Ming DeMers/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

S.A. presidential candidate Patrick Kuehl '24 talks at the Student Assembly candidate forum, alongside candidates Pedro Da Silveira ’25 and Sanvi Bhardwaj ’24, in Martha Van Rensselaer on April 25.

April 26, 2023

Student Assembly Forum Sparks Discussion on Cornell Administration, Free Speech and Resource Access

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The candidates for Student Assembly president and executive vice president met to discuss their qualifications and plans for dealing with pertinent issues of the student body in a forum on Tuesday, April 25. Among the discussed topics were student relations with the University Administration, free speech and plans to restore the S.A.’s legitimacy within the student body. The Q&A-style forum was moderated by Angela Bunay ’24, who is the current editor-in-chief of The Sun.

Presidential Forum

This year’s candidates for S.A. president are Sanvi Bhardwaj ’24, Pedro Da Silveira ’25 and Patrick Kuehl ’24. 

Bhardwaj, a health care policy major in the College of Human Ecology, currently serves as the Human Ecology representative and chair of the S.A.’s student health advisory committee. Their main concern is creating a more equitable and safe campus, which they aim to do by pushing for an on-campus basic needs center, reforming the Title IX process and disarming CUPD, among other actions.

“I’m running because I want to make Cornell a better place for all, not just a select few. Cornell is really struggling,” Bhardwaj said. “This is a Cornell where people’s basic needs aren’t met. A Cornell where people are struggling with food insecurity, homelessness [and] the lack of access to healthcare. … Survivors aren’t believed right now, [and] marginalized students feel like they’re constantly pushing up against the wall every single day.”

Da Silveira, a biomedical engineering major in the College of Engineering and the current vice president of internal operations and engineering representative for the S.A., is running on a platform of action and experience, citing his roles in bringing Ithaca Bikeshare back to campus, aiding in the creation of Plan B Vending Machines and launching a plan for heat lamps at bus stops. Through his work as a residential advisor and track record of past projects, De Silveira believes that he is the best person to take the concerns of students and spur action.

“My greatest strength is … that I’ve been able to deliver on various projects. [In] the past year alone, like I’ve mentioned, [I’ve] been able to work with Ithaca City Council, Cornell admin and Jeff Goodmark from Ithaca Bikeshare to help bring back bike-sharing services and e-bikes to Cornell’s campus,” Da Silveira said.

Kuehl is a global development major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who currently serves on the S.A. as an Undesignated At-Large Representative. Kuehl — who transferred from Ithaca College last semester — arrived in Ithaca prior to the pandemic and decided to take time off when classes moved online, opting to work as an emergency medical technician for Bangs Ambulance. His work as an EMT inspired a presidential campaign that centers around the theme of community.

“I’ve treated thousands of patients in the community, many of them Cornell students, and many of them I’ve treated for mental health problems,” Kuehl said. “Over and over and over again, the one thing I hear facing these students is that they don’t feel like they have community and they feel totally alone. … There are 30 weeks in the term for us and all 30 weeks of mine will be focused on making sure that every student at Cornell University has a place.”

When each candidate was asked what they saw as the biggest issue facing the University, Da Silveira pointed to the lack of support for students and promised that as president, he would push for quality-of-life changes. 

“I believe that the biggest issue here at this university is the fact that students … do not feel supported. They feel that there’s no community,” Da Silveira said. “From a student assembly point of view, we can do a lot better at ensuring not just that students’ voices are heard, but that they’re respected.”

Kuehl concurred, remarking on the lack of community and the importance of friends and peers in mitigating mental health crises.

“The biggest issue for me at Cornell and for a lot of students is that they lack community,” Kuehl said. “We [need to] make sure that people are being included. There shouldn’t be anybody left behind, not a single student on this campus.”

Bhardwaj, however, focused mainly on remedying the structural inequities that deprive many students of an equitable Cornell experience. 

“The biggest issue at Cornell is the way that not every student has the same experience, and it’s due to structural inequities,” Bhardwaj said. “There are students on this campus who are struggling with finding meals that they’re going to have for the next day. [They’re worrying about] where they’re going to live, if they’re going to have access to health care, how they’re going to pay their next bill — not their academics. … This is a disgrace.”

While the S.A. may pass resolutions autonomously, the resolutions cannot be instituted without administrative approval. The candidates discussed their positions on the balancing act of pleasing students while simultaneously retaining administrative support. Kuehl stressed the importance of action and believed that meeting with the Administration would benefit the student body.

Bhardwaj, however, argued that the Administration is not there to support students and routinely fails students who bring forth safety concerns. They argue that students must show administrators that they have power in numbers, and not play into the status quo set by the Administration. 

Da Silveira feels that if the S.A. does its job correctly, then it should be able to provide tangible solutions to the concerns of students. He believes that solutions are possible without acting undiplomatically and while still cooperating with administrators.

After the unanimous passage of Resolution 31 — which urged instructors to provide content warnings for traumatic content and allowed students to opt out of triggering content without penalization — free speech has been a hotly debated issue for Cornell, which attracted national media attention due to the resolution. President Martha Pollack rejected the resolution in an April 3 email to current S.A. president Valeria Valencia ’23.

Following this rejection, Pollack sent out a University-wide email deeming “Freedom of Expression” the theme of the upcoming academic year. The S.A. presidential candidates each shared their thoughts on Pollack’s declaration and how they would lead with the theme in mind.

Bhardwaj took issue with Pollack’s framing of attacks on free speech as occurring on “both ends of the political spectrum” and argued that Pollack failed to acknowledge the differentiation between hate speech and opinion.

“I have no intention of governing in a way that is tolerating hate speech — that’s tolerating harassment, that’s tolerating the terrible rhetoric that has been surrounding this resolution,” Bhardwaj said.

Kuehl also supported the content warning resolution and noted that as President, he would give all students an opportunity to use their voices.

“I think that every student deserves to be able to gauge where they’re at, but that also doesn’t mean complete censorship of all ideas — it just means allowing students to feel comfortable in their learning environments,” Kuehl said.

Da Silveira agreed with Kuehl’s promise to provide a voice for all students and added that the S.A. should work to protect students from online attacks and threats, which S.A. members claimed to be victims of.

“I intend to lead the Student Assembly to make sure that we can actually protect our students, that we can stand up for them, [and] work with the Administration to get the adequate protections that all of our students deserve,” Da Silveira said.

Closing the presidential forum, the candidates presented their thoughts on what makes Cornell unique. The three concurred that Cornell’s uniqueness is a result of the exceptional members of the student body who regularly do remarkable things. Noting the few forum attendees, the candidates continuously acknowledged that the Cornell student body does not largely interact with the S.A., and many students hold an unfavorable view of the organization — a fact the three candidates hope to change as President.

Da Silveira seeks to remedy this disconnect by sending out a monthly newsletter to all students updating them on the Student Assembly’s actions as well as regaining the respect of the student body by providing tangible results.

Similarly to Da Silveira, Bhardwaj believes that student engagement increases when the Student Assembly delivers tangible change to its constituents. Bhardwaj provided examples, recalling that more students engaged with the S.A. after the successful implementation of the Plan B vending machines and the Assembly’s push to bring a permanent MD gynecologist to campus.

Kuehl, meanwhile, argued that visibility is the solution, as many Cornell students are unaware of the S.A.’s presence despite its ability to make changes in their lives. He seeks to fix this by providing a visible S.A. presence in Cornell’s common spaces. 

Executive Vice President Forum

Following the presidential forum, Bunay moderated the executive vice president forum, which mainly concerned the candidates’ qualifications, their plans for change and the state of basic needs. The two candidates for executive vice president are Rocco DeLorenzo ’24 and Claire Ting ’25. 

Claire Ting ’25 and Rocco Rocco DeLorenzo ’24 are candidates for VP for the Student Assembly, pictured here at the Student Assembly candidate forum in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall on April 25. (Ming DeMers/Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

DeLorenzo, who is majoring in food science as well as applied economics and management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, serves as the Interfraternity Council’s president and vice president of finance on the S.A. As president of the IFC, DeLorenzo played a part in bringing back Greek life for the Spring 2023 semester, which he used as an example of his experience interacting with many different stakeholders on campus. DeLorenzo summed up his platform in an acronym — TACOS.

“My platform [TACOS] breaks down into five components. That is transparency, advocacy, Cornell, the organization of the student assembly and sustainability,” DeLorenzo said.

Ting is an ILR student on the pre-law track and currently serves as the S.A.’s ILR representative and member of the campus welfare committee. Outside of Cornell, she has worked with senators from Nevada to pass protections for the LGBTQ+ community there, which she believes gave her an understanding of vulnerable communities and their needs. Running on a platform of compassion, Ting believes that Cornell’s leaders should be caring and work towards improving crisis support.

“I’m running for executive vice president because I believe that Cornell deserves leaders who are caring and compassionate, who prioritize our community,” Ting said. “You’re hearing a lot of ‘C’ alliteration here, ‘CCC’  — Claire for [a] more caring Cornell, which will also tie into my primary platforms of community care and crisis support.”

When it comes to what DeLorenzo and Ting see as the biggest problem for Cornell, the two candidates diverged. DeLorenzo said he believes Cornell’s most pressing issue is its large administrative size which creates overlap in many departments and makes resources harder to come by.

“I truly think that if we were able to basically combine certain departments or basically make these different centers where resources could be found, students would be a lot better because it would be easier to find them,” DeLorenzo said.

Ting, on the other hand, condemned the University’s lack of crisis support and explained how she would overhaul the current system.

“[I] plan to continue the initiatives I’ve started taking on — for example, bringing in more paid consent-ed workers so that this rape culture starts to subside and hopefully dissipate from the campus, as well as reforming the mental health crisis response for when students call them in,” Ting said.

Aside from focusing on the candidates’ goals and qualifications, Bunay also prompted them to share what they perceived as the hardest part of being executive vice president. Ting, like  DeLorenzo, said that Cornell’s bureaucratic nature slows progress. She believes that by continuing to build ties with administrators and having a clear idea of administrative capabilities, she can overcome this challenge. 

“There tends to be this level of bureaucracy, of cycling to one person and being redirected to another,” Ting said. “Addressing this simply means continuing to build ties with administration, having a very, very clear idea of oversight and the administrative capabilities of each department and, in doing so, creatively solving the problems that we have at the moment.”

DeLorenzo believes that being particular about which resolutions go through the S.A. will be important since administrative consent is required even after a resolution is passed in the Student Assembly.

“The most challenging part is just having a level-headed check on what goes through the assembly for different ideas of resolutions,” DeLorenzo said. “I think a lot of people have great intentions with things that they’re trying to pass, but … if you don’t do your homework and you’re not interacting with the admin, [that] stuff is never going to happen.”

The candidates further clarified their thoughts on how they would make meaningful changes in the community. Ting said that she would reach out to various communities and listen to student concerns as she did when drafting the content warnings resolution, which was inspired by an interaction she had with a fellow student. 

“[I] saw this issue and met it with empathy — that the student had to read graphic, scene-by-scene depictions of rape after being a victim of sexual assault. [I asked the question]: How can we help?” Ting said. 

DeLorenzo argued that change cannot be made without administrative support, so the key to making meaningful change is ensuring that resolutions have the approval of both the community and the Administration. 

“I think the role of the [executive vice president]  is really to create these bumpers and checks. Is this feasible? Have we done our homework? And is this something that admin has support for?” DeLorenzo said. “And I think that that’s wholeheartedly part of the aspect of meaningful change and accomplishing the goals of the Student Assembly.”

Access to basic needs has been a hot topic over the course of this year. In October, the Basic Needs Coalition — a campus organization dedicated to providing students with food, housing, financial aid and other necessities — confronted administration directly to address a list of demands, but failed to receive support. 

On this issue, DeLorenzo seeks to continue the work the Basic Needs Coalition has done with  Dean of Students Marla Love, arguing that the issue is a result of Cornell’s inability to support all students due to the University’s lack of infrastructure. During the forum, Ting advocated for the institution of a physical basic needs center on campus, taking inspiration from Anabel’s Grocery.

“Now, what we effectively lack right now is the basic needs center — a physical center, some sort of physical infrastructure,” Ting said. “I think that some potential avenues that can be explored to establish this basic needs center can be leaning into the Students Helping Students Fund, taking much inspiration from Annabelle’s in 2015, where they were established with $320,000 to get [the basic needs center] up and running.”

Despite their issues with Cornell, both Ting and DeLorenzo said they are proud to be Cornellians. As a child of immigrants and the first daughter in her family to attend college, Ting recognized the privilege of attending an Ivy League institution. DeLorenzo noted the pride he derives from continuing his family’s legacy at Cornell and finding a home in the University’s Greek community.

Voting for the Student Assembly begins on May 1 at 10 a.m. and closes on May 4 at noon. 

Christopher Walker is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].