SGA hosts virtual Meet-the-Candidates Night for upcoming elections

Courtesy photo

The Student Government Association hosted a virtual event to introduce their Executive Board Candidates for the 2022-2023 school year on Wednesday, March 16. Each group of candidates had 30 minutes to give their speeches and to answer questions from the audience. 

Rafael Garza, Lauren Hull

Juniors Hull and Garza have lived in several different campus communities and have experience with the inner workings of the university. The pair has worked hands-on by creating petitions, surveys and legislation that address a wide range of student concerns on campus. These issues include campus dining, academic well-being, parking accessibility and student employment rights. 

Their work has led to the passing of several previous legislation such as the changing Nighttime check-in policy and a gender-inclusive housing act. Garza said communication with organizations like the Resident Housing Association was necessary to address student concerns. 

They said they are working with Campus Dining to add Grab-and-Go food options for students in the South and Towers communities and hope to further improve dining options on campus.

“This is why Lauren and I are running,” Garza said. “Because we understand that there are many problems at this institution.”

Their goal for the future of SGA emphasizes transparency and accountability when it comes to publishing legislation and communication with the student body. Their presidency would include a weekly newsletter to inform the campus community about current work by the SGA House and Senate to improve the university.

If elected, Garza and Hull also want to increase the accessibility of the Student Budget Allocation Committee (SBAC) fund and add a student employee liaison as a position on the Executive Board. 

“What we really need is a student government who is going to show up and show out for the students and for the issues that they care about,” Hull said. “That is what (Rafael) and I have been doing all year, and that's what we intend to continue to do.” 

Hull concluded that they will be able to further achieve their goals by advancing from their senator positions to the roles of President and Vice President. 

Hull founded Students Demand Action. She is also a campus ambassador and part of the Honors Program. Garza has experience as a campus dining employee and has lived in the east, north, south and Northwest communities during his three years at CMU.

Taylor Idema, Natalie Brant and Mary Demirkol

The Idema, Brant, Demirkol campaign emphasizes accessibility, inclusivity and progress.  

To increase accessibility, the group wants to digitize SGA files on the CMU website. Idema said that as president, she would also be committed to sending out a weekly newsletter to the student body for SGA updates.

“This type of transparency would allow for all students to recognize what is happening with the legislation after its passed to SGA, and it would also just allow for pressure to be applied to the administration to actually take that legislation into consideration,” Idema said. 

Idema, Brant and Demirkol also want to create a cabinet position within SGA for a Student Disability Services liaison. 

“This is a very big population that we're currently missing out on,” Idema said. “So we believe that the addition of this cabinet position would be a step in the right direction.”

With their campaign, they hope to increase inclusivity through SGA. Actions they want to take include adding a lounge to act as a common space for students with disabilities and starting a center for women's resources. 

Demirkol said she has found it hard for international students to receive employment at CMU outside of physical jobs like campus dining. The trio also wants to work to provide more leadership and employment opportunities for international students. 

“Unfortunately, international students cannot work off-campus as it is illegal,” Demirkol said. “If we can't easily find jobs on campus, how are we supposed to financially support ourselves?”

Other initiatives they intend to pursue include lowering the prices of parking passes, increasing professor accountability and streamlining the process of SBAC funding for Registered Student Organizations (RSOs). Their long-term goals also include decreasing housing and tuition prices.

The trio said they also want to work hands-on with student resources so that SGA can advocate for itself. 

“There are other ways to go about creating progress on campus without legislation because as we've mentioned before, it doesn't always work,” Brant said. 

Idema is a junior double majoring in Political Science and Integrated Public Relations. She is the current student body treasurer for SGA, co-chair for the SBAC committee, Governmental Affairs Committee Chair and the Senator for the College of the Arts and Media. She also grew up in Mount Pleasant. 

Brant is a sophomore studying international relations and is the current SGA Executive Secretary and Parliamentarian. Demirkol is a senior International Student from Istanbul, Turkey and studies Elementary Education. She is currently the President of the International Student Organization.

Nolan Kamoo and Stephanie Venn

The third and final speech was presented by Nolan Kamoo and Stephanie Venn. The candidates are focusing on the “Three I’s” of Inclusion, Interaction and Innovation during their campaign. They said the student bodies of CMU and SGA are diverse, but not necessarily inclusive. 

“Nolan made a really, really great quote,” Venn said. “‘Not everyone has the platform to fight for themselves, but everyone deserves to be fought for.” 

If elected, Kamoo and Venn want to reach out to RSO’s and underrepresented groups on campus to connect them with one each other. They have the idea of creating a "campus roundtable" where SGA leaders can collaborate with leaders from other organizations. 

"That way, we're showing that SGA is not an isolated entity - that we are connected," Venn said. "We are deeply committed to be involved and being there and supporting each and every one of the students on campus."

The candidates also introduced the idea of an “advocacy night” where social change groups, like Students Demand Action, can table for their organizations at a promotional event similar to Mainstage. 

More collaborative efforts include reinstating the President's Leadership Initiative, which is an all-day conference where Presidents and Vice Presidents of organizations across campus can network and collaborate. 

"Not only will this help us network across campus," Kamoo said. "It also builds everyone's leadership abilities and it shows that it's not just about SGA. It's about other organizations and what they're accomplishing as well."

Venn also mentioned increasing social media presence and adding an external website for SGA, where they can share their news with the community. 

“Having this fun, engaging, interactive, sort of news channel would be really nice to have, especially if it's on a weekly basis,” she said. “It could go from weekly updates to fireside chats with the President or the Vice President.”

The pair also proposed the idea of an end-of-year SGA ceremony to share their yearly accomplishments and discuss their goals for the future. 

SBAC is also an issue that the candidates want to address.

"We believe that we should have a bigger budget, and it should be easily accessible for every single RSO," Venn said.  

They also want to create a separate committee responsible for following up on SGA legislation. 

“It's been heard time and time again that legislation is not as effective as students wish it to be,” Venn said. “I think having this legislation follow-through committee will be very, very helpful in increasing the success of our legislation.”

Kamoo has served as an SGA senate leader for two years and Venn is the current Speaker of the House.