Executive vice president of ALANA Intercultural Board, vice president of public relations for the Mexican Students Association, member of the Cornell University Hearing and Review Board, Student Assembly vice president of finance, senior Residential Advisor on South Campus –– these are just some of the hats Valeria Valencia ’23 wears. Her latest role? President of the Student Assembly.
Balancing all these responsibilities with her Industrial and Labor Relations major and double minors in Law and Society and Inequality Studies, Valencia is integral to many parts of the Cornell community, representing students’ needs and concerns in every position she takes.
Valencia said she is excited for her term, as well as for its historic precedent: Valencia is the first Latina to serve as president of the S.A. since the body was created in 1981.
“To be the first anything is pretty shocking,” Valencia said. “I know that it definitely means a lot to me and to the rest of the community.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these campaigns have relied on different tactics than were previously employed. Valencia has used social media platforms, emails and even a music video to reach voters.
“I did a lot of engaging online content to really try and get people excited about elections and the Student Assembly,” Valencia said.
During her presidential campaign, loosening COVID-19 restrictions allowed clubs to meet in-person. Valencia went to campus organizations’ meetings to ask for endorsements and address students’ concerns.
“The main thing that I heard from speaking with them is that they don’t really feel that the S.A. represents them in the best way,” Valencia said, attributing this feeling to how most organizations only hear from S.A. representatives during election season.
In response to these concerns, Valencia said that she will regularly seek out the perspectives of students and their campus organizations on the S.A.’s work just as she did as first generation student representative, as well as serving as a fair moderator when the S.A. deals with important issues.
“Regardless of how my feelings would be about a resolution or whatever the case may be, It would be my job to really hear both sides or however many sides there are,” Valencia said.
Valencia also has an ambitious policy platform, which includes creating a system to report anonymous feedback on professors, reviewing the Student Health Insurance Plan, increasing campus sustainability, free gym memberships and reducing student contributions to financial aid plans.
Among her first priorities is abolishing Cornell’s summer student contribution fee. Valencia said that she wants to work alongside Cornell’s undergraduate financial aid office and other administration offices to expand a current pilot program for low-income students and students with unpaid summer internships to receive financial aid to cover their summer contribution fees.
Valencia is also particularly passionate about confronting food insecurity on campus, and has suggested that the University should open another food pantry on central campus.
Valencia said that as an RA on South Campus, she lives in the same building where Cornell’s food pantry is located, which has allowed her to see all the work food pantries do to assist students dealing with food insecurity.
“I think it would be super cool to also have a food pantry on Central Campus so it can be more accessible to students who don’t live on West [Campus],” Valencia said. “I know food insecurity can be a really big problem for our campus, so [I’m interested in] expanding on the good work that we have done already with the food pantry.”
Beyond her policy proposals, Valencia said she believes her background will assist her in effectively representing the student body.
“Being a first-generation student, being a low-income student, being a minority student on this campus definitely you have a different perspective,” Valencia said. “Having that background allows me to step into different spaces and be more conscious of how our roles as S.A. representatives affect the different communities that we have on campus.”
For Valencia, this ability to connect with others is crucial, since part of her vision for the S.A. is of a group that connects more with campus communities that its members aren’t part of. This is part of a broader effort by Valencia to break the S.A.’s isolation.
“I think a lot of times the Student Assembly functions in a vacuum. If you go to any of our meetings you can see that we have very few people in attendance, if any,” Valencia said, attributing this problem to the Assembly’s lack of collaboration with other campus groups.
Connecting with campus is also part of how Valencia hopes to avoid the quick dismissals of the S.A. by students in the past that she thinks predominate campus.
“One of my main things that I ran on when I was campaigning was really bridging the gap between the student body and the Student Assembly,” Valencia said.
Valencia said that changing those negative opinions requires good policy, but also genuine efforts at connection and a change in S.A. culture.
“I think a lot of it goes back to just reaching out to our constituents… Students should be excited about the Student Assembly,” Valencia said. “They should be proud of the work that we do and really feel safe and welcome at our meetings.”