” Risley said, whether it be concerns about coaches’ behavior or Title IX violations. According to Risley and Hwang, earning the student body’s trust and respect is essential for maintaining a credible reputation, gaining student feedback and achieving policy objectives. The Student Union intends to improve its public image and address some common critiques this year. One of Risley’s and Hwang’s solutions is to more effectively market the Student Union and inform the community of the work they do. Their new Communications Committee and director of outreach focuses on communicating Student Union news, crafting impactful emails and producing engaging social media posts.
When the Justice asked Hwang why some students mistrust the Student Union, she said, “Government is associated with politics, and politics is messy.” Instead, the Student Union should be viewed as “a community that represents students,” she said. Moreover, “Government just sounds like authority or controlling, and that’s not at all what we are … [Student Union is] a group of lots of passionate students who want to make a difference at this school.”
A common criticism is that the Student Union is ineffective, and Risley recommends that people get involved, attend senate meetings, and contact them if they have ideas for change.
The Student Union wishes to make it easier for students to reach representatives, so they are in the process of revamping the Student Union website. Additionally, the Union wants to better promote office hours with Student Union representatives.
Risley and Hwang anticipate that a lack of student engagement or receptiveness can be an obstacle to achieving their goals. Risley is optimistic but also understands that some people enter Student Union unaware of how large the commitment is, which makes it difficult to retain representatives, as well as ensure they are actively working on projects.
They suggest that the best ways to help Student Union achieve their goals would be to come to Senate Committee Meetings; give feedback so they can communicate that with the administration; trust them and express concerns; and go to club events to support the campus community.
In the interview, Risley hinted that the Student Union has something exciting planned for Oct. 15, and that students should be on the lookout.