News | Student Life

Student government candidates debate at forums

  • Olachi Oleru / Senior Staff Photographer
    UP FOR DEBATE | The It's Always Sunny at Columbia party explained its platform at the Columbia College Student Council forum Sunday.
  • Olachi Oleru / Senior Staff Photographer
    PSET 150 | Matthew Sheridan, SEAS '16 and an independent candidate (l.), and the PSet 150 party discussed their platforms at the ESC candidate forum Sunday.
  • Kimberly Flores / Staff Photographer
    SGA | Candidates for Barnard's Student Government Association debated in the Diana Event Oval on Sunday.

Voting in student elections begins this week, and on Sunday, the Columbia College Student Council, Engineering Student Council, and Barnard Student Government Association held forums for candidates to voice their platforms. With the vast majority of all positions uncontested, only a few candidates had to defend their records and ideas, while most emphasized how they would get the job done.

The conversations at the CCSC debate mostly rested upon how best to address student needs, including issues regarding space for clubs and student groups, as well as the growing concern with health awareness on campus.

Daphne Chen, CC ’14 and candidate for president of CCSC, led the candidate forum for the It’s Always Sunny at Columbia party. She and the other candidates for executive board focused on how to generate student participation in the council and how to implement policy changes that would directly benefit students in the college.

Candidate for Vice President for Communications Peter Bailinson, CC ’16 and a Spectator outreach and development associate, said that the party hopes to help students navigate the Columbia bureaucracy by creating an interactive flowchart of the administration.

“Columbia offers so many resources, but sometimes it’s hard to know what those resources are,” he said. “The interactive flowchart would pair students up with their resources—it’s using technology to show students the resources that are already available to them.”

During the candidate forum, Chen announced that a task force is being created to merge CCSC and ESC the year after next.

In the debate for student services representative, Loxley Bennett, CC ’15 and current class of 2015 president, said that combining the councils would gain them more influence on campus.

Nada Zaher, CC ’16, and Chris Godshall, CC ’15, are the other two candidates for the student services position.

The lack of student presence at the debates, however, stood in poignant contrast to the candidates’ message of spirit and unity. Most of the audience members were candidates themselves or current council members. At the debates for academic affairs representative and alumni affairs representative, no other students showed up.

The debate between the candidates for the CC University Senate seat drew the most attention. With about 25 people in the audience, David Froomkin, CC ’15 and a Spectator arts and entertainment writer, and Jared Odessky, CC ’15 and current CCSC vice president for communications, had a heated exchange about the role of the senate and the process of delineating policy on the University level.

Froomkin called the senate a broken system that lacks transparency. He said that the apathy among students, as shown by the low forum attendance and voter turnout for council elections, indicates a need for change.

The fundamental problem, he said, is the sense of disempowerment students get from institutional obstacles.

“It’s not a moral deficit—it’s a democratic deficit,” Froomkin said.

Froomkin criticized the senate for creating what he said was “a technocratic and autocratic culture” that lacks democratic processes.

Odessky focused on the need for coalition-building between the different committees in the senate and for keeping the “lines of communication open” between administrative and student representatives.

He said, “The senate has much more potential to be more responsive to undergraduate needs ... I want to bridge the divide between the senate and CCSC.”

Odessky, who pioneered the website WTF Columbia, used the site as an example of how the council and the Senate can respond to student concerns.

“It’s a platform for students to connect to representatives,” he said.

Froomkin countered that WTF Columbia falls short of allowing students to drive policy.

“WTF Columbia is not a platform that moves toward participatory democracy,” Froomkin said. “Students identify issues and representatives act on them as they wish. There needs to be more collaboration and make it a two-way street.”

Froomkin’s critique of the Senate frustrated many in the audience. Current University Senator Cleo Abram, CC ’15, pressed Froomkin to outline specific policy changes that he’d like to implement, but he preferred to stand by his points without providing additional detail.

Ben Reardon, CC ’15 and one of only a handful of students at the debate, echoed Abram’s frustrations.

“It was all very vague. I didn’t hear any specific policies from either of them,” he said.

Candidates for the council’s at-large positions—academic affairs, pre-professional, and student services representatives—also held debates on Sunday.

The candidates for alumni affairs representative focused on how best to connect students to the alumni for networking and mentoring opportunities. Daniel Cohen, CC ’15, said that he wants to create an alumni database allowing students to reach out to alumni who are doing work in the fields that they are interested in.

Similarly, Daniel Liss, CC ’16 and a Spectator opinion deputy for online, said that his top priority is to create a mentorship network that connects every student in the college with an alumni mentor.

Pilar Guerra, CC ’16, echoed Liss, but said that before the mentorship network can work, a committee of alumni representatives, student representatives, and representatives from the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development must be created as well. In addition, like the other candidates, she said that she wants to have an open and updated alumni inventory that students can access.

The candidates for academic affairs representative—Nora Habboosh, CC ’14; Benjamin Spener, CC ’14; Rachel Bercovitz, CC ’15; and Qiuyun Tan, CC ’16 and a Spectator staff writer and photo associate editor—all focused on improving the academic environment in the college with reducing initiatives.

Mary Joseph, CC ’15, and Hamza Khan, CC ’14, the two candidates for pre-professional representative, talked about the need to increase communication between the council and the student body.

Khan said that he would like to implement a mentorship process for students to connect to professionals in the fields that they’re interested in. Joseph said that she would like to provide information sessions for students interested in different fields, because students “don’t really know what it means ... having that actual position in life.”

The class of 2015 and class of 2014 councils are running unopposed.

Only three positions on the Engineering Student Council are contested after one of the two 2016 class council parties, Fu’tastic Four, dropped out Sunday.

This leaves the vice president for communications, Class of 2014 vice president, and professional development and alumni affairs representative as the only contested positions on the 29-person council.

Candidates presented their platforms while saying they remained committed to accountability despite running unopposed.

“If you don’t know who’s representing you, that individual can choose to be unaccountable,” Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS ’14 and executive board presidential candidate from the PSet 150 party, said.

Matthew Sheridan, SEAS ’16, who is running independently for vice president for communications, proposed including non-council students in fortnightly meetings between ESC and administrators.

To improve access to information, Sheridan and members of PSet 150 proposed using WikiCU as a central reference for information, expanding the ESC website, and sending more updates to the student body.

Issues of pass/D/fail grading for SEAS students and the apparent lack of communication between the administration, ESC, and the student body were at the forefront in speeches.
“If we have the ability to take classes pass/fail, we would be able to actually become something other than just another engineer,” Robert Ying, SEAS ’16, the sole candidate for academic affairs representative, said. “We aren’t here to be another MIT. We aren’t here to be another Berkeley.”

Tanya Shah, SEAS ’14 and PSet 150’s candidate for the vice president of policy, and Maria Balsinde, SEAS ’15 and candidate for 2015 class representative, both said they supported efforts to expand pass/D/fail grading to SEAS.

“We don’t really have a chance to explore liberal arts initiatives,” Shah said. She also proposed expanding study abroad and elective options and making it easier to switch majors to “give us a chance to explore.”

In the other contested debate, for the professional development and alumni affairs representative, both candidates—Aditya Naganath, SEAS ’15, and Janiel Li, SEAS ’15—spoke about Columbia’s weak alumni connections relative to peer institutions.

“When I was looking for an internship, I was turning to upperclassmen a lot,” Naganath said. He proposed the creation of a peer network consisting of alumni whom current students know, along with streamlined mock interview processes and increased involvement with the Center for Career Education.

Li said that “our student-alumni connections are comparatively not as strong” as those of other Ivy League institutions, and “we have very limited school-sponsored opportunities to connect with alumni.” He proposed creating more opportunities for such connections, such as student-alumni socials and a student-run career fair.

This is only the second year in which all SEAS students are able to vote for the executive board.

Communication and transparency were the themes of Sunday night’s Student Government Association candidate forum, which stressed the importance of strengthening ties among the student body, the administration, and the greater Columbia community.

As with CCSC and ESC, many of the positions for SGA are uncontested. However, the key contested positions include SGA president, vice president of finance, and the class of 2014 president.

Around 75 students attended the debates in the Diana Event Oval.

The two candidates for SGA president provided contrasting approaches to leadership. Aliza Hassine, BC ’14 and current junior class president, highlighted her experiences in SGA over the past three years.

“The Barnard community has always been larger than the sum of its parts, and ever since joining it, I’ve been actively engaged in improving the quality of the Barnard experience on and off campus,” Hassine said.

Madelyn Popkin, BC ’14, has not served on SGA before. In her speech, she emphasized the importance of “collaboration, patience, and mutual respect,” which she said is informed by her past experiences as a Well-Woman peer educator and a women, gender, and sexuality studies major. “I want to use what Barnard has taught me to improve our school,” Popkin said.

Although the two candidates did not dwell on specific proposals, Hassine said she would like to draw from the WTF Columbia model by creating a website where students can voice their issues.

While Hassine stressed the importance of collaborative work, Popkin placed her emphasis on trust and community-building.

“I don’t want to be elected because of my previous contributions,” Popkin said. “I want to be elected because the student body believes in me to represent them.”

“I want to bring the concept of allyship to the role of SGA president,” Popkin said.

As part of Barnard’s effort to emphasize the arts on campus, SGA created the position of representative for arts and culture.

Candidate Lindsay Forcade, BC ’14, discussed her plans to better publicize student showcases, while Adrienne Nel, BC ’16, said she hoped to make New York City’s vibrant culture more accessible on campus.

Although the position of senior class president was also contested, none of the candidates were able to attend the event due to studying abroad. All three candidates had representatives to deliver their speeches.

Avantika Kumar and Cecilia Reyes contributed reporting.  | @ColumbiaSpec


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Anonymous posted on

Vote for CCSC Elections:

Anonymous posted on

Is VP Peter Bailinson sleeping in this photo? Why does he sleep in a debate but not with me?

Anonymous posted on

Why are there reports on the student council elections for CC, SEAS and BC but no GS? GS is an official undergraduate school where as Barnard is not. if you are going to include Barnard--which is obviously acceptable--you should at least touch all the bases.

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Anonymous posted on

VOTE FOR NORA HABBOOSH for Academic Affairs Rep. She is perfect for the position, have not met anyone here as passionate about improving academic issues as she is. Wish they included some of her great ideas in this piece-her focus on student wellness as integral to academics distinguishes her from the other candidates, and her detailed vision for student involvement in course and grading review would make people here so much happier. Habboosh is the way to go!