On Saturday, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) announced that Zachary Malter ’13 won the WSA Presidential election for the 2011-2012 academic year with 659 votes. His running mate Meherazade Sumariwalla ’12 was elected Vice President, garnering 703 votes. Presidential Candidates Joe O’Donnell ’13 and Melody Oliphant ’13 received 316 and 227 votes, respectively, and Vice Presidential Candidate Grace Zimmerman ’13 received 381 votes. Write-in candidate Giant Joint raked in 64 votes for President and 27 for Vice President, a significant decrease from last year.
The Argus sat down with Malter and Sumariwalla to discuss their plans for the upcoming year.
The Argus: You said during the WSA Presidential debate that preserving financial aid is your first priority. Is financial aid currently at risk of being cut? How much influence does the WSA have over financial aid policies?
Zachary Malter: Financial aid is one item in the budget, just like academics, co-curricular activities, and athletics. The administration considers how much to devote to financial aid, so they will turn to the WSA’s Budget Priorities Committee and ask what is valuable to students. Both Meherazade and I think the most important thing is financial aid. The Budget Priorities Committee this year played a big role in preventing some hikes to the student contribution that would have hurt a lot of financial aid students. Next year, the administration is going to be even more financially strained, there is going to be even less money. Financial aid could be up for cuts and it is going to be up to the students to say that this isn’t acceptable.
Meherazade Sumariwalla: For us, the priority is really to make sure that the level the administration is contributing of the annual budget to financial aid remains consistent or increases.
ZM: There are a few more nuanced issues related to financial aid, for example, is the University providing an adequate number of jobs? Is the summer experience grant program sufficient in allowing students on financial aid to do unpaid internships? Could there be a better way for international students to return home during their summer at Wesleyan?
A: Another big theme in this race was accessibility. How do you plan to make the WSA more accessible to students?
MS: One thing we talked to students about a lot while campaigning was the idea of a non-WSA member cabinet, which would include any students who are interested, but hopefully particularly student group leaders. It would be for them to meet with Zach and I on a more regular basis, pretty much having office hours with the President and Vice President.
ZM: We also want to look at the website and redesign it so that it’s more accessible, and then really take the WSA as far as it can go with regards to social media, because that’s what students are plugged into.
A: During the debate, you also said that you think it is important for the WSA to sometimes stand up to the administration. Are there any administrative policies that you think the WSA currently needs to take a stance on?
ZM: One is the lack of a sustainability coordinator and I think the school hasn’t shown enough of a commitment to sustainability. We don’t have a full-time staff person, so that’s one thing that raises a concern. A lot of the students surrounding the sorority were concerned about sexism in the social life and the lack of spaces for women on campus, and that’s something I would want to explore. I think the Open Container Policy remains a concern for students, as well as just the question, Is [Public Safety] acting in a way that preserves safety? Are they breaking up parties more aggressively? I think we really need to have a conversation about all these issues and make sure the administration isn’t moving in a more restrictive direction. We have to preserve the things that make Wesleyan special, like the openness and student freedoms that we all came here for.
A: Voter turnout for this election was about 45 percent, approximately 10 percent less than last year. Why do you think that was?
MS: I was actually the Election Coordinator last year so I definitely saw the difference as well. Part of it, I think, is that all the candidates this year, taking off the tone of last year’s campaign, decided to be a little less aggressive in their campaigning. That’s not to say that we didn’t go out and campaign and speak with students and put up posters, I just think that the overall tone of the campaign was a little bit less aggressive. None of the candidates took it upon themselves to text the entire campus. I would definitely say that it had some impact on voter turnout because, while all those means are a bit overly aggressive, they do ultimately get more people to vote and to think about the issues.
ZM: I wonder if it is also a reflection at all of the disillusionment towards the WSA. I know we both think the current outreach to students isn’t ideal. That’s something we really want to improve. We want people to have faith in the WSA and see us a credible body because we can really benefit students.
MS: That said, I would say the votes for Giant Joint were way down this year compared to previous years. Maybe people who were typically more attuned to those trends in voting aren’t the people who really do care about the issues.
A: On a related note, I’ve heard a lot of non-WSA members say that they don’t take the WSA seriously. What is your response to those students?
ZM: I think it’s up to the WSA to make a case that what we’re doing is important, and so it’s really up to us to show students how we’re benefiting them.
MS: There’s been a huge improvement on the response to sexual assault on campus, and there’s a SART intern this year. When it comes to academic affairs, there have been a lot of new certificates passed this year, a lot of talk about different academic programs for the future. Every committee has done different things—the community outreach committee this year has taken on more Wesleyan centric events, like Bandfire and the movie on Foss Hill that will happen later this week. I think every committee has been contributing significantly in some way or another, but it is up to us to showcase to the student body that we do have an impact, and it can be a very powerful one if all students are for it and together.
ZM: I think it’s also about shifting our priorities to the most pressing needs of all students, and that’s something we really emphasized in our campaign. This can’t be a very local body with local concerns. As I said, our priorities need to be the same ones as the students. That’s something we want to shift a little.
A: Both of you won by a pretty big margin. What would you say to your competitors now that the race is over?
MS: I had only one other person running for the position of Vice President and we both play on the Wesleyan Women’s Varsity Squash team together, so we have an old friendship and respect for each other. I don’t think that our race was ever going to get down to petty politics or squabbling. At the end of the day, [Grace Zimmerman ’13] ran her campaign how she wanted to and I completely respect that. She chose not to be aggressive in any way in terms of campaigning, through fliers or posters or anything like that. I would say, perhaps that might have been beneficial to her in the long run. But overall, I have great respect for Grace and I honestly hope she will continue on the WSA, because I see in her tremendous potential to be a future leader of the WSA.
ZM: I was really privileged to be running with two very serious and substantive candidates who really care a lot about Wesleyan. They have already made a great impact on their community, and I hope they continue to do so. I’d love to work with both of them, and they’re two people I respect immensely and can testify to how good they are. It was a pleasure to run with them. At the end of the day, I hope we’re all going to continue to be friends and colleagues in some respect.
A: What are you most looking forward to about next year?
ZM: For me, the key to making change is forging relationships with other students, and building teams with other students—that’s what I really love to do. I love to work with other students for a common goal, to get things done that we can all appreciate and benefit from.
MS: I’m looking forward to [seeing] within the WSA, each committee chair maximizing his or her potential, but also more cross-linking between the committees, and having a more broad focus on student life rather than the narrow focus that each committee has on its topic area.