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Students walk between classes on the Arts Quad near McGraw tower beneath a rainy sky.

September 26, 2021

Freshmen and Transfer S.A. Candidates Discuss COVID-19, Financial Aid, Housing at Special Forum

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Student Assembly candidates gathered to present their plans to address COVID-19 concerns, financial aid delays and dissatisfaction with housing in a special forum on Sept. 23.

The candidates, running for freshman and transfer representative seats, largely focused on student resources in their platforms. They expressed support for providing students with hybrid learning options, increasing financial aid and lowering tuition, increasing mental health resources, improving housing quality and making Cornell Dining more accessible.

The forum, which took place in Appel Commons, featured eight of the nine freshman representative candidates — Pedro Da Silveria ’25, Jeffrey Huang ’25, Andrew Juan ’25, Sammie Lambourne ’25, Luna Lu ’25, Jefelyn Naula ’25, Michelle Song ’25 and Joaquin Suriel ’25. Aidan Solomon ’25 submitted a short video because he could not attend in person.

Joane Kim ’24 appeared as a transfer representative candidate, and Maral Asik ’24, the other transfer candidate, could not attend.

Da Silveria, Song and Suriel advocated for a hybrid class model that would allow students to view lectures on Canvas in case they must miss class because of COVID-19. Da Silveria also said that club meetings should be uploaded to Campus Groups in order to include absent club members and other members of the campus community.

Lambourne voiced support for a financial aid reform that would allow students to more easily appeal their packages after the University decides them. Solomon supported a similar measure, stating that the University should lower student contributions in overall tuition costs and grant financial aid more quickly. Song was a proponent of reducing tuition and raising wages for student employees.

Questions of safety and diversity also loomed large in the forum. Naula called for Cornell to hire more therapists of color, and Song advocated for making campus more accessible to low-income students. 

“This means taking an approach to making sure that every student, regardless of background, particularly socioeconomic, that they have a place here,” Song said. “It means not only working to lower tuition and raise student wages, but it also means taking on more progressive policies, free bus passes beyond just the first year of school, making sure food insecurity is not an issue for any student.”

Several candidates, including Lambourne and Solomon, called for increased mental health resources. Lambourne also called for additional student support during preliminary exams weeks.

The candidates also spoke on improving the convenience and financial aspects of living on campus. Lu cited inequity in housing prices, noting that students pay the same price for a dramatic range of dorm quality. Solomon said that all dormitories should be upgraded.

“I also want to improve the living quality on campus,” Solomon said. “No student’s dorm should be so hot, where it’s almost unbearable to work or sleep in.”

Lambourne said that the housing office should increase transparency so that students know housing details before they receive their dorm assignment. 

Da Silveria called for Bear Necessities, North Campus’s late night convenience store, to offer a delivery option. He suggested the implementation of pre-packaged grab-and-go take-out in dining halls so students can access food more easily. Lu argued for more meal swipe-friendly cafés and dining halls on Central Campus.

Kim shared her plans to make her fellow transfer students feel more welcome. She suggested organizing more transfer-specific events and creating a smoother transition and integration process for future transfer students.

Asik, the other transfer candidate, told The Sun that she aims to use her previous experience in student representation to make real change for transfer students. She added that she wants to work to bring transfer students’ experiences into the conversation about late financial aid.

Candidates were ultimately united by a desire to bring a voice to freshmen and transfer students. Huang said his religious background drives him to always “listen to other people and make sure that they feel heard and accepted and welcomed.” 

Suriel said he hopes to garner the support of a large network on-campus.

“I’m very interested in creating broad coalitions at a grassroots level to create change,” Suriel said. “ I want you to know that … together, you and me, we’re going to create the change that you’re looking for.”

Similarly, Juan stressed his focus on educating students about the S.A.’s roles, responsibilities and focus points throughout the semester. 

“If people don’t even know that [the Student Assembly] is the place where changes are made, we can’t make those changes happen,” Juan said. “I think that understanding what the Student Assembly does, how people can participate in it better, without being an elected official is super important, so that we can actually get the relevant changes that we want.”

There are four seats available for freshman representatives and one available for transfer representative. Voting, which is limited to freshmen and transfers, will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at noon, at which time students will receive a link to vote from the Office of the Assemblies, according to Patrick Mehler ’23, director of elections for the S.A. and the president of Cornell Votes. Voting will close on Thursday, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.