Candidates for General Studies Student Council presented their platforms today in a debate held by Columbia Elections Board in Roone Arledge Cinema.
Major issues discussed include increasing mental health resources, creating more student spaces, and further integrating GS into the greater Columbia community.
Voting will begin Monday, April 3 at 10 a.m., and will conclude on Wednesday, April 5 at 5 p.m. A full list of candidate's platforms can be found on the Columbia Elections Board website.
Current VP for Communications Dennis Zhao, GS ’18, and Samantha Demezieux, GS ’18, debated ways to improve the experiences of nontraditional students and unify GS with the larger undergradaute community at Columbia.
Zhao said he would aim to expand and enhance the council’s ongoing initiatives regarding mental health, and would look to strengthen the CU Food Bank.
The food bank got its start at the end of last academic year with a $1,000 contribution from GSSC. Since then, the other undergraduate councils have agreed to contribute money in the coming year to stock the food bank.
In addition to advocating for expanded mental health resources, Demezieux focused on increasing communal spaces for GS students, including spaces targeted toward commuters and students with children.
“As nontraditional students, its easy to forget that a lot of our peers have families. It would be nice to have a space for that,” Demezieux said.
Both candidates said they would aim to bolster outreach to GS alumni in order to strengthen financial resources available to students and build relationships between alumni and current students.
VP for Policy
Raisa Flor, GS ’19, and Yona Kornsgold, GS/JTS ’19 and current Student Services Representative on GSSC, debated ways to improve mental health resources on campus.
In the wake of at least four student suicides this academic year, connecting more students to mental health care has been a focal point for councils, the University Senate, and advocacy groups this semester. Among General Studies students, groups have called for increased veteran-specific resources, as well as a larger staff at Counseling and Psychological Services.
“Mental health does not take a break at 4 a.m.,” Kornsgold said, discussing his platform, which advocates for increased hours for both Nightline, a phone service run by volunteers, and CPS.
Flor, current GSSC Chief of Policy and mental health committee co-chair, said she’d like to increase services for students, such as the establishment of a child care center, increased ODS services, more resources for low-income students, and greater transparency of GSSC.
Kornsgold said he would advocate for ways to integrate GS into the greater Columbia community. Currently, General Studies students do not have swipe access into undergraduate residence halls, an issue Kornsgold said he and other GSSC members are working on presently.
“On integration, I've been working on getting GS students swipe access into CC/SEAS dorms. This is important because currently we don't have access to certain CPS offices, we don't have access to certain student groups which we pay for, we don't have access to our friends and study groups,” Kornsgold said.
VP for Finance
Tanveer Hossain, GS ’18, Chris Jackson, GS ’19, Eren Villa, GS ’19, Daniel Gromis, GS ’19, and Vano Beradze, GS ’19, voiced their platforms for Vice President for Finance.
While Hossain and Jackson emphasized the importance of improving transparency in council meetings, Beradze also said he would like to increase job and internship opportunities sponsored by GS alumni.
Gromis said he favored bolstering mental health resources, and advocated for better access to food and scholarships for low-income students.
Villa said he wanted to use as much of the budget as he could, with more money directed to the CU Food Bank.
“I have no interest in business, I've always been drawn to public service. My platform is very simple... To make sure the money is being spent on the GS students who need it the most,” Villa said.
VP for Communications
Both candidates for Vice President for Communications discussed the importance of using technology to increase access to student council information. Nicole Rogers, GS ’20 and current First Year Class President, said she would create and send out a weekly bulletin with minutes and important campus events, as well as initiate a livestream of GSSC council meetings.
Piragathesh Subramanian, GS ’18, said he wants to involve more students in council decisions and proposed an internet feedback option.
“So what I propose, is to create something called the W.T.F. Box... in other words, relax, it's called a What To Fix box,” Subramanian said. “Students would be able to put in questions, doubts, and concerns, and only viable and realistic options or comments will be addressed weekly in GSSC.”
Columbia’s first What to Fix initiative was first created by CCSC in 2011, and was launched as a website in 2013 that subsequently fell out of use.
Senior Class President
Two candidates competeddebated for this position, Roya Hegdahl, GS ’18, and Jonathan Harper, GS ’18. Hegdahl said she’d like to make the year memorable for all seniors by organizing events like themed mixers and outings. Harper said he’d like to increase student input by holding regular office hours and responding to and implementing suggestions. Both students also stressed increasing the accessibility of mental health resources.
“The two most important things for me will be community-building through event organization, but also through supporting mental health initiatives,” Hegdahl said.
International Students Representative
Giorgi Beradze, GS ’20, said he would work to help international students deal with the transition from their home country to New York by making an information center to provide help with financial, educational, and housing difficulties, as well as give students information about the different Columbia professors.
Sophie Nielsen, GS ’19, was not present, but was excused as she is currently studying in France.
Jewish Theological Seminary Representative
Hannah Weiss, GS/JTS ’20 and Kayla Pollock, GS/JTS ’19, debated for the position of JTS Representative. Weiss discussed specific policies she’d like to work to change, her goal of clarifying the rules regarding which classes can be double counted, and a move to allow GS students swipe access into Columbia dorms.
Pollack said that she’d like to increase the partnership between GS and JTS, and allow dual degree students to participate in New Student Orientation Program.
Joseph Samuel Jackson, GS ’20, said he’d like to to reach out to military veterans who are less involved in the broader veterans community.
This position is currently undergoing constitutional review, so questions from the audience addressed how Jackson would shape the role of Veterans Representative in years to come.
The other candidate, Jenna Znak, GS ’20, was not present at the debate and could face disqualification.