Mental health took center stage during Sunday’s debate for Engineering Student Council candidates, with executive board candidates agreeing on the importance of solving Columbia’s mental health problems and stress culture but proposing radically different solutions.
SEAS the Curve, a party mostly composed of council outsiders, presented ambitious proposals to improve student wellness and mental health. Meanwhile, Back to the FUture, a party with three members currently on council, prioritized mental health and making study abroad and pre-professional support more available to SEAS students.
But outside of the executive board, many of ESC’s seats are uncontested or lack any candidates. In twelve races for at-large representatives, in which any SEAS student is allowed to run, only one—the academic affairs position—has more than one candidate. All three class councils up for election are currently running uncontested with parties almost entirely composed of incumbents.
And in Sunday’s debate, the absence of the sole candidates for 3-2 representative, campus affairs representative, and student group representative—a disqualifying offense—means that these positions will have to be part of a special election at the beginning of the fall semester, according to Columbia Elections Board chair Chase Manze, CC ’19.
SEAS the Curve’s Onur Calikusu, SEAS ’19, presented a platform which aimed to tackle mental health through a series of town halls bringing together students and the administration, expansion of available appointments at Counseling and Psychological Services, and the creation of a 24/7 CPS hotline, which CPS currently provides.
Aida Lu, SEAS ’19 and a member of Back to the FUture, said she wanted to partner with Residential Life & Housing and the libraries for de-stress programming. Lu also said she hopes to increase the amount of engineers studying abroad by partnering with the Office of Global Programs.
VP for Policy
SEAS the Curve’s Aaron Thompson, SEAS ’19, presented a peer mentorship program to connect upperclassmen and underclassmen as a networking opportunity, and reiterated Calikusu’s calls for a 24/7 CPS hotline and increased mental health resources.
When asked by current ESC VP for Policy Sidney Perkins, SEAS ’17, how he would work around administrative roadblocks to these mental health initiatives, Thompson said he was unsure why administrators might stall on a project.
Back to the FUture’s Zoha Qamar, SEAS ’19, focused on training as a key part of her platform, advocating for revamped sexual assault first-responder training and mental health and student stress training for SEAS faculty. She also hopes to foster better dialogue between ESC and activist groups.
VP for Student Life
SEAS the Curve’s Lal Uncu, SEAS ’20, presented enterprising ideas to improve student life on campus including airport shuttles at the beginning and end of breaks, free detergent from Columbia Housing, Starbucks coffee in dining halls, take-out offerings at Ferris Booth Commons and JJ’s Place and the extension of Flex dollars to Uber and Starbucks. While Uncu said she believed hard work would allow her to succeed, she did not offer a plan for either financing these ideas or convincing administrators to foot the bill.
Back to the FUture’s Ben Barton, SEAS ’18, said he hopes to subsidize summer storage off campus, advocate to expand Lerner to be open 24 hours, as well as create a “mental health week” which would help destigmatize mental health issues. In a memo published in February, Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg announced her office was spearheading a mental health awareness week.
Barton also hopes to expand dining hours at Mudd’s Blue Java Café and at Uris Deli. As ESC’s current campus affairs representative, Barton helped negotiate earlier openings for Mudd’s Blue Java Café to serve students with 8:40 a.m. classes. Barton said he would advocate for the establishment of space for all students in Uris once the business school vacates the building. Uris has been promised by University President Lee Bollinger to Arts and Sciences, not SEAS.
VP for Finance
SEAS the Curve’s Camila Solis-Camara, SEAS ’19, said she would aim to expand awareness and funding of programs like the Chaplain’s Co-Sponsorship Fund and the Capital Investment Fund. She was challenged by audience members, including Lu, as to how she would balance the budget of their party’s ambitious proposals, and responded that she would aim to advocate for University offices to increase their spending when ESC’s budget proved insufficient.
Back to the FUture VP Finance candidate Cesar Trujillo, SEAS ’18, said he would focus on better publicity for the University’s grant resources available to student groups and continue Lu’s current work on making financial aid packages more transparent to students.
VP for Communications
SEAS the Curve’s Ana Hugener, SEAS ’19, hopes to foster communication within engineering departments, and between students and advisors through ESC-sponsored Piazza pages. Hugener also hopes to increase the transparency of student leadership by encouraging the release of redacted notes from closed-door University Senate meetings.
Back to the FUture’s Julia Joern, SEAS ’18, hopes to increase the visibility of ESC through weekly office hours in Mudd Hall and the development of an online “communications infrastructure.”
Class Council Races
Candidates for Class of 2018, 2019, and 2020 class councils are composed of entirely incumbent leadership running unopposed, with only one representative who does not currently serve on council.
Class of 2018 president Aakanxit Khullar hopes to create more cross-school events, and hype existing senior events like the Lerner Pub. Khullar is joined by VP Patrick Lin and representatives Saarthak Sarup and Cristal Abud.
Class of 2019 president Richa Gode hopes to create “the best junior boat cruise this school has seen” while streamlining finals scheduling and advising processes. Gode is joined by VP Asher Goldfinger and representatives Walker Magrath and Montana St. Pierre. St. Pierre is the only candidate for any ESC class council position who does not currently serve on the council.
Class of 2020 president Ria Garg hopes to work with the Center for Career Education to expand major-specific internships and improve the housing lottery. Garg is joined by VP Marisa Ngbemeneh and representatives Joanna Paik and Abhishek Chakraborty.
Academic affairs representative, the only contested at-large seat, featured competition between Krithika Kuppusamy, SEAS ’19, and Danielle Deseiroth, SEAS ’18. Kuppusamy hopes to increase the number of upper-level computer science class sections available and expand pass/fail options for engineers’ non-technical courses. Deseiroth, the current Sustainability Representative, wants to advocate for restructuring first- and second-year advising within SEAS.
Diversity and inclusivity representative candidate Ashley Rodriguez, SEAS ’19, hopes to create field trips and outings for diverse students and open a LionShare column targeting diverse students.
Technology representative candidate Andres Aguayo, SEAS ’18, hopes to continue current ESC work to install printers in Carleton Commons and improve ESC’s communication platforms.
With either an absence of candidates entirely, or the sole candidate disqualified due to an absence at the debate, the 3-2 student, campus affairs, student groups, students with disabilities, and international student representative positions will be filled in an election this fall.