On Thursday, April 8, 17 candidates for at-large and undergraduate representative positions gathered virtually for the first debate of the 2021 Student Assembly Elections.
Throughout the debate, common concerns among all candidates included the need to reduce financial burdens for students, improve infrastructure and provide resources to support student wellbeing.
The potential candidates began by introducing themselves and their platforms, then answered both general and role-specific questions.
First generation students liaison at-large
First-generation students liaison at-large candidates Ariella Hajibay-Piranesi ’24, Rory Sheppard ’23 and Valeria Valencia ’23 discussed the importance of financial and community support for first-generation students. Valencia and Hajibay-Piranesi shared hopes to expand usage of and increase funding for the Student Access Fund. Sheppard discussed eliminating certain student costs, including laundry fees, on-campus gym membership and student activity fees.
At the forefront of the debate were proposed changes to Cornell’s Prefreshman Summer Program which selects students — usually from marginalized groups — to take classes on campus before starting their first year.
Hajibay-Piranesi suggested that the program place more emphasis on helping first-generation students meet their peers and get accustomed to their new environment.
Similarly, Valencia suggested reducing the course load of the program for students, to help first-generation student participants explore the full potential of their resources at Cornell.
“First-generation students… can get a better sense of the campus and the resources that Cornell has to offer without that added stress of potentially hurting your GPA with that one chemistry class,” Valencia said.
Minority students liaison at-large
Minority students liaison at-large candidates Donelly Matus-Stulzer ’24, Nathaniel Quigg ’24 and Mannayah Louis ’24 discussed the importance of actively listening to minority students and their experiences to provide them with the appropriate resources.
Quigg called on Cornell to sever ties with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other ICE-affiliated organizations for minority students’ well-being. ICE has been known to threaten the security and safety of many minorities and enforce abusive practices, as outlined by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In regards to funding, Matus-Stulzer argued for the potential elimination of student contributions to provide financial support to minority students who are often from lower-income households.
Quigg and Louis also agreed on the expansion of opportunities for cultural celebration and education to better support minority students.
“There needs to be more support for events that celebrate the joys of various minority cultures… making sure that other students get to connect with people who might not have lived a similar life to them,” Louis said.
Students with disabilities representative
Raquel Zohar ’23 is running for re-election for the position of students with disabilities representative against Duncan Cady ’23. Both highlighted the need for accessibility and inclusion for undergraduate students with disabilities.
The students with disabilities representative was introduced only in May of last year. Since then, Zohar has connected with the head of Cornell’s Student Disability Services and is looking to increase access to vaccines for disabled students, as well as the general student body.
The two candidates agreed on the importance of keeping students with disabilities involved in conversations about challenges posed by the pandemic. Zohar focused on the hope for SDS to return to in-person services to provide access to medical services.
Cady pointed out that challenges for students with disabilities go far beyond the scope of the pandemic, and suggested an American Disabilities Association audit to hold Cornell accountable and ensure students get the accommodations they need.
LGBTQIA+ liaison at-large
Both LGBTQIA+ liaison at-large candidates Dillon Eisman ’22 and Beck Kerdman ’24 say they aim to amplify the voices of LGBTQIA+ students.
Eisman’s primary focus was on policy reform. He wants a zero-tolerance stance in cases of discrimination and more support for people who anonymously report experiencing discrimination. Citing their experiences as a transmasculine person, Kerdman’s top priority is highlighting transgender and queer issues in the discussion of general policies regarding gender-neutral facilities.
“There shouldn’t be a talk of resources or facilities that doesn’t include a consideration of how gender identity or how your queerness and your queer identity can effect those resources,” Kerdman said.
Undergraduate representative to the university assembly
Jacob Feit ’22, who is running for re-election as undergraduate representative to the university assembly, emphasized his current accomplishments. He discussed his advocacy for campus sustainability by holding Cornell accountable on its promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and switch investments in fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Feit also discussed involvement in the acquisition of the new Veterans Resource House and living facility to provide further financial and mental health resources for veterans.
Trevor Bacchi ’22 and Lesly Zhicay ’23 are both running against Feit, however, neither appeared for the debate.
Womxn’s issue liaison at-large
Amari Lampert ’24 is running uncontested for the womxn’s issue liaison at-large, pushing for improved campus safety through increased preventative resources for sexual assault and harassment in addition to expanded resources for mental, physical and sexual health needs.
Undesignated representative at-large
Candidates for undesignated representative at-large were Paula Blanco ’24, Deepak Ilango ’22, James Lepone ’22, Benjamin Luckow ’24 and Lucas Smith ’22 — who is running for re-election. The five candidates discussed the need for more resources for undergraduate students and increased student involvement in the S.A.
Candidates discussed how to best engage with the thousands of students they hope to represent. Lepone suggested longer open mic times for community questions and distributing student surveys on resolutions passed. Ilango called for more town hall meetings and extended undesignated representative office hours.
Ilango said that his experience with political campaigns taught him how candidates should center their constituents’ needs.
“I want to bring that experience here to the Cornell campus […] to get people involved and to make sure that they know that the students work for them and because of them,” Ilango said.
The College Representative debates will occur on Tuesday, April 20 at 6:30 p.m. EDT.
The President/EVP debate will occur on Thursday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. EDT.
Voting will be held from April 27-29, after the Wellness Break.