What’s at stake in the SU fall elections

and | News Editors
Patterned chairs and a grey table sit in a well lit room on a grey carpet. The words "Student Union" are written on a bright blue wall.

The Student Union office on the second floor of the Danforth University Center. (Photo by Holden Hindes / Student Life)

Editor’s note: This article contains discussion of sexual assault. Resources for anyone impacted by this topic is listed at the bottom of this page.

The Student Union fall elections are here, and although they typically do not garner much student attention, this year’s election is highly contested. Here is what you should know: 

When can you vote in the elections?

Online voting began through WUGO at midnight and ends on Monday, Nov. 22 at 11:59 p.m.

Which seats are contested?

Twenty-two students are running for 11 open Treasury seats and 20 students are running for 11 open Senate seats. There are two contested elections in the Arts & Sciences Council, with two students running for VP of Academic Outreach and two students running for VP of Administration. You can see some candidates’ platforms in SU’s voter guide.

What power do these positions have?

The Treasury consists of 22 elected students who have the power to allocate all of the money from the student activities fee, which is equal to 1% of the cost of undergraduate tuition. Last year, the Treasury passed a general budget of $3.9 million, while still denying $618,811 of requested funds. Last week, the Treasury unanimously reallocated $145,000 from funding originally designated for fall WILD to the spring WILD budget. In addition to allocating large sums of money, the Treasury hears appeals from student groups and approves new student groups.

The Senate consists of 22 students who advocate for the student body to administrators. Senate releases reports and resolutions to advocate for student concerns and opinions, such as calling on the University to achieve carbon neutrality, advocating for the expungement of marijuana and alcohol offenses from student conduct records and supporting options for less expensive textbooks. There are four committees senators can sit on: Academic Affairs, Campus and Residential Experience, Diversity and Inclusion and Health and Wellness.

The Arts & Sciences Council meets with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and relevant faculty committees to relay student concerns and bridge connections between faculty and students. 

Which issues are at stake in this election?

At an SU online candidate forum Monday evening, candidates were divided on the future of Greek Life. While the 2021-2022 Student Union platform advocated for “working together with the student body to abolish Greek Life,” including promoting the dehousing of fraternities, rejecting Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) and Women’s Panhellenic Association (WPA) recruitment and attending and supporting protests, some candidates spoke in support of Greek Life. 

“​​I think Greek Life has a place on WashU’s campus,” sophomore Senate candidate Ned Dybala said. “I think it’s important that we all hold Greek Life accountable but at the same time, I think it’s important that we’re able to see the positive impact that Greek Life has on this campus, that it has had in years past and that it will continue to have. It’s a great place for people to find role models and friends for life.”

Freshman Artsci VP of Administration candidate freshman Alan Wang agreed with Dybala. “I think Greek Life is very necessary because historically and statistically, people have connected to very helpful social networking resources through Greek Life and [it] boosted GPA and leadership ability. And with that said, I think we need to repurpose Greek Life and eliminate all the bad things such as sexual assaults by bringing in WPA and IFC to serve as a bridge and a protector between different fraternities.”

Freshman Treasury candidate Jonathan Sagel said that he believed “Greek Life does have a place on this campus,” and referred to problems in Greek Life as the result of “mistakes” and “poor decisions.”

Freshman Senate candidate Hussein Amuri directly responded to him. “You referred to the many instances of sexual assault abuses [and] racism in Greek Life as ‘mistakes’ when it’s clearly a big, big problem,” Amuri said. “Greek Life has no place on our campus because too many times people have been hurt; people have been dehumanized.”

Sophomore Senate candidate Seth Fisher-Olvera also responded to Sagel. “When you look at the history and the repetitiveness — they’re not ‘mistakes,’ anymore — it is an epidemic of sexual assault. And I think the fact is, is that fraternities should basically commit to sexual assault prevention training and bystander training. And if they don’t do that, then they should face repercussions and potentially get kicked off campus,” Fisher-Olvera said. “If they’re not able to commit to those things, I think it’s indicative of a continued apathy towards sexual assault.”

“There is a huge problem with fraternities especially fostering an environment that normalizes sexual assault, and that can endanger every woman on campus and can make them feel unsafe,” freshman Senate candidate Isabela Stampes-Blackburn said.

After candidates responded to Sagel, he apologized in the Zoom chat. “To everyone, my use of the word mistake was wrong, and I’m extremely sorry. I was trying to speak fast and clearly was wrong regarding the use of the word ‘mistake.’ If I were to go back in time, I would replace that word with something to adequately address the problems that Greek Life causes. My apologies to all.”

Although some candidates spoke in favor of Greek Life, others, including freshman Treasury candidate Saish Satyal, advocated for its abolition. “[Greek Life] ends up being more of a harm than a good,” Satyal said. “When students look at SAE and then commonly call it ‘sexual assault expected,’ I think abolition is sort of the best route to take.” 

Mental health was another issue discussed at the candidate’s forum Monday night with the conversation around mental health on campus being a pressing issue, exacerbated by the pandemic. The moderators, freshmen election commission members Sarah Karbachinskiy and Soomin Kim, asked candidates what tangible steps they plan to take to address student mental health concerns. 

“There are many things that contribute to mental health. And much of that stems from students’ academics and so as VP of Academic Outreach, like I’ve said multiple times before, it’s important to create better standards between faculty and students,” sophomore Sai Vuda said. “And I know many people echo this sentiment as well, of creating better communication between faculty and staff and making it easier for students to be able to communicate their concerns with their respective faculty. I think that will do a lot in promoting mental health among students.”

“In terms of practical actions that I would take to respond to mental health, first would be to catalogue the current quality of therapists that we have available on campus,” junior Treasury candidate Michael Allison said. “Step two would be to survey the market in our surrounding area to see what the quality of the competition of therapists are and improving the quality of WashU mental health because that is the seminal concern that has been mentioned about our mental health services — the quality.”

Another issue that featured prominently at the debate was sustainability. Several candidates spoke on the importance of taking action against climate change, calling for divestment from fossil fuels, greater encouragement of student involvement in sustainability clubs on campus and higher energy efficiency in University buildings.

“I think my number one issue really is sustainability,” Fisher-Olvera said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of different specific issues that that encompasses, from divesting the endowment to having WashU commit to attaining a higher energy efficiency certification for these for our buildings on campus.”  

“I recently spoke at the Fossil Free WashU rally about our lack of divestment,” Stampes-Blackburn said. “I’m really hoping that I can push for change in that regard, because I feel like our lack of divestment is blatantly against student interest.” 

Candidates running for positions on the Arts & Sciences Council were asked about how they would assist students and faculty in dealing with “rising cases of academic integrity violations across several [Arts & Sciences] departments.”

Wang suggested creating a “hierarchy” for plagiarism offenses, so that first-time offenses are handled differently so that students get a “better chance to learn” the ropes of academic integrity.

Sophomore Artsci Council VP of Academic Outreach candidate Kennedy Rupert advocated for professors being more specific and circumstantial about cheating and plagiarism from class to class. “I don’t think the problem is that students don’t have academic integrity, it’s that professors don’t outline what [academic integrity] actually means for their individual class,” Rupert said. 

Freshman Artsci Council VP of Administration candidate Rachel Kim echoed this sentiment, adding that she believed COVID-19 was partly responsible for the increase in violations due to the limited resources available to them. 

“They weren’t able to have accessible office hours and reach out for help,” she said. “In order to reduce those violations, the biggest part would be connecting them and providing those resources to prevent students from committing those violations.”

Meheer Commuri contributed reporting.

Correction: We have updated this story as of 7:25 p.m. on Nov. 19 to include a more accurate description of freshman Treasury candidate Jonathan Sagel’s remarks at Monday’s forum. Sagel referred to problems in Greek Life as the result of “mistakes” and “poor decisions.” He did not specifically mention sexual assault. Student Life apologizes for the error.

Editor’s note: Hussein Amuri is a Student Life staff reporter for the sports section. He was not involved in the production of this article.


Editor’s Note: Safe Connections is a St. Louis organization that provides individual therapy free of charge to adults and youth of all genders ages 12+ who have experienced rape, domestic or dating abuse (physical, sexual or emotional), sex trafficking and/or childhood sexual abuse. Their helpline can be reached 24/7 at 314-531-2003.

The Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H.) provides confidential and anonymous support and can be reached at 314-935-8080 24/7 during the academic year.

The Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center provides confidential support and cand be reached at 314-935-3445 or [email protected]

The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-4673 or via online chat at online.rainn.org.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233. It can also be reached at thehotline.org or by texting LOVEIS to 22522. The organization provides 24/7 counseling and support for anyone experiencing domestic violence or abuse or knows someone who is.

 

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