Diverse SU Exec elected, hopes for increased focus on advocacy
In one of the most competitive Student Union elections in recent history, students of color won all five executive positions for the first time since 2008.
This year’s election saw a 40.7-percent turnout, just short of the 41.1-percent record set in spring 2012, but still a 9.6-percent increase from last spring’s election. In the three contested elections, juniors Kenneth Sng and Vikram Biswas and sophomore Sankalp Kapur were elected as president, vice president of finance and vice president of administration, respectively.
As president-elect, Sng, who is currently SU’s vice president of finance, wants to shift his focus to advocacy and new programs. He plans to revamp the It’s On Us initiative, making it more applicable to Washington University specifically.
SU’s current president and senior Jordan Finkelstein believes the surge in votes was a result of more competition compared to last year’s election. Whereas only one of five SU Exec positions was contested last year, the 2016 election saw three out of the five positions contested, with three candidates running in each.
Notably, this year’s SU Exec consists entirely of non-white students for the first time since the 2008-2009 academic year. Sng feels that this diversity is positive for the student body and mentioned that the students were not chosen on the basis of their race.
“I feel like it was remarkable, because people were chosen based on their merits, and it just so happened that it turned out to be an entire Exec board of people of color, but I think the fact that—regardless of race—you’d be willing to run for a Student Union election and be elected for it—that’s remarkable,” Sng said.
Brittany Perez, who served as Student Union president in 2008-2009, felt similarly about her SU Exec group, a sentiment that was echoed by Grant Barbosa, who was vice president of programming that year.
“We formed our team based on great group dynamics, passion for student representation and experience to fulfill SU responsibilities,” Perez wrote to Student Life.
Sng hopes to build on the work that he has done this year to increase transparency in the budget, while shifting his focus more to advocating and programming for students.
“I’ve been working on finance for some time now, and I think we’ve done a lot when it comes to transparency and engagement in the finance realm, but when we did the It’s On Us project last year, I really thought, ‘this is what SU should be doing,’” Sng said. “And I think in the coming year we can expect a lot more of that coming from SU.”
In a somewhat unprecedented move, Sng actively sought campaign endorsements from student groups, garnering 50 endorsements in total. Finkelstein and Sng both felt that this set a positive precedent going forward.
“I think that shifts the dynamic in a great way, and it emphasizes that we are a student government, first and foremost—we’re student-driven, student-run; we’re student-focused in its entirety,” Finkelstein said.
This year, Finkelstein notes, the primary focus was on doing things better than they had been done in the past, rather than maintaining the status quo.
“I think a pinnacle of what we all ran on and what we started off and did throughout the year was, ‘We’re not going to do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done; we’re going to do things because that’s the right way to do it and the best way to do it,’” Finkelstein said.
Sophomores Richard Wu and Amelia Fong ran unopposed for vice president of programming and vice president of public relations, respectively, and were also elected to SU Exec.
Compared to SU Exec, the races for Senate, Treasury and class councils saw less competition. The only contested seat for Senate was for an Olin Business School student, and incumbent sophomore Ben Hauser kept his seat.
Sng and Finkelstein both suggested that students who may otherwise have run for Senate or Treasury decided to run for SU Exec instead this year.
Out of the senior, junior and sophomore class councils, only one position was contested, that of vice president of finance for the Sophomore Class Council, and the current Freshman Class Council Vice President of Finance, Achint Rai, won that race.