Candidates for the Student Assembly transfer, freshman and students with disabilities representative positions discussed ways to increase S.A. engagement among the Cornell community in a forum held in Warren Hall on Friday, Sept. 29 and moderated by Sun news editor Julia Senzon ’26. Instead of focusing on national issues, these candidates want to narrow the S.A.’s scope to solving issues where its direct impact is tangible to the campus.
Voting begins Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. and ends Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 11:59 p.m.
Transfer Representative Forum
Simone Chan ’25 — a junior transfer student from Pasadena City College — wants to create services to bridge the gap between regular transfer students, like herself, and guaranteed transfer students, who are accepted by Cornell through the Transfer Option program during their senior year in high school. She believes Cornell has room to improve regarding catering to both groups of transfer students equally.
“Cornell does a really good job in reaching out to transfer option students [before arriving on campus],” Chan said. “The transfer students that are not transfer options are more like the freshmen in terms of we don’t know what’s coming. We come here with all new expectations, and everything is so brand new.”
Chan hopes to work with the S.A. to provide more information and guidance to transfer students throughout the year. In her own transfer experience, Chan has struggled due to this lack of information.
“One struggle [I had that] was really scary [was] I couldn’t select my classes for some reason,” Chan said. “So [Cornell Student Center] didn’t really fully register my status as a student. So I was really panicking during the whole summer.”
Hasham Khan ’26, a sophomore transfer student from Towson University, voiced similar concerns regarding neglect towards transfer students.
“One of the biggest concerns that I heard from transfer students was in regards to housing and feelings of isolation,” Khan said. “It was so crazy going online [to] SideChat [and] Reddit and seeing a lot of people say that they feel so alone at Cornell because they’re transfer students — they left their friends, they left their communities, and now they’re here. There are already set friend groups that have been established.”
Khan hopes to establish a community for transfers to meet and limit feelings of isolation. As a Risley resident, Khan suggested creating a designated transfer student residence hall so students have more opportunities to connect.
“I came to Cornell, and I was surrounded by freshmen, so I got integrated into the freshman class,” Khan said. “I know five other transfer students, compared to someone who’s on West in Cook or one of the other houses on West. And that’s where the transfer community is. There’s Cascadilla — the transfer community is there [also].”
Both candidates are passionate about their platform and eager to help improve the transition process for the Cornell transfer student community.
“I find it really fulfilling just to see that you could put your effort [in] and to see a change on campus,” Chan said.
Freshman Representative Forum
Each of the 13 candidates for the four freshman representative seats is prepared to advocate for their class and lead by listening to their community’s concerns. Issues these first-year students aim to improve include Ithaca’s public transportation system TCAT, housing and dining hall accessibility along with increasing overall engagement in the community.
Davian Gekman ’27 is a first-year in the ILR school. He wants to improve the transition for freshmen entering Cornell by utilizing class Instagram pages and creating a social app where communities can post when they are holding events.
“I would really want to use the Cornell 2027 page or pages similar to that [to post] ‘alright here’s how the TCAT works, here’s how this works,’” Gekman said. “The biggest way for [Cornell] to communicate well is to [ensure] a smooth and easy process moving into the dorms and [give freshman opportunities] to come into Cornell with friends.”
Ilana Livshits ’27, who is double majoring in biology and feminist gender and sexuality studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, also wants to improve the social aspects of the freshman community. She aims to create activities that bring first-year students together beyond orientation week.
“There’s this very weird stereotype that you can’t make a friend group after a week, where it’s like, you get your little clique, and there is no community building after,” Livshits said. “There needs to be some community building that is happening during weekends.”
Zora deRham ’27, an agricultural sciences major, is centering her platform around increasing meal swipe options on the Central Campus, such as allowing meal swipes to be used at Trillium, a popular eatery on the agriculture quad. She additionally wants to foster more school spirit by having buses to away games for fans to ride.
After noticing positive student feedback as a result of the S.A. successfully doubling the Slope Day budget, deRham believes her ideas will continue to inspire students to engage with the S.A.
“That budget increase prompted a lot of people to just say, ‘I’d love to suggest more artists that I know,’” deRham said. “It prompted a lot of talk about the Student Assembly.”
Elliott Serna ’27, a first-year in the Brooks School of Public Policy, aims to increase TCAT accessibility for all Cornell students, increase knowledge about Cornell’s Student Health Benefits health insurance coverage and possibly change Cornell’s graduation gowns.
“With the graduation gowns, being able to kind of revitalize them … creates a dialogue — it creates engagement,” Serna said. “It’s something that every individual tangibly sees.”
David Diao ’27, who is in the Brooks School of Public Policy, believes the best way to engage with the community is to provide students with information that allows them to take direct action to voice their concerns.
“It is our role as representatives, or people in candidacy, to be representatives, to provide students with information that provides them with transparency,” Diao said. “That is the best way to have representation.”
Cion Kim ’27, who is in the College of Engineering, is another candidate aiming to implement policies that create more engagement within both the freshman and overall Cornell community. To expand the S.A.’s presence on campus, Kim wants to create opportunities where students can share concerns and obtain help from others.
“We should have a more open forum so that students know where to ask and how to ask [so their opinions] will make an impact,” Kim said. “The [aspect] I really want to focus on is [a forum] on advice and communications. One [forum] would be connecting upperclassmen to lower classmen so that [freshmen] could get advice.”
Other candidates are centering their campaigns around improving services around campus based on their personal experiences. For example, Christian Flournoy ’27, who is studying biomedical engineering on the pre-med track, wants to improve both mail and housing services for students.
“One idea … is having certain dorms pick up certain packages on certain days — it might help with the rush and long lines,” Flournoy said.
Keten Abebe ’27, a freshman in the Brooks School of Public Policy, was inspired by her personal experience as an immigrant to improve diversity, equity and inclusion services and the financial aid process.
“There’s this very weird line with college application processes if you’re not an international student, and if you’re not a permanent resident — it’s such murky waters,” Abebe said. “So one thing that I definitely want to do is host a virtual session for every incoming student looking to apply to Cornell about how to handle that financial aid process.”
Some freshman representative candidates want to make small improvements that have a larger impact on campus. Eric Yao ’27, who is studying electrical and computer engineering, wants to improve the dining hall Okenshields, build a safer campus and eliminate Duo push, the two-step login process for Cornell accounts.
“I think our representatives are going after performative actions that have no impact on the daily lives of Cornellians,” Yao said when asked about a lack of community engagement with the S.A. “As a representative to the Student Assembly, I’ll focus on everyday issues such as rising costs, the dining halls, infrastructure and stress from academics.”
Joey Chen ’27, who is in the College of Engineering, wants to install more outlets around campus and in libraries to charge devices, along with more street lamps to increase safety on campus.
“If we create a new project, or if we put on some new lights, then we can maybe invite [students] to come and see it,” Chen said. “And [then] kind of get everyone to know that the Student Assembly was behind it.”
When asked what they plan to do to prepare for the future impact of a larger first-year class regarding housing and overcrowding, many candidates embraced the idea of more freshmen on campus fostering more diversity and opportunity.
However, candidates want to make sure Cornell can prepare to adapt and accommodate everyone in the future. Gekman and deRham suggested opening the North Star Dining Room for breakfast and offering more Big Red Bucks packages and meal swipe options to avoid overcrowding in Okenshields, the only meal swipe dining hall on central campus.
Stephen Yang ’27, Kevin Zhang ’27 and Christian Tarala ’27 are also running for freshman representative but were not present at the forum.
Students with Disabilities Representative at Large Forum
The two candidates for the students with disabilities representative at large have different ideas surrounding their campaign, but similar goals. Both want students with disabilities to be recognized and valued in the same way other students are.
As construction around campus obstructs various roads or walkways, Admir Cekic ’26, an industrial labor and relations major, wants to prioritize creating pathways through large traffic zones. He believes while it is a small difference, these pathways will greatly help those with physical disabilities navigate campus more easily.
“The common misconception is that the Student Assembly may not be able to solve a lot of things, but the Student Assembly should and does act as a place to open the discussion and dialogue with Cornell,” Cekic said. “I would act as a representative to open discussions on the construction’s [impact] on [students with] Student Disability Services [accommodations], and other things that affect every student, not only just those with disabilities.”
He additionally aims to improve accommodations regarding absences due to a disability.
“No one should have their grades be at risk because of something they can’t control, like an illness, disability or any mental health or physical health issue they may have,” Cekic said. “I think that’s something that Cornell should work on, both with SDS and the academic policy committee.”
Both candidates want to advertise that S.A. meetings are open to the public. Allison Helkowski ’26, who is also in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, emphasized creating a safe space separate from the larger S.A. meeting for students with disabilities to share their concerns.
“Some people who are identified as having disabilities are oftentimes insecure when they come to discussing what they need [and] what they’ve gone through — it is a very emotional topic,” Helkowski said. “We should open our doors, we should be more marketable when it comes to looking at things like students with disabilities.”
Helkowski wants to amend the current process for obtaining an SDS accommodation by reducing the burden of proof required. Currently, students must submit a disability self-disclosure form, and Cornell considers this documentation along with academic history to determine whether the information warrants an SDS accommodation.
“I think [the SDS process] is significantly discriminatory against people who have these invisible disabilities that we don’t value,” Helkowski said. “Epilepsy, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder [and] things of that nature that aren’t exactly visible to the human eye, but still qualify as a disability that requires accommodations.”
To conclude the S.A. forum, an open forum was held for candidates who did not get a chance to voice their campaigns. Amida Akpan ’25 is studying civil engineering and is running to be the next engineering representative. She highlighted engineers’ lack of knowledge regarding academic support resources.
“What I would like to do is increase or advertise all the options and all the help that engineering first and second years have available for them,” Akpan said. “[I want] to make sure that they are aware [that if they] feel overwhelmed in a class and don’t understand the material, they have free tutoring, or if they don’t understand how to select classes for the next semester or next year, they can go to their advisor.”
Franklin Berry ’26, who is running for the architecture, art and planning representative seat, hopes to give students an incentive to participate in voting events for the S.A., including rewarding voters with course credits. Many candidates discussed the power of listening throughout the forum, but Berry emphasized putting his plans into action.
“I think a really big thing is having [a] vision, knowing what you’re looking for, what you want to advocate [and] what you want to implement,” Berry said. “You can listen all day, but at the end, you have to make a decision, you have to move it forward.”
Correction, Oct. 5, 4:32 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there are two freshman representative seats. There are four, and the article has been corrected.