After last year’s meme-fracas, one might be forgiven for wiping the Student Assembly from memory, or perhaps just forgetting that positions beyond that of the president exist. But that would be a mistake.
Starting Tuesday at 9 a.m., and continuing until noon Feb. 14, students will have the opportunity to vote four new representatives onto the Student Assembly: one LGBTQ+ liaison, one first-generation student representative and two minority students liaisons.
Cornell’s unique system of shared governance and S.A. affinity representation creates seats at the table for communities long marginalized in higher education. But for such a system to work, undergraduates need to be active participants in the processes that undergird student governance, and that participation begins with elections.
Which is why Cornellians should care about voting in the upcoming S.A. special election. Each of the four open positions is on the S.A. Diversity Committee and in the general voting body of the S.A. Whoever wins will shape S.A. priorities — and thereby University policy — for vulnerable students groups demanding steadfast representation.
We reached out to all 12 S.A. candidates to discuss their platforms. After hearing from nine of them, here’s who The Sun endorses.
First Generation Student Representative At-Large: Grady Owens
Sociologists have long noted that the most prevalent hurdle first-generation students face is a cultural capital deficit. Essential skills that children of the college-educated take for granted — for example, how to navigate complex institutions, how to study, how to ask for help — can prove formidable for first-gens to learn.
Grady Owens ’21, a first-gen student himself, intimately understands these challenges. And he has a plan to help. In an email exchange with The Sun, Owens outlined his plan to foster ties between first-gens and faculty. The existing faculty advisor system, he noted, ought to cater more to the needs of first-gens. Owens would pair first-gens with faculty able to help out with the basics, like graduation requirements, study skills and using the library.
Optional programs teaching basic college skills already exist, of course. But first-gens may struggle knowing how to access such resources. That faculty advisor meetings are mandatory will create a touchpoint to give first-gen students the help they need to succeed.
We enthusiastically endorse Owens and hope his idea will someday soon become reality.
LGBTQ+ Liaison At-Large: Uche Chukwukere
It is easy for us to support Uche Chukwukere ’21. Chukwukere’s constructive proposals would make the University more inclusive, especially at a time when LGBTQ+ rights are coming under assault from Washington, D.C. He would expand gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. He would push to get inclusive pronoun systems into intro language class syllabi. And he would promote Cornell Health’s existing gender services for trans students, such as gender-affirming hormone treatment.
As an unyielding advocate for LGBTQ+ Cornellians, Chukwukere earns our endorsement.
Minority Students Liaison At-Large: Moriah Adeghe
Two Minority Students Liaison positions need filling. And of the five students running, Moriah Adeghe ’21 is the clear front-runner. Her experience on the SADC and the S.A. Appropriations Committee shines through in her ideas, which are thoughtful and pragmatic. In an email to The Sun, Adeghe explained that she would subsidize laptops for low-income students, moving away from Cornell’s current loan-based system. She would also tweak Cornell Dining’s new meal swipes donation program to let students donate Big Red Bucks instead of just guest swipes. We can, without hesitation, recommend Adeghe for Minority Students Liaison.
Yet we cannot recommend any of the other candidates for the Liaison position.
Colin Benedict ’21 has some commendable ideas, such as hoisting the Haudenosaunee flag on Indigenous People’s Day. But many of his other ideas — like abolishing the Student Contribution Fee — are facially unworkable.
Neither Alex Davis ’21 nor Emily Prest ’21 responded to The Sun’s request for comment. Moreover, both candidates’ online statements included little more than platitudes. We do not feel confident endorsing either candidate.
Masa Haddad ’21 comes the closest. Her suggestion of a peer mentoring program for people of color warrants further consideration. But too many of her ideas are airy or moot. In a statement to The Sun, Haddad said she would work to create “a program for minority students to ease their transition to Cornell.” But what exactly does that mean? What form would such a program take?
She would also have Cornell become a “sanctuary” campus — i.e., one that shields unauthorized immigrants from federal-level deportation. This mostly symbolic move is blunted by the fact that Ithaca is already a sanctuary city and that CUPD policy is concordant with a sanctuary campus in all but name.
The complete list of candidates and their statements, for all races in this S.A. special election, can be found on the Office of the Assembly’s website. Voting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday, February 12 and continues through 12 p.m. Thursday, February 14.