Felicia Soderberg ’21 and Chelsea Dixon ’22 were elected as the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) 42nd Assembly president and vice president, respectively, on Saturday, May 2. Dixon ran unopposed for her position, and Soderberg was elected as a write-in candidate. Huzaifa Khan ’22 was originally running unopposed for President until he suspended his campaign May 1 amidst controversy surrounding his conduct as a WSA senator.
WSA president and vice president races have been historically uncompetitive, with the past three WSA presidents elected unopposed and two out of the three past WSA vice presidents elected unopposed. This year marks the first in the past five years that no rising seniors officially ran for either office.
Soderberg received 125 votes as a write-in candidate, and Dixon received 341 votes. In total, 499 votes were cast in the election. Two-hundred forty votes were cast for Khan but did not count because he suspended his campaign.
Last year, 350 students voted in the WSA president and vice president election, with 290 students voting for former WSA President Justin Ratkovic ’20 and 309 students voting for former WSA Vice President Ayana Dudley ’20, the remainder of the votes going to write-in candidates.
Interim Chief-of-Staff and Election Coordinator Pauline Jaffe ’21 offered students the option to void their ballots; however this would cause both their president and vice president votes to be voided. After Khan suspended his campaign, Jaffe reached out to the students who had emailed her to void their ballots and notified them they would no longer need to void their ballot if they wished to keep their vice president vote. Jaffe voided 10 of the 499 ballots, per students’ requests.
This upcoming year, Soderberg and Dixon plan to improve the WSA General Assembly (GA) culture, have senators go through a cultural competency training, increase outreach to new students, and facilitate communication between the student board of trustees representatives and the wider campus community.
Soderberg has served on the WSA since her freshman fall with the exception of this semester, when she was studying abroad. She served as chief-of-staff for three semesters, and she plans to focus on mentoring senators and reaching out to students to relay their concerns to administrators.
“My focus [will] be on supporting senators in the work they want to do on the WSA,” Soderberg wrote in an email to The Argus. “Everyone comes to the WSA with an idea of what being a senator means, but I can say from experience that it can be difficult to turn those ideas into concrete change without help and mentorship. I have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of such mentorship and I believe that the role of President is the best way for me to continue that tradition.”
Soderberg also emphasized her focus on communicating the concerns of first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students and students of color (SOC) to administrators.
“In the upcoming year, I believe that the role of the WSA is going to be centered around fighting to maintain and expand student services amidst austerity measures by the University,” Soderberg wrote. “A large part of this is going to be gathering student input on what are non-negotiable services and fighting cuts to those most necessary for student success at Wesleyan. If we end up online again, I also believe the WSA must continue to fight for academic and economic resources and accommodations for FGLI students during online/remote learning. The impact of class on a student’s ability to learn effectively has been vastly understated thus far. Students who have their own bedrooms or office spaces have very different capacities than students who must share rooms and complete coursework at the kitchen table. It’s incredibly unjust to move to remote-learning and fail to address these differences. I firmly believe that the WSA needs to advocate to Admin for academic policies that reflect this.”
As chief-of-staff, Soderberg led a group of senators through an extensive WSA constitutional review, bringing the WSA’s bylaws up to date with its current practices. She also highlighted her role in guiding the WSA through discussions surrounding the proposed, and later rejected, joint venture campus.
“A moment of pride was my ability to facilitate productive discussions between senators, students, and administrators regarding the formerly proposed China campus,” Soderberg wrote. “Tensions were high, but I was able to lead the WSA conversation in a productive and accessible way. These skills are key for the WSA president, who presides over the Leadership Board and the entire WSA.”
Dixon has sat on the Student Budget Committee (SBC) and Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC) since her freshman fall and served as the EIC chair this year. As vice president, she hopes to amplify the voices of underrepresented communities on the WSA.
“I decided to run for this position because I saw it as an opportunity to elevate the voices of communities that are not traditionally represented on the WSA such as low income students, international students and students of colour,” Dixon wrote in an email to The Argus. “I would like to help transform Wesleyan into a place that acknowledges and addresses the historical biases that hinder students from various backgrounds from being successful. At Wesleyan, sometimes, the administration is far removed from the needs and wants of the students, and I believe the WSA has the power to bring those issues to the forefront and ensure that they are addressed. As Vice President, I believe I [can] contribute to making the WSA a reliable asset for the most vulnerable members of the Wesleyan community.”
“I have worked to make the Student Budget Committee more accessible and transparent to students as well as refined the Appeals Board process to make it easier and more efficient. I, along with the rest of the WSA, chose to donate the remainder of the SBC funds to support FGLI students during the COVID-19 crisis.”
In her candidate statement, she highlighted her intent to focus on supporting SOC and other minority groups on campus.
“Mainly, I want the broader student body to become more invested and involved in the Assembly,” Dixon wrote. “I believe that it is important to increase the transparency of the WSA and ensure the body and its members are held accountable for its actions. In doing so, the relationship between the WSA and the student body would be stronger which would help to ensure that the issues that the WSA discusses and pursues are in the interest of the students in general rather than just the senators on the Assembly. I also would like to build up relationships between activist and identity groups and the WSA. These groups are vital to the success of the community, as they are able to take action in ways that may not be possible through the WSA. Partnerships with these groups will ensure that the WSA can support their endeavours.”
She plans to continue advocating for support for students, broadening this support to staff and Middletown, and increasing student involvement with the WSA.
Jocelyn Maeyama can be reached at email@example.com.