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Thomas, Onwenu win SA election


By Anita Alem and Drew Keller     2/23/16 9:50pm

Griffin Thomas will assume the position of Student Association president after winning a close election against Joan Liu, while Justin Onwenu emerged as the clear winner in a three-way race for SA external vice president.

Thomas, a junior finishing his term as Lovett College president, won 53 percent of the 1,532 votes cast in the presidential race, which had a 40 percent higher turnout than last year.

“A lot of things happened with campaigning so I wasn’t really sure what the result would be,” Thomas said. “I was a little shocked.”

The number of students voting in the presidential election was almost equaled in the EVP election, which Onwenu, a sophomore and Sid Richardson College senator, won with 54 percent of the vote. Wiess College sophomore Hannah Todd and Hanszen College sophomore Brianna Singh trailed with 27 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Onwenu said he felt the campaign season had been an incredibly long process.

“I was happy and excited, but relieved more than anything,” Onwenu said of the outcome.

In a third contested election, McMurtry College junior Jodie Nghiem won the Rice Program Council presidency with 62 percent of the vote against Jones College junior Iman Khan.

Thomas will officially become the president on Beer Bike on March 19. He said the first item on his agenda will be to engage in dialogue with various groups on campus.

“My short-term priority is to talk to student groups and administrators and just seek to understand what is going on and what different priorities are,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the SA president typically speaks with administrators including deans, provost Marie Lynn Miranda, the Faculty Senate and President Leebron. Thomas said he hopes to speak with athletes, international students, first-generation college students and other historically underrepresented groups. Thomas specifically mentioned the Black Student Association, HACER, College Republicans and Generation College as groups to engage.

Another of Thomas’s priorities is attracting talented individuals to SA positions, he said.

“In the short term to long term, [I will] try to get qualified and competent people in the SA,” Thomas said. “The SA is an organization with more than 100 people, so having a qualified executive team is great, but you need to have really good people in those other positions.”

Similarly, Onwenu said he plans to have conversations with major stakeholders before introducing proposals. He said he would like to continue expanding advisory boards in academic departments and addressing the meal plan, as he suggested in his platform.

“H&D has been extremely receptive to the discussions that the senators, especially Todd, have started this year,” Onwenu said. “I hope to introduce proposals in the near future by using recent survey data and understanding from previous conversations with H&D.”

Thomas said he hopes students will look back on his term positively.

“I hope there’s not that sense of ‘screw the SA,’” Thomas said. “I hope [students] will remember it as a presidency that was fair, that they felt like they had a voice in, but that also had some tangible action and was productive.”

Onwenu said he aims to consider the impact of his actions several years down the road.

“I want [to] address a wide spectrum of topics from academic, student life and environmental sustainability policies,” Onwenu said. “I’d like my projects and initiatives to reflect [a] wide spectrum of interests and priorities.”

Thomas’ and Onwenu’s percentages of the vote were similar to that of current SA president Jazz Silva, who gained 52 percent of 1,088 votes cast in a three-way race last year.

This year’s voter participation rate fell short of a rerun election in 2014 that took place after initial results were partially invalidated. However, according to Ravi Sheth (Martel ‘15), who won a write-in campaign in 2014 to serve as SA president, the 1636 votes cast in that rerun were the most since at least the year 2000.

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