Eight first-year students—Molly Connolly-Ungar, Sam Hilton, Felice Li, Keren Mikanda, Tanvi Naville, Will Ruden-Sella, Ben Shifrel, and Claire Stokes—were elected as new senators to the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) for the fall semester. WSA Chief of Staff and Election Coordinator Isha Jha ’23 announced the results in an all-campus email on Saturday, Sept. 18.
Several of the new senators were elected to the WSA with prior experience in student government. Hilton, for instance, described his experience as junior and senior class president in high school as being one of his primary motivations for running for WSA. He hopes his past experience can help him in representing his classmates in the WSA.
“I know that even though a lot of people think [the WSA] can’t make a real difference, they actually can,” Hilton said. “They can be the best way for students to get their messages across to the administration of what they want changed and what they want fixed and improved. Being a part of that and being able to represent my peers to the administration…was what really inspired me to be on the WSA.”
Similarly, Shifrel was involved in student government throughout high school and explained that it was something he wanted to continue being a part of.
“I felt I made a real difference in my high school, and I felt that there were some changes that the students here deserve that need to be made, and I wanted to help make the [University] better,” Shifrel said.
For new senators like Stokes who were not involved in student government before coming to Wesleyan, the WSA offers a chance to gain new leadership experience. Stokes was active in politics outside of school, volunteering for Sen. Bernie Sanders and serving on Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (NY-12) Congressional Youth Cabinet, but she decided to run for the WSA to try enacting change at the student level.
“I regretted not getting more into student council in high school,” Stokes said. “When I saw [the] WSA here, I thought it would be a really good opportunity to get involved this time around.”
For Connolly-Ungar, who was also not a part of her high school’s student council, the WSA offered a similar chance to become involved with student government for the first time.
“I thought initially about my high school student council, which I wasn’t on, and I remember how frustrating it could be to have [the student government] not feel connected to the student body and feel like there was more that they could be doing that they weren’t doing,” Connolly-Ungar said. “I always feel like when there’s something that I want to criticize, I should at least try to be part of it, to see if I can change it from the inside. I wanted to run to deal with all the little problems that everyone has to deal with that are so difficult that [the WSA] could really change quickly…like the bees outside of Usdan and the constant trash pile-up.”
The new senators are passionate about working towards specific goals to improve the University. For example, Li emphasized their desire to reform WesStation by giving students the option to have their preferred name on package stickers. Li also wants to include non-binary student statistics on the University’s Class Profiles.
“I want to make non-binary students feel visible,” Li said. “I want to be the first person to change this and make this campus more inclusive for everyone here.”
Hilton stated that one of his primary goals is to loosen the University’s COVID-19 policies while still maintaining the safety needed for the University to operate during the pandemic.
“[The policy] should reflect, realistically, what’s going to happen, because realistically not every student is going to have their mask on when they visit their best friend’s room, and not every student is going to remember to get tested twice a week,” Hilton said. “Helping to establish COVID guidelines that are going to be both safe and realistic and not seem like they’re out of proportion and no one’s going to follow them.”
Stokes, who joined the WSA Academic Affairs Committee (AAC), is already thinking about potential projects to work on with the rest of the committee.
“I want to work with the EIC, the Equity & Inclusion Committee, I think that there’s a great potential for overlap there between the [AAC and EIC],” Stokes said. “And I’ve heard about some cool projects about like Gen[eral] Ed[ucation] requirements and changing that to make them more inclusive and I’m also…working on next year’s first-year matters assignment, so I wanna make that more…interesting and more engaging than just reading and answering questions, which I think high schoolers have done so many times.”
The new senators attended their first WSA General Assembly meeting on Sunday, Sept. 19. Connolly-Ungar explained that it was exciting to enter the new environment of the WSA and to see who she would be working with.
“It was so exciting to see the sheer number of topics that the student assembly can address,” Connolly-Ungar said. “It was really fantastic…to see the group of the assembly gathered there and how excited everyone was to be there and to work for change at Wesleyan and to make things better, hopefully.”
Stokes expressed similar enthusiasm about working with her fellow class of 2025 senators.
“I know that the other [first years] that just got elected are super great and I’m friends with them all and I think that we’re all really, really excited and passionate, and there are concrete things that we wanna change, so I have a lot of hope for [the class of] 2025’s specific engagement in [the] WSA,” Stokes said.
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