c/o Wesleyan Student Assembly

c/o Wesleyan Student Assembly

The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) held a town hall on Wednesday, April 28 for candidates in this year’s WSA Presidential and Vice Presidential election to introduce themselves and answer student questions. The town hall was moderated by WSA Chief of Staff Isha Jha ’23. Students can vote in this election via WesNest until Friday, April 30 at 11:59 p.m.

As the only candidates for President and Vice President respectively, Chair of the Student Life Committee (SLC) Anna Nguyen ’22 and Chair of the Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC) Ariana Baez ’22 began the town hall by stating some of their goals.

Nguyen described her experience as an international student and WSA senator. She spoke about how many of her goals stem from her time as SLC Chair, a role in which she was and continues to be heavily involved in the University’s adaptation to and planning around COVID-19. 

“I have been the chair of the Student Life Committee for this year… and it has made me think a lot about just the culture of the WSA and how present the WSA is in shaping our student life on campus,” Nguyen said. “I am running to be president because I also want to expand the culture of the WSA so that it’s more present and accessible to student groups, especially marginalized groups.”

Baez expressed similar goals to Nguyen in that she wants to continue expanding from her current committee, EIC, to the WSA Leadership Board (LB). 

“I have a lot of passions [for] creating a new dialogue and reputation for the WSA as being one that is very student-facing and accessible to the concerns, questions, and any feedback that the student body has and particularly marginalized communities,” Baez said.

Jha then asked the senators what they would do to improve workers’ rights on campus. Nguyen explained that she wants to make sure to include student workers in addition to the professional staff on campus in these discussions and create a working relationship between the WSA and the United Student/Labor Action Coalition (USLAC).

“I, myself, work a lot. I work at Olin. I also work for ResLife, and I used to also work for the human resources office on campus,” Nguyen said. “So, I’m very much aware of all the resources that I have, but I know that for all of my peers, that is not the case. So, this is why I worked with my committee members and a lot of other committee members on the WSA as well to create the student employment advisory committee that we will hopefully institutionalize starting next semester. That will be a collaboration with the Gordon Career Center, but also HR [Human Resources], to make sure that students and workers’ voices are also heard on campus.”

Baez added that, as WesWell’s proposed no smoking policy could potentially be implemented next year, she wants to work with WesWell to discuss how this new legislation could impact staff on campus, such as those working for Bon Appetit.

“A policy that has affected their quality of work life or that might affect their quality of work and life is the no smoke smoking policy, so I would like to, throughout the summer, work with [Alcohol and Other Drug Specialist] September Johnson in order to get more feedback from the student body, but also our contracted workers and our faculty, and work with WesWell in order to get substantial feedback from the community,” Baez said. “Because it will change the culture of our community, but also the lives of our workers.”

The next question posed was how the candidates plan to use their past experience to innovate in their new positions. Nguyen responded by saying that as President, she hopes to institutionalize resources and training to better prepare WSA senators to handle student issues, including Title IX and Community Standards Board (CSB) cases.

Baez said that continuing to serve on the LB of the WSA next semester would allow her to continue the work she began on EIC on a broader scale to effect more change.

“Equity and inclusion work really pertains to every aspect of our student life,” Baez said. “Executive board support within the leadership of the WSA to kind of facilitate those connections and divide the work between committees evenly would be helpful to execute projects more efficiently and effectively.” 

The next question that Jha presented to the candidates was how they plan to navigate situations in which student needs are at odds with University policy or the administration. Nguyen began by expressing that she addresses any situation involving the administration by hearing student concerns and then going to the appropriate administrators to make sure she actually understands the policies in question and how to effectively go about challenging them.

“As student Senator and a student rep, you have to make sure that you are representing all student groups on campus as much as you can,” Nguyen said. “So understanding why this policy came into place in the first place. And then also listening to the student feedback on their side, and then figuring out that if it’s outdated, and you need to update it, then connecting them to the right people.” 

Baez added that the relationships she has created with the administration this year on the WSA have made handling situations like this more effective. 

“Both Anna and I have created very good networking connections with respective administrators across the University,” Baez said. “So, oftentimes when there is a clash between something that a student wants and the set policies that are in place or maybe bureaucratic policies above the University on the federal level, administrators are very willing to talk through what policies are put in place, why they’re in place, and work together with us to perhaps provide supplementary solutions and something that we can do.”

Jha then posed the question of how the candidates plan to expand student employment. Nguyen answered this question by outlining her plans for the student employment advisory committee and her desire to get student feedback about employment opportunities on campus. 

“I think one of the biggest things is that right now we don’t have a centralized system to create work-study employment. It very much depends on different departments on campus,” Nguyen said. “So departments that usually employ a lot of people, like Olin Library, have always been there, but we haven’t explored a lot of different other departments, especially in academic affairs as well. So that was why the Student Employment Advisory Committee proposal came into what it is right now, so that we can look at the institution from a bigger picture position, and then seeing where opportunities for student employment are still existing and we haven’t explored them yet. So, I think that would be a really good first step.”

Jha then asked Nguyen about the Student Relief Fund. The SRF would serve as an alternative to the University’s Emergency Fund, a non-WSA fund. The SRF will replace the emergency use of SBC funding on the WSA, since SBC funds typically cannot be used for students’ personal needs. The fund will exist as an opt-out fee, similar to the Green Fund. 

“Last spring, when COVID happened and everyone was asked to leave campus, a lot of emergency needs emerged from all kinds of students, not just first-gen, low-income students, but also students whose financial situation changed dramatically because of COVID,” Nguyen said. “So, the WSA did something that we never did before—we used the money that we have left from [the] Student Activities Fund to fund any needs of students, including groceries, but also medication, anything that was related to COVID-19, but that was not something that we could do after the spring semester because that was an emergency situation.…With the student relief fund, it’s directly created to support those students’ specific needs.”

Jha then asked how Baez and Nguyen plan to make student government more transparent and accessible since both named this as a goal in their campaign statements.

Baez responded by explaining how she hopes to revitalize the Wesleyan Student Assembly Publicity Committee (WSAP) to update students on the progress and intentions of different projects and resolutions going through the WSA.

“I think it might be better to utilize the WSAP committee…so that the community could be constantly updated on the work that we’re doing, and it’s not this foreign entity that does work on its own and is very removed from the student body,” Baez said. “When students are constantly seeing these updates within their social media, they might feel more comfortable and more knowledgeable about the work that WSA is doing, and come to open forum one day.”

Nguyen added that as an international student herself, she hopes to break down barriers for other international students potentially interested in joining the WSA and continue working with student groups on campus to be proactive about meeting student needs. 

The final question asked the candidates what they have struggled with this semester and how they have overcome their challenges. Nguyen began by sharing that she has not been home to Vietnam in three years, but that this has inspired her to become more involved in the Wesleyan community, which she now views as a second home.

“It’s definitely something really difficult to be in a space and work for something that you believe in while at the same time, trying to overcome that personal yearning for family back home,” Nguyen said. “So my way of dealing with it is if I can’t help with my family that are thousands of miles away, then I will try to make this home better. That’s why I decided to involve myself in WSA in the first place.”

Baez concluded the discussion by expressing the difficulty of maintaining balance while studying remotely and how she has managed this by centering her focus around the projects that she is passionate about.

“I’m not someone who slacks off or stops scheduling meetings, but instead I try to assert myself in things that bring me happiness,” Baez said. “That’s why oftentimes if I have to choose between WSA work and my schoolwork, I probably will choose WSA work because the work that I do brings me joy. And I know that the things that I implement within this campus and our community can make a difference for people.”

Above all else, both Nguyen and Baez emphasized their desire throughout the town hall to make the WSA a more accessible and representative organization on campus. 

“Seeing two young, awesome women of color running this assembly might show other students within marginalized backgrounds that the WSA is a place for them,” Baez said.


Hallie Sternberg can be reached at hsternberg@wesleyan.edu or on Twitter @halsternberg.

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