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Student Assembly candidates discuss their plans for election

March 9, 2020

S.A. Presidential Candidates Discuss Platforms, Assembly’s Disconnect With Student Body

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As another round of elections for the Student Assembly begins, three candidates are vying for the position of S.A. President: Dillon Anadkat ’21, Uchenna Chukwukere ’21 and Catherine Huang ’21.

Although the Student Assembly is an elected body that is meant to represent undergraduates by making proposals to the University, all three candidates agree that there is increasingly a disconnect between the body and its constituents.

“I go to my friends and I say to my friends, you know, ‘I want to run for president of the Student Assembly,” Anadkat said in an interview with The Sun. “And so often the responses were, ‘What the hell’s the Student Assembly?’ And that really shouldn’t be the case.”

Anadkat is an international student in the College of Arts and Sciences studying government. He described himself as “an outsider and a fresh face,” given that he has not previously held a position on the assembly.

Huang currently serves as executive vice president, while Chukwukere is an undesignated voting representative at-large and appropriations committee member. 

“One of the biggest issues is that S.A. members are not holding themselves accountable, not reaching out to their constituencies, and [there is a] lack of cultural sensitivity,” Chukwekere said. As a solution to some of these issues, Chukwekere proposed implementing Intergroup Dialogue Project training for S.A. representatives.

Huang highlighted similar issues, proposing to create a feedback form for students to more easily reach out to their representatives, as well as ensuring that representatives regularly meet with their constituents.

Anadkat’s platform ranges from involving Greek Life leaders more closely in developing campus reforms to fostering more inclusive policies for international students.

“I always will say that you can only achieve comprehensive Greek Life reform if the University sits down with leaders [of Greek Life] to achieve this.”  Anadkat said. “The current reforms do miss the mark.”

Anadkat also proposed pushing for more mental health counselors, a review of the University endowment, and improving communication between student athletes and professors to ease academic conflicts.

Chukwekere, on the other hand, supports President Martha E. Pollack’s recent reforms, which call for stricter rules on event registration and the serving of alcohol. Believing that it would make the handling of cases more consistent, he also outlined a goal of bringing Greek Life violations under the purview of the Office of the Judicial Administrator, rather than the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life.

If elected, Chukwekere said he will prioritize reforming Greek Life and reducing the number of sexual assault incidents on campus. His campaign website also outlines plans to create more gender-neutral bathrooms, continue to push for fossil fuel divestment, reduce student health and contribution fees and eliminate Cornell’s need-aware financial aid policy for international students. 

Citing his previous experience on the S.A. and relationships with Vice President Ryan Lombardi and Pollack, Chukwekere said he is well-positioned to enact this slate of reforms.

“I’ve had the special opportunity of being able to work with a lot of administrators and making very solid relationships with them,” Chukwekere said. “They know me as a person. They trust me. They understand what I’m about.”

As a transfer student, Huang said she joined the S.A. in the fall of 2018 after seeing so many of her fellow transfers struggle to secure on-campus housing, forcing them to turn to expensive, off-campus alternatives. She also works as a mediator in the Office of the Judicial Administrator, meaning that she works closely with the J.A. to hear and resolve students’ cases.

These experiences have informed much of Huang’s platform, which focuses on issues such as improving housing accessibility, financial support and reforming Cornell’s judicial system.

“I think it’s unfortunate that our judicial system at Cornell is as punitive as it is,” Huang said. “I think it’s unnecessarily litigious and unfairly punitive at times. I’ve learned how to bring a perspective of student advocacy into these mediations, while maintaining neutrality between the OJA and the student who gets caught up in these things.”

Huang’s website details a number of other proposals, including pushing for Cornell to be carbon-neutral by 2035, modifying the requirement that all West Campus residents must purchase a meal plan, adjusting housing pricing to reflect amenity differences across dorms and increasing the transparency of S.A. actions.   

Like Chukwekere, Huang believes her previous S.A. experience is key to her candidacy, saying that she can navigate the “bureaucratic hoops [one has] to jump through” while maintaining connections with the students she hopes to represent.

All three candidates’ bios are available on the S.A.’s website. The candidates will participate in a debate on March 9 in G64 Goldwin Smith Hall at 7 p.m.