Mental health, support for marginalized students, and campus-wide “fun” programming took center stage at the Columbia College Student Council election debates on Saturday.
This has been a tumultuous year for CCSC elections, which were pushed back by two weeks from their original date following an advertising misstep by the council. And the Columbia Elections Board has already begun to adjudicate potential rules violations, including by University Senator Sean Ryan, CC ’17, who posted a Facebook endorsement of a candidate for Student Services Representative last week in violation of campaign rules.
In the race for executive board positions, council insiders from Low Beach Party and Alliance said their years spent on council allowed them to create relationships with administrators and lay the groundwork for the coming years. Meanwhile, Grassroots Columbia candidates said their status as outsiders would allow them to tackle perennial issues with a fresh perspective.
A full description of each candidate’s platform is published on the Columbia Elections Board’s website. Voting will last from Wednesday until Friday evening, after which results will be announced.
Alfredo Dominguez, CC ’19, said he would focus on increasing opportunities for community service, and proposed adding mental health resources for marginalized students by working with Counseling and Psychological Services to hire a more diverse counseling staff. Though student calls for more diversity persist, hiring a more diverse staff has been an ongoing effort by CPS.
Mental health was also a concern of Samuel Ackerman, CC ’18, who put forth a proposition for decreasing stress culture by increasing the amount of time the lawns are open in the spring, and proposed capping the number of midterm exams a student can have within 24 hours to two. Ackerman also said he would work to improve communication between the students and the administration.
Omar Khan, CC ’18, said he would advocate for fossil fuel divestment and easing the effects of gentrification in Harlem due to the Manhattanville expansion. He did not provide details on how he would pursue this.
“CCSC’s University Senator must be thinking in the long term. That’s how we can make a difference,” Khan said.
President and Vice President for Policy
Executive board incumbents comprise Alliance, with current Vice President for Campus Life Nathan Rosin, CC ’18, running for president and current President Nicole Allicock, CC ’18, as a candidate for VP for policy. The party advocated for increasing spaces on campus for underrepresented groups, which it framed as a mental health issue, and on working with the alumni office to create a fund for student groups. The party also called for mandatory mental health training for faculty.
Columbia College Dean James Valentini announced mandatory suicide prevention training for college staff in March, following a series of student deaths in the past academic year. While the training is available to faculty—who are housed within Arts and Sciences, not Columbia College—it is not mandatory.
Low Beach Party, led by current Pre-Professional Representative Dave Mendelson, CC ’19, as presidential candidate and Kristen Santiago, CC ’18, as a candidate Vice President for Policy, also called to attention mental health policies, adding that they would advocate for improvements to CPS. The party also proposed reimplementing a fall Bacchanal and establishing TEDx Columbia, a senior lecture series. Low Beach Party candidates also said they’d look to improve equity on campus through open access to course materials for all students and an increased number of free sanitary products in bathrooms.
Grassroots Columbia, with Rui Diaz-Pacheco, CC ’18, as presidential candidate and Richard Nederlander, CC ’18, as VP for policy candidate, wants to raise awareness for first-generation students and said they will aim to make the CCSC fund more accessible and public.
Vice President for Campus Life
Alliance’s Alex Cedar, CC ’19, and Grassroots’ Cindy Liu, CC ’18, both advocated for creating more spaces on campus for marginalized groups and increasing building accessibility for students with physical disabilities. Both candidates pointed to the recent decisions to create exclusive spaces for LGBTQ students and students of color in Lerner as something to be built upon. In addition, Liu said she would prioritize increasing sexual assault awareness.
Cedar announced Alliance’s proposal to hold two campus life events per week and a fall concert held at the Baker Athletics Complex after Homecoming as a means of increasing school spirit and community.
Low Beach Party’s Vik Kapur, CC ’18, proposed the establishment of several new campus life events. In addition to the TEDx Columbia series, Kapur said he’d like to create“Fridays at the Beach,” a weekly event where campus groups would perform on Low Steps or on the lawns.
“There should not just be more campus events—they should also be better,” Kapur said.
Vice President for Communications
Low Beach Party’s Wesley Hu, CC ’20, called for increasing CCSC’s transparency by live-streaming council meetings. While meetings were regularly live-streamed last year, just one CCSC meeting was live-streamed in the past semester. He also proposed weekly Facebook posts and emails regarding CCSC initiatives to keep students informed.
Alliance’s candidate for VP Communications, Sreya Pinnamaneni, CC ’19, was not present at the debates but was excused.
Vice President for Finance
Both candidates focused on ways of supporting low-income students. Low Beach Party’s Adam Resheff, CC ’19, said he would aim to reduce cost barriers that prevent students from participating in campus life through the creation of a Student Events Fund. He also proposed reforming the Joint Council Co-Sponsorship Committee by enforcing a funding-per-student cap to ensure all student groups received fair and necessary funding.
Alliance’s VP Finance candidate was not present due to a dental surgery, but was excused. Nicole Allicock, CC ’18, Alliance’s VP for Policy candidate, spoke on her behalf and emphasized the party’s commitment to addressing food insecurity on Columbia’s campus and providing resources for students to improve their financial literacy.
Class of 2018
#Rally, with John Avendano, CC ’18, for president, Emily Lavine, CC ’18, for vice president, and representatives Matthew Neky, CC ’18, and Nicki Felmus, CC ’18, debated party TwentyEightTeam, with Stephan Montes, CC ’18, for president and representatives Megan Grant, CC ’18, and DJ Mock, CC ’18. TwentyEightTeam vice presidential candidate Alex Swanson, CC ’18, and #Rally representative candidate Lord Hyeamang, CC ’18, were not present for the debates.
The #Rally party’s candidates said they would work with the financial aid office to make senior events more accessible, as well as implement a book drive for free and subsidized course books to support low-income students. It was unclear, however, how this would differ from the free lending library in Butler operated by the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership. #Rally candidates also stated that they would work to improve mental health on campus by planning more inclusive campus events and working with the Mental Health Task Force to help improve CPS.
Candidates from TwentyEightTeam said they would like to help the senior class feel more interconnected—both before and after graduation—and give back to the school and campus through a senior-freshman mentorship program. They also proposed a program in which CCSC partners with restaurants across the city to give seniors the chance to travel and experience New York before leaving.
Class of 2019
A New Roar, with Mina Mahmood, CC ’19, for president, David Kaminsky, CC ’19, for vice president, and Tarek Deida, CC ’19, and Sofia Petros, CC ’19, for class representatives, debated the party Blue Ivy, with Sophie Broadbent, CC ’19, for president, Yerv Melkonyan, CC ’19, for vice president, and Grant Der Manouel, CC ’19, Emma Gomez, CC ’19, and Michael Yitayew, CC ’19 for class representatives. A New Roar representative candidate George Jiang, CC ’19, was not present for the debate.
Candidates from A New Roar stated that their party would like to bring student council representation to communities that have not historically been represented in CCSC, specifically minority students, low income students, artists, queer students, and those involved in activist groups. A New Roar candidates stated they would help low-income students explore New York City by subsidizing events like plays and concerts.
Candidates from Blue Ivy said they would work to better mental health on campus by sponsoring more de-stress events, and would subsidize the junior boat cruise. Members of Blue Ivy also stated they would work to improve CPS and petition to have finals dates released earlier.
Class of 2020
Council incumbents made up LionHeart, which consisted of Class of 2020 President Siddharth Singh, Vice President James Ritchie, and representatives Danielle Resheff, Astrid Walker-Stewart, and Grant Pace, all running to remain in the same seats. Citing the fulfillment of previous campaign promises, including advocacy for an LGBTQ-exclusive space and free tampons and pads on campus, candidates said they would turn their focus to mental health and strengthening council-led events.
Presidential candidate Cesar Zamudio, CC ’20, and vice presidential candidate Maria Estrada, CC ’20, of Our 20/20 Vision, were not present at the debate.
Fiona Laird, CC ’20, was also not present at the debate. Laird is not affiliated with a party.
Academic Affairs Representative
Though Briley Lewis, CC ’18, Sam Safari, CC ’19, Robert Godfried, CC ’18, and Dafne Murillo, CC ’19, are all running for academic affairs representative, only Godfried was present for the debates. Godfried said he’d like to focus on reducing stress on campus by facilitating more professor-student interactions by creating a mentorship program.
“Last year at Columbia I was kind of disillusioned,” Godfried said. “So when I came back to Columbia this fall, one of the commitments I made was I was going to do as much as I could to, not only for myself connect with professors, academics, people who were mentors, but also help others who were also going through Columbia to do that.”
Alumni Affairs Representative
Zach Skypeck, CC ’20, and Maria Fernanda Martinez, CC ’18, debated for the position of alumni affairs representative. While Skypeck said he’d like to create more easily accessible alumni mentorship programs, Martinez said she believes alumni connections need to come from a personal level.
Martinez said she would expand opportunities for alumni connection beyond economics and finance to include groups such as nonprofits, as well as curate alumni meetings especially for students who find it more difficult to network in traditional settings.
“Right now, meetups are usually like, ‘Anyone who’s interested in this field, come,’ and that’s huge and scary, and it’s intimidating, especially for communities like women, people of color, queer folk that aren’t trained and aren’t in this mindset of networking,” Martinez said.
Inclusion and Equity Representative
Elise Fuller, CC ’19, said she wants to focus on access, representation, and free discourse, proposing an increase in funding for the undergraduate food bank and a notification system for students with disabilities to help them maneuver around campus better. She said she wants to focus on having the voices of marginalized groups heard by providing physical space on campus and by setting up an online forum so that students can contact her directly with concerns.
Nicole Ann-Lobo, CC ’19, focused on communication, dialogue, and representation to ensure that administrators and CCSC are prioritizing and actively representing their constituents. She proposed having more panels and roundtable discussions with Valentini. She also said she wants to make sure different religious groups are represented on campus actively, and proposed more cultural appreciation weeks.
Ethan Kestenberg, CC ’19, said he wants to focus on combating the competitive nature of pre-professional clubs on campus by working with JCCC and the Activities Board at Columbia to penalize groups that engage in “unfair” policies like requiring résumés from first-years seeking to join.
“I think the solution is from within—reaching out in our community and building a stronger community so that everyone has a fair fighting chance,” Kestenberg said.
Rafael Ortiz, CC ’18, said he would aim to help students pursue their passion in specific majors by improving how available programs are announced to students and by holding a graduate school fair on campus. He proposed a workshop on workplace sexual misconduct and on proper etiquette for unpaid internships.
Student Services Representative
Hope Chang, CC ’18, said she wants to focus on giving Student Services a “face,” to make it more accessible and approach students much more personally. She sees increasing the transparency of offices as fundamental and wants to focus on destigmatizing mental health issues on campus.
Increasing transparency was also a concern for Toqa Badran, CC ’19, who proposed publishing notes from the meetings on the website, holding weekly office hours, and meeting with student heads. She also wants to focus on eliminating food insecurity and increasing housing opportunities for those who live in fear of deportation.
In order to address the issue of mental health, Monique Harmon, CC ’19, proposed a CPS opt-out program during NSOP, and increased accessibility to community spaces on campus for everyone, including Barnard and General Studies students, who are unable to swipe into most Columbia undergraduate residence halls. She also advocated for helping students better connect and feel included in their classes by creating a database of professors of color and other underrepresented identities.
Student involvement and office transparency were also subjects brought up by Aaron Fisher, CC ’18 and a former Spectator deputy news editor. He proposed "office hours" for CCSC members and to expand the hours of Nightline, a student-run call service, to be available all night. (Currently, CPS offers a 24-hour hotline.) He also proposed a Staff Appreciation Week to improve the sense of community on campus, and having the lawns in front of Butler open for longer periods of time in the fall.
Nikola Danev, CC ’20, discussed how he would alleviate financial insecurity by working with the Office of Financial Aid to help students who cannot afford to eat out when dining halls close during school holidays. He also said he would prioritize working with facilities to fix hot water issues in residence halls.
Joseph Villafane, CC ’20, said that he sees the biggest job of the Sandwich Ambassador as being present to assist CCSC and its policies, on top of his other duties such as reaching out to restaurants and getting discounts for students. He wants to better identify students’ needs through direct discourse and also through promoting a network between restaurants so that they can better engage with the students.
The other candidates, David Shan, CC ’19, and Sam Ravani, CC ’18, were not present for the debate.