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Student Association elections at Rice routinely garner little attention, often struggling to break 25% turnout, which the Thresher and years of SA representatives have called problematic for the health of our student government. With the recently proposed election timeline cutting campaigning to just one week, we’re worried this year we might manage to reach a new low.
Rice faculty must include a mental health statement in their syllabi going forward after the faculty senate adopted part of a Student Association recommendation Sept. 28. Specifically, professors must include a list of mental health resources on campus compiled by the Wellbeing and Counseling Center and encourage students to use them as necessary. We applaud the faculty senate’s actions as a step in the right direction, but it is truly the bare minimum that they could have done to address students’ mental health.
Over the summer, Rice Housing & Dining announced significant changes to the dining schedule and meal plan that went into effect at the start of the semester. The most notable change was the addition of a new meal time, affectionately known as “munch.” The other adjustment implemented the following change: “Re-entry to ANY servery requires a student to swipe to receive up to two entree plates again.”
As it stands under the Student Association election rules, candidates are not allowed to send mass campaign emails, and included in this rule is anyone campaigning on behalf of the candidate. During this year’s SA presidential race, Rice PRIDE endorsed candidate Gabby Franklin, a choice they then shared with their members via an opt-in Listserv. This is now the subject of the recent complaint by former Will Rice College senator William Tsai who claims that the endorsement email was a violation of SA election rules. The case will be brought to University Court this upcoming Thursday, March 31.
This year, two candidates with distinctly different approaches and areas of expertise are vying for the Student Association presidency. We, the Thresher Editorial Board, endorse Gabrielle Franklin for Student Association President because of her stances on accountability and fostering an inclusive environment for underrepresented students as well as actionable plans to do so.
Based on her abundance of concrete ideas and willingness to learn about the SA, we, the Thresher Editorial Board, believe Crystal Unegbu to be the better candidate for Student Association internal vice president.
After last year’s Student Association election saw less than a fourth of the student body turnout to vote, we penned an editorial calling on students to engage further with the SA and its elections. As we approach another election — voting opens next Wednesday — we feel it necessary to reiterate our call. For anyone who has tried to raise student awareness of an issue, aired a grievance against the administration or tried to spur change on campus, now is the time to cast your ballot for who you want to represent the student body and fight for the issues that matter to you.
Recently, the Student Association introduced a resolution to structurally address disordered eating at Rice. Although the resolution contains tangible ways to mitigate this issue, we also believe that an important factor to consider is the culture on campus around eating disorders and food in general. Though this culture is not unique to Rice, we have the power to challenge it by being more conscious of how our language surrounding food affects others.
For three semesters now, the Student Association has implemented the Guest Meal Swipe Donation Program where Rice students on the Type A meal plan can donate up to all five of their guest meal swipes for off-campus students facing food insecurity to use. The SA’s efforts have helped many and will continue to do so this semester. However, food is such a basic need that off-campus students can struggle to access, meanwhile on-campus students have an abundance of food available to them. Whether by going off-campus for meals or sleeping through breakfast, there is undoubtedly a plethora of meal swipes that go unused by on-campus students each semester. The administration should consider allowing those unused swipes to be automatically donated to those who are food insecure.
With only 24 percent participation, this year’s Student Association presidential election had the lowest voter turnout in the past five years. While student apathy towards the SA Senate and its leadership can easily — and perhaps fairly — be attributed to recent events such as the pandemic or the recent winter storm, SA election turnout has consistently declined over this five-year period.
It is the Thresher editorial board’s opinion that only Martel College junior Kendall Vining has the qualifications, experience and platform to effectively lead the student body as Student Association president. Vining’s experience in the SA as the current internal vice president, plans to address students’ concerns (particularly prioritizing the immediate needs of Black students), commitment to transparency and speaking out on important topics makes her an appropriate fit for the current and upcoming needs of the student body.
In last year’s Student Association election, there were no external vice president candidates on the first round ballot. This year, refreshingly, we have three candidates running — three candidates who are all incredibly qualified for the position. All three have ample experience working within the SA, strong communication and leadership skills, and a clear vision for the path they want to help lead Rice down. However, throughout their campaigns and our editorial board interviews, one candidate stood out: Baker College SA Senator Lily Sethre-Brink.
“At this point we are beating a dead horse,” the Thresher Editorial Board wrote in 2017. “If the [Student Association] cares so deeply about the constitution … then why do they continue to completely disregard it?”
Last Sunday, Ashley Fitzpatrick began a write-in campaign against the previously uncontested internal vice president candidate Kendall Vining. While the Thresher’s editorial board normally endorses candidates in contested races, we were unable to reach a consensus on endorsement for the IVP role of either Vining, a Martel College sophomore and former new student representative, or Fitzpatrick, a Martel sophomore and current senator.
With the start of a new election season, there are only a few weeks remaining for the current Student Association Executive Council to meet goals set at the beginning of their terms. Given the Thresher Editorial Board’s previous endorsement of Grace Wickerson for SA president on the basis of promises they made at the time, we were particularly interested in progress made on those promises. Basing our research on publicly available SA records and our own coverage, we found that while strides in two areas — financial accessibility and support for underrepresented groups — were significant and laudable, many campaign promises fell to the wayside or were not raised at all after elections.
Every election cycle, candidates push to increase the diversity of ideas that make their way from the student body to the Student Association Senate. As newly elected leaders take their positions at both the college and the SA Senate level, we have several significant changes — outside of constitutional reform — that we believe would increase the flow of ideas from the student body to its leaders.
The Thresher editorial board strongly supports the Student Association’s efforts to prevent violent and sexual abusers from holding elected office in campus-wide organizations, including the SA Senate. We believe this change is one that should be implemented as soon as possible — not only at a campus-wide and SA voting level, but also for certain positions at a residential college level.
It is the opinion of the Thresher editorial board that only Brown College junior Grace Wickerson has the experience, attitude and knowledge to effectively lead the student body as next year’s Student Association president. During Friday’s SA Debates and in an interview with the Thresher editorial board, Wickerson, the current SA internal vice president, has demonstrated that they are committed to moving the SA forward and building consensus.
Petitions for the campus-wide Student Association ballot are due Sunday, and it’s not too late to consider running for a position. Often, the same individuals who served in the government their freshman year are the ones who ultimately run for SA or college leadership positions. But the fact of the matter is every Rice student has experience and skill sets that qualify them to serve in an elected position.
In the spirit of the Student Association’s changeover this week, the Thresher editorial board has filtered through the many resolutions, amendments, task forces and working groups passed this year in search of the most impactful accomplishments and areas that could be improved in the future. Overall, the SA under outgoing President Justin Onwenu has certainly brought up important topics that could set up the incoming executive board to further galvanize the Rice student body.