SA town hall features slate of uncontested candidates
Student Association candidates Solomon Ni, Alison Qiu, Crystal Unegbu and Yuv Sachdeva outlined their goals for the SA and addressed questions about their candidacy platforms at the Rice Thresher’s SA Town Hall on Monday, Feb. 22. The town hall was in lieu of the traditional presidential debate, as every SA executive candidate is running uncontested this year.
The uncontested nature of the election was at the forefront of many questions at the town hall, as the candidates sought to assure people that they were representative of a student body that has not technically chosen them. Ni, who is the current SA treasurer and presidential candidate, acknowledged that he has never engaged in a contested election during his time at Rice. Their first position as a Jones College New Student Representative was appointed, and his second position as SA treasurer was also uncontested.
“I’m glad that I took the [treasurer] position, because I learned a lot through my year here. I am disappointed that there is no one else running for president because I think that the best ideas are grown through talking with another person or a group of people,” Ni, a Jones sophomore, said. “But I’m hoping that [by] working with [the SA executive candidates], we can find some common ground and some common policies that we want to advocate for.”
Unegbu, who is running uncontested for external vice president, was similarly appointed as a Hanszen College NSR and then to her current position as director of government relations, losing her only contested election last year in the internal vice president race. Unegbu said that by advocating for more diversity and inclusion within the SA, she hopes to expand the SA’s reach and instill confidence in the student body about her own candidacy.
“If we’re going back to the same people who are already responding, then we’re not really getting anywhere,” Unegbu, a Hanszen sophomore, said. “One thing we would like to do together is reach out to … clubs like HACER, [the Rice African Student Association] or [the Chinese Student Association] … and just let them know that there are appointed positions that they can apply for.”
Unegbu also said that the SA holds many appointed positions, from committee members to senators to NSRs. The importance of appointed positions, she argues, should not be minimized despite the lack of an election.
“Even if we are appointing [people from affinity groups], I don’t want that to invalidate what they’re going to do because the appointed positions are just as important as any elected position,” Unegbu said. “At the end of the day, [the SA] is not a five person team … There are so many roles, so why not diversify?”
Another concern that was highlighted at the town hall was the lack of both internal and external engagement within the SA, calling into question the scope of the SA’s impact. Ni and Sachdeva, who is running for treasurer and currently serves as deputy representative and at-large treasurer on the Blanket Tax Committee, both highlighted the Blanket Tax and initiative fund. Sachdeva said that financial transparency is critical when facilitating the relationship between the SA, colleges and the student body, and said he plans to continue keeping funding records and spreadsheets available to everyone.
“Advertising the initiative fund to every college, making sure that every student knows about where their money is going, is extremely important,” Sachdeva, a Jones College sophomore, said. “I think taking [those] steps that we have this year, like making sure that the initiative fund accounting spreadsheet with all the information is online and available to every student … I think that level of transparency is really important, because it is [the students’] money.”
Qiu, who is running for internal vice president and is currently the Hanszen College senator, said she hopes to strengthen the SA’s connection with the student body by hosting more events and gathering feedback about the SA’s work.
“I think that we could definitely do more in terms of gathering feedback from people who are already involved with the SA,” Qiu said. “Just thinking about ways to make them feel like their efforts are actually making a difference, and also thinking about ways for them to feel that they’re actually compensated for the efforts that they’re putting into the SA.”
Unegbu seconded the idea of increasing outreach to the student body, stressing the importance of introducing new voices into the SA.
“If the same people are constantly running or being a part of the SA, we’re not really doing much,” Unegbu said.
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