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Fall 2020 SGA Candidates Forum

On Monday night, candidates for Barnard’s Student Government Association convened for the Candidates Forum, to discuss policies and answer questions.

It’s election season all over the place! SGA hopefuls have been campaigning hard. Voting ends this Friday, September 25th, at 12 pm EDT. You can view each candidate’s platform and their informational materials on myBarnard, which is also where voting will take place.

Last spring, SGA held elections for its 2020-2021 Executive Board. This fall, candidates are running for spots on the SGA Representative Council.

Below is a full list of the vacant positions and the candidates running for these positions. In bold are the contested positions. This article focuses on the remarks made by candidates running for contested positions; however, we encourage you to log on to myBarnard to learn more about all candidates.

  • Representative for Academic Affairs: Bex Allen
  • Representative for Inclusive Initiatives: Parker Watts
  • Representative for Campus Affairs: Vacant
  • Representative for Health Services: Carmela Casaburi
  • Representative for Food and Dining Services: Vacant
  • Representative for Arts and Culture: Vacant
  • Representative for Seven Sisters Relations: Vacant
  • Representative for Sustainable Initiatives: Anindita Das, Rachel Elkis
  • Representative for Student Development: Krystal Zhou
  • Senior Class President: Norah Hassan
  • Senior Class Vice President: Phoenix (Hongjie) Chen
  • Junior Class President: Audrey Pettit
  • Junior Class Vice President: Kennedy Yeager
  • Sophomore Class President: Myesha Choudhury
  • Sophomore Class Vice President: Carina Layfield
  • First-Year Class President: Skyler Evans, Whitney Deng, Avalon Fenster, Audrey Mcneal, Francesca Fierro
  • First-Year Class Vice President: Jackie Balestrieri, Grace McCormick, Emma Ziessler, Mia Kuromaru, Serena Bane, Aaren Evans, Talia Levin, Menasha Thomas, Yi (Bonny) Quan

The forum was facilitated by Flosha Liyana BC ‘21, Vice President for Campus Life and Chelsea Sinclair BC ‘21 Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees, and Chair of Elections Commissions.  Chelsea opened the evening with brief remarks, highlighting the Candidates Forum as a unique opportunity to learn about each candidate’s goals and personality; to hear their tangible ideas and not just buzzwords. She commended the dedication and passion required to run for office during this time and expressed excitement about what the candidates might bring to the SGA Rep Council.

Each candidate had three minutes to speak about their platform. The candidates running for contested positions went first: after all the candidates running for a given position spoke, the facilitators took two questions from the audience. Then, the candidates running for uncontested positions spoke. No audience questions were allowed for these candidates; however, audience members were given the email addresses of the candidates and were encouraged to email them with questions.

Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees: Julia Hyman BC ‘22 (she/her/hers) called upon her myriad experiences at Barnard: as a sophomore transfer, a member of the Sustainability Committee for SGA, a co-concert chair of Bacchanal, and an NSOP Crew Captain and OL. She cited the leadership capabilities and organizational skills these experiences gave her and want all students to be able to voice their issues to the Board of Trustees. Mo Leed BC ‘22 previously served on the SGA Rep Council as the Representative for Seven Sisters Relations and on the SGA Policy Committee. On-campus, they are also a BSAR and a Speaking Fellow, and they said that as a result, they speak their mind. They appreciated the opportunity in these roles to talk with administrators. They seek to expand the scope of issues that the Board examines –– for example, providing institutional support to non-binary Barnard students.

Chelsea asked Julia and Mo what new perspective they would bring to the Board, and what they would like to accomplish. Julia cited the lack of representation of transfer students, both on SGA and on campus in general, and the difficulties they face in arranging leaves of absences, receiving advising, and having past academic courses approved. She also expressed a desire to make Barnard more sustainable, in particular by working with the dining halls. Mo stated that many of the trustees are Barnard alums, or have other historical connections to the college. As such, they may have a more narrow understanding of a women’s college. As a non-binary student, Mo brought up their personal difficulty of grappling with the rhetoric of a “women’s college”, and mentioned themselves as one example of the many different types of students that attend Barnard.

Representative for Sustainability: Anandita Das BC ‘21 is an Environment and Sustainability major, and specifically highlighted her experience as a woman of color in this department, particularly in her desire to hold critical conversations about environmental justice. She planned to provide students with platforms to provide their input on sustainable practices, specifically including low-income students who might not have the financial means to practice sustainable habits. She previously worked with the SGA Sustainability initiative. Rachel Elkis BC ‘22 is the incumbent in this role, and previously she has worked alongside the faculty at the Office of Sustainability. She is dedicated to improving the accessibility and affordability of resources, as she stated her belief that sustainability is a matter of equity. She planned to hold virtual conversations with the community in order to accomplish the aforementioned goals and to further educate and converse with students on social media. She also will advocate for more sustainable dining options on campus, among other options.

Solace Mensah-Narh, VP for Equity, asked the candidates how they would center racial justice in their sustainability efforts. Rachel brought up the fact that the Harlem community faces an unequal burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, as compared to Barnard and Columbia. She proposed that SGA supports local Harlem justice organizations with some of the SGA funding that is currently going unused. Anandita cited her work with We Act, a Harlem group that advocates for health justice in New York City, focusing on health problems stemming from environmental racism. She said that that is not enough to just create a sustainable Barnard campus when the rest of the community has suffered so much. 

Avalon Fenster BC ‘24, a candidate for First-Year Class President, asked Anandita and Rachel what differentiates them from each other in terms of motivation and perspective. Anandita brought up her frequent  Environmental Science class discussions about how to make residential life, or campus dining more sustainable. She was dismayed that these conversations stayed in the classroom, and expressed a desire to communicate them to the SGA Rep Council and the Barnard community. Rachel mentioned the issues she had seen in this role last year, where there was a lack of communication between the Office of Sustainability, the students, and the faculty. She said that she would implement new initiatives to facilitate communication on social media, provide education resources, and create student petitions to the administration.

First-Year Class President: Whitney Deng BC ‘24 shared her passion to serve the community and promised to organize themed Zoom events, with the other undergraduate schools of Columbia, to share student’s culture, introduce their pets, and bond as a community. Whitney also planned to create a mutual aid fund for Barnard students who are severely impacted by COVID-19.  She previously co-founded the first student-run hackathon at her high school and ran graduation functions for her class this spring. Avalon Fenster BC ‘24 expressed her ideals of equity, transparency, and community. Her plans included the creation of safe spaces in coordination with the Furman Counseling Center for marginalized students. She also planned to host monthly first-year town halls and implement Millie’s First Year Fund to support student initiatives. In the past, Avalon has organized for March for Our Lives. Audrey Mcneal BC ‘24 expressed the need to know her classmates beyond the one-dimensional nature of Zoom and advocated for bonding events that do not rely on extended screen time. She planned to lead the first virtual SGA affairs committee, which will provide first-years with a forum to improve their online learning experience. Francesca Fierro BC ‘24 sought to build community in her class by creating Millie’s Meets for socially-distant meetups, Pass the Torch penpals, and a class Instagram account to highlight her classmates’ creative endeavors. She also planned to support FGLI students with laptop loans and MetroCards. Skyler Evans BC ‘24 wanted to create a secondhand free bookstore for students that identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ, or FGLI; Big Bear Little Bear, a peer mentoring program, and crash courses about how to succeed in college. As for community bonding, she promised to host Just Dance formals, and dining hall-inspired cookouts. 

Menasha Thomas BC ‘24, a candidate for the First-Year Class Vice President, stated that a lot of the candidates promised to center marginalized groups, and further asked how they planned to do this. Whitney cited her plan for cultural events, and that the opportunity for students to learn about each others’ backgrounds is critical for reducing racism. Avalon planned to relinquish control to other groups or individuals that have already been fighting for justice on campus. Audrey expressed her plan for first-years to work directly with local justice groups, with the Columbia Urban Experience Program. Francesca highlighted the importance of holding the president and vice president, and the college administration accountable, reminding the audience that they pay to be here and that holds power. Skyler planned to create more free resources, and fundraise money to give to students in need. 

First-Year Class Vice President: Jackie Balestrieri BC ‘24 planned to organize fundraising for organizations selected by the first-year class, to hold voter registration events, and to create a weekly first-year-specific newsletter to which students can submit questions. Grace McCormick BC ‘24 stated that she would advocate for mental health, and hold open office hours throughout the week. She also discussed her plan for Bear Shares, an event for celebrating and learning about a certain community, such as the LGBTQ community. Emma Ziessler BC ‘24 brought up her plans for virtual trivia nights, book clubs, bakeoffs, and study groups. She also planned to make wellness resources more readily available, and include wellness tips in a weekly first-year newsletter. Serena Bane BC ‘24 pledged to prioritize the health of the community during this time by facilitating events with Well Woman and Furman Counseling Center. She also detailed social events and class contact sheets for building connections. Menasha Thomas BC ‘24 wanted to create a collaborative Spotify playlist called “Quarantunes” and host Barnard Bakes virtual baking parties. She also planned for a site like CULPA, but specific to FGLI students and students who are BIPOC. Aaren Evans BC ‘24 stressed the importance of adhering to the health and safety compact. She also shared plans for connecting with other first-years, through such events as movie nights or cooking parties. Talia Levin BC ‘24 wanted to create specific programming for certain interest groups, or for students in the same geographical are. Additionally, she introduced the Virtual Roommate Program, which would allow students to form a close connection with one of their classmates. Bonny Quan BC ‘24 said that she would send out a weekly email with all the college activities happening that week and that she would create a one-on-one meetup program for students to safely get to know each other in person.

Sabrina McFarland BC ‘23 asked that if the candidates wanted to center the voices of BIPOC, why don’t they give these platforms to those people. Jackie, if elected, planned to amplify BIPOC voices. Grace voiced support for the diverse selection of candidates running and acknowledged that she is not a member of the BIPOC community, she wants to help. Emma, regardless of being elected, wants to make sure students are included and that their voices are heard. Serena stated that she will do the best she can to amplify the voices of the BIPOC, LGBTQ, and FGLI communities, in order to have as many people represented as possible. Aaren underscored the importance of a truly diverse student body, where all students can participate fully. Talia planned to hold events centered around the BIPOC community and to listen to the opinions of the student body. Menasha brought up the issues of performativity and accountability, asking what tangible actions are produced by initiatives like the Big Problems class, and planned to provide institutional support for Black and indigenous students. Bonny echoed the statements of Aaren about the importance of racial diversity and added her plan to work with students who have had direct experiences with racism at Barnard. 

All of the Rep Council candidates presented strong platforms that they defended well, and Bwog wishes the candidates the best of luck as election results come out!

Our Bold Beautiful home, via Bwog Archives

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