By Rina Torchinsky
Polls for the Student Government Association open Monday in the most contested election the university has seen in years, with four presidential candidates on the ballot.
The parties, Empower Maryland, Unite UMD, YOU and Chicken Broth For Your Soul, are all working to change the dynamics among the student body, administration and the SGA.
Empower Maryland is the largest ticket, with 38 candidates—97% of which have never run for an elected position on SGA, said presidential hopeful and SGA member Ireland Lesley.
“We have those new ideas and we also have those people who know how to work with the administration but also are willing to change the system,” the junior government and politics major said.
The party’s platform emphasizes accountability and encourages student action, but Lesley said that one of her top priorities is sexual misconduct prevention.
“Any form of assault or harassment is very much something that could prevent someone from feeling safe going to class or from feeling safe in the dorms,” Lesley said. “I think that Maryland needs to adopt its own type of definition that is stricter than a federal one, mandating that UMD is going to investigate off-campus allegations.”
The Help Center, which offers peer counseling and crisis intervention services, endorsed Empower Maryland last Monday, citing the party’s commitment to mental wellness. The party advocates for excused mental health-related absences.
“I think there are a lot of students here who deal with depression, anxiety and just overall mental health issues, but sometimes they aren’t diagnosed,” Lesley said. “I think that it’s really important that students can feel that they can take that day off.”
The YOU Ticket comprises 24 candidates — 21 of which are new to SGA. Presidential candidate Andrew String, a sophomore government and politics and economics double major, is an SGA member who hopes to bring new voices to office.
“We realize that SGA is currently an elitist group, filled with those who are in SGA, run SGA, and it doesn’t change,” String said. “It’s in this endless cycle.”
If elected, he said he would start by opening cabinet applications to all students to combat boundaries between students and SGA.
To promote outreach, String plans to introduce golf cart rides to class, which seek to eliminate the boundaries that might exist between SGA members and the student body. This, along with a push for local businesses to accept Terrapin Express and town hall-style SGA roasts, contribute to String’s focus on “[defining] your UMD experience.”
Julia Novick, an English and public health science double major, is running for Vice President of Student Affairs for YOU, with an emphasis on sexual misconduct prevention. Novick said she is already working to make sexual assault forensic exams available on campus.
“After someone is assaulted, they are in a very vulnerable position,” Novick said. “It’s very intimidating to have the exam done in the first place, then to go to your health center and they tell you,‘oh, if you want to have this done, you have to go to P.G. county hospital.’ That’s like another drive away.”
Unite UMD’s 16-person party is headed by presidential candidate and junior community health major Taylor Green. The party presents a platform that pushes for transparency, diversity and representation.
“We’re trying to increase diversity in the student government to make the SGA reflect more of Maryland’s identity,” said Patrick Hutson, vice president of academic affairs candidate.
The platform’s financial plan includes increased funding for the Nyumburu Cultural Center and support for the establishment of a Latinx Cultural Center.
The “empowerment through funding” area of the platform also advocates for accessible resources and a wider range of items covered by SGA funding.
“Everyone is in a club or an organization on campus but a lot of people don’t know the SGA funding process which is a major issue and something we’re trying to fix,” said Hutson, a junior government and politics major.
Hutson said that he hopes to increase transparency in the SGA’s operations, because many students are unaware of what goes on in SGA.
“I think it takes a lot of effort to really raise awareness, get out there, make sure that the people you’re serving know what you’re doing,” he said.
Chicken Broth For Your Soul
Barath Srinivasan, a junior computer science major, is running with a focus on university policy changes that can make student life easier.
Chicken Broth For Your Soul’s platform advocates for the establishment of a private on-campus clinic that accepts all student health insurance plans, in an effort to improve healthcare quality.
Srinivasan’s team looked to other universities for inspiration about policy changes. Following other universities’ practices, he said he wants to push for free printing quota systems, which would allow students a set number of free pages.
“You can’t find somewhere in the budget to get free printing for people?” Srinivasan said. “I feel like we can find it in the budget, it’s just people aren’t putting the effort into it.”
Another way that he hopes to alleviate everyday concerns is the implementation of a DOTS forgiveness program, because he said he recognizes student complaints about parking tickets.
“We get it,” Srinivasan said. “People have bad days and we’re on your side.”