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Three ILR SGA candidates dive into their campaign so far.

October 23, 2020

ILR SGA Campaign Season Focuses on Race, School Independence

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From Oct. 26 to 28, students in the School of Industrial Labor Relations will vote for their next Student Government Association president, determining the future of the school’s political body.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still running rampant, the efforts of presidential candidates Daniel James II ’22, Alexandra Bixler ’21 and Maggie Smith ’21 have largely been confined to social media during a wide-ranging campaign that touches on race, equity and independence.

The newcomer in this race is Bixler, a junior who founded Cornell political publication The Advocate and currently serves as its editor-in-chief. Bixler has no prior experience within the SGA — but she’s not concerned about it.

“I don’t necessarily think that having the political experience [within SGA] is a good thing,” Bixler said. “Just because someone’s been in Congress for 50 years, it’s not necessarily a good thing. It might be great to have someone new.”

Smith and James have both been in the SGA since their freshmen year, and they draw on those experiences when campaigning. A Smith social media post from Oct. 18 touts her leadership experience within SGA and claims that she “rebuilt SGA.”

James has his own experiences to draw from: He was the chair of the ILR Diversity and Inclusion committee, and currently hosts the podcast Black Voices on the Hill, where he recently interviewed Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09.

For some candidates, this campaign has particularly old and serious roots. James said from 2018 to 2020, he has been the only Black person on the SGA executive board and has only served with few other non-white individuals.

“The ILR school has great diversity,” said James. But he maintains that the way in which labor movements are taught are in a  “white-centered fashion” causes him to feel that ILR students of color are “being invited to the table, but not given the same stake in the conversation.”

The lack of diversity in teaching and events ranging from “police genocide to a deadly pandemic,” led him to focus his campaign on making ILR more inclusive. His platform includes “mandatory anti-racism and bias training for all ILR student-led organizations”, as well as BIPOC-focused mental health events.

According to James, the platform was so well received that he “had other candidates reach out to me who are running for other offices and say ‘I would love to collaborate with you on this issue surrounding mental health events that focus on BIPOC communities.’”

The SGA presidential candidates are in agreement about their goals to increase diversity and inclusion, but have different platforms to achieve this goal.

Where Smith wants to “make the ILR school the most inclusive and equitable part of Cornell,” James wants “minority equity in class curriculum, and student and faculty representation,” and Bixler wants to “prioritize tenuring and recruiting” of minority faculty members as well as increase the number of required classes focused on issues of diversity.

A point of contention that has arisen during campaigning is the shadow of the University’s 2018 plan to merge ILR with the College of Human Ecology.

Bixler and Smith have both promised to, respectively, make clear that “ILR has to stand alone” and “maintain [ILR’s] independence.” Bixler pointed to her past social media successes campaigning for other political candidates where she got “the exposure of 50,000 people” as evidence that she is best suited to use the bullhorn of the SGA presidency “as a mobilizing force” in the event of another attempted merger.

Smith was the SGA freshman representative when the merger was discussed, and pointed to the time she spoke at a town hall on the matter as proof that she has “faced the administration before and [is] more than willing to continue standing up for ILRies.”

Out of all the Cornell schools and colleges, ILR is the only one with its own governing body. Where most others rely directly on the Student Assembly, ILR also has the SGA. And Smith noted, “the S.A. hasn’t done anything for ILR.”

She said before the SGA can fix ILR, it needs to fix itself. “This organization is barely functioning right now. We are in the process of rebuilding,” she said, also making clear that this sentiment was “not directed at any specific candidate.”

Smith said last year, SGA hit a low point: It had approximately 10 general body members, executive board meetings with many members absent and a “Dean’s ILR advisory committee” was created with similar functions to the SGA.

Over the summer, Smith met with individuals including now-SGA Vice Presidential Candidate Jude Martini ’22 and SGA adviser Rebecca Schimenti.

The three created a proposal to fix the SGA, and Smith said that since “I created this plan… I should be the person to implement it… I’m the only candidate that actually has an idea of the structural changes that are being made in SGA.”

It’s uncertain how much engagement can be brought back to SGA — currently, there are no candidates for Junior or Senior Representative.

This SGA election will happen at a strange time: Voting ends only one week before a national election day. This campaign season has brought up similar issues to those discussed nationally yet, partially due to a ban on negative campaigning, the candidates agreed there has been no conflict.

Correction, Oct. 26, 3:46 p.m.: A previous version of this article misstated Bixler’s class year. Bixler is a member of the Class of 2021, not 2022. The article has since been updated.