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UCS candidates discuss platforms

Tahir ’19, Guyot-Sionnest ’20 vie for UCS Presidency while Pelsinger ’20, Zhou ’20 compete for VP

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Polls open today at noon in races for all executive board positions on the Undergraduate Council of Students. Shanzé Tahir ’19 and Fabrice Guyot-Sionnest ’20 contend for the presidency while Camila Pelsinger ’20 and William Zhou ’20 campaign for the vice presidency.

All candidate platforms are available on the UCS website and address issues that range from first-year advising program development to undocumented students protections.

Election results will be announced at 10 p.m. Thursday night on the steps of the Stephen Roberts ’62 Campus Center.

The race for the presidency: Shanzé Tahir ’19

With three years of experience in leadership positions within multiple communities at Brown, Tahir hopes to build on her prior work as the next UCS president.

As an executive board member of the Brown Muslim Students Association her first two years at the University, Tahir worked to bring “female Muslim leadership (into) the chaplaincy,” she said. As a Minority Peer Counselor last year, Tahir built connections between vulnerable communities following the 2016 presidential election, she said.

“Why I want to run is because I’m ready and willing and able to fight this fight for any other student or community at Brown,” Tahir said. “I want to use this platform to elevate the work that so many other students are already doing … while also promoting a campus of respect.”

As the current chair of the Brown Lecture Board, Tahir has worked to bring “diverse speakers” to campus, according to her platform.

“Putting on these huge campus-wide and super popular events takes really strong leadership … (that) values the input of every student member of Lecture Board and uplifts their voice while also promoting a collective vision for the group,” Tahir said. “This experience would be so immensely helpful in leading the UCS general body and the executive board.”

Tahir said that in combination with the connections that she has built as a leader on campus, her lack of previous UCS involvement would give her new insight.

“Talking with a lot of current UCS members, they’re all saying it would be an immense benefit to have someone who has a fresh perspective and … already has connections to these communities to be better able to implement the policies that they’re working for,” Tahir said.

At the same time, “I do acknowledge that I will have to catch up,” she said, adding that she would meet with current UCS President Chelse-Amoy Steele ’18 “often” if elected “to gain the knowledge of UCS and its operations more deeply.”

As president, Tahir said she would work to employ a “comprehensive and holistic approach” to support students who are affected by today’s political climate. Tahir highlighted this objective in her platform and in her opening statement at the UCS candidates debate Sunday night.

Students who may need additional support as a result of the current political climate include students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, undocumented students, international students and first-generation students, Tahir said.

“A huge component of this will also be following up on the five-year (diversity and inclusion action) plans, because different departments are at very different places with that plan,” Tahir said, adding that she would work on “documenting where different departments are and seeing … which ones need more support to accomplish those goals within five years and which ones can actually move ahead and start working toward bigger goals.”

The race for the presidency: Fabrice Guyot-Sionnest ’20

Guyot-Sionnest has been considering his run for UCS president since before he came to Brown.

“I really love Brown — I love the students, I think they’re interesting, they’re fun, they’re smart,” Guyot-Sionnest said. “But there’s just one thing that really bothers me and has bothered me for a while about Brown, and that is that Brown is a bit of an echo chamber sometimes.”

Guyot-Sionnest said he is running to make ideological diversity on campus a priority.

“I decided to run because I think this is a special opportunity for us at Brown to send a message to the rest of the Ivy League, to the rest of the country, to the rest of the world really that Brown is a school that’s ready to say something really serious about this issue.”

Accordingly, Guyot-Sionnest’s platform focuses on “diversity of thought.” As president, Guyot-Sionnest said he would implement this platform by working to bring more ideologically diverse speakers to campus, referencing a study released by SPEAK Coalition last month that found that 94.5 percent of speakers invited to the University lean to the left.

“If we want to really learn and be good students, … we have to hear opinions that don’t just agree with us,” he said.

In addition, Guyot-Sionnest said he would like to ensure that all students feel comfortable voicing their opinions in class.

“Oftentimes, professors at Brown are overly political, and that can stifle some students from saying what they would like to say,” he said.

The Herald’s fall 2017 poll found that 67 percent of Brown undergraduates either strongly or somewhat agree that their professors successfully facilitate discussions that respect opposing points of view, though 23.9 percent of students strongly or somewhat disagree with this assertion, according to the survey.

Additionally, Guyot-Sionest said he aims to diversify the news channels played on televisions at the Sharpe Refectory.

“I’m not saying that CNN isn’t a great news source, but there are other news sources that other people listen to and … it’s important for us to hear those perspectives,” he said.

Like Tahir, Guyot-Sionnest has never held a position in UCS, which he said could be beneficial.

“Just as Brown is a bit of an echo chamber, UCS can also be a bit of an echo chamber sometimes,” Guyot-Sionnest said. “And there are incredible people on UCS, but nonetheless, having an outsider perspective does help me see things from new perspectives.”

Guyot-Sionnest is a captain of a Brown Mock Trial team and the founder of a program that aims to connect first- and second-year computer science students at the University with Rhode Island businesses.

The program “started last summer, so this summer we’re going to be having our first cohort of students. We’ve already got a couple of businesses lined up agreeing to hire students and I know a couple of students who are really interested in the prospect,” he said.

Though his platform focuses primarily on one issue — the lack of diversity of thought on campus — Guyot-Sionnest said he recognizes there are other problems that UCS can address. 

“I will be raising these concerns if I’m elected president,” he said. “I’m trying to promise things that I can and will accomplish.”

The race for the vice presidency: Camila Pelsinger ’20

In her two years at the University, Pelsinger has dedicated much of her time to “direct community organizing, working with grassroots organizations on campus” and “sexual violence prevention,” she said.

As UCS vice president, Pelsinger would support projects driven by student groups. Her experience working within various communities at Brown — for instance, as a lead peer educator in the Sexual Assault Peer Education program and with the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition — has prepared her for this role, Pelsinger said.

“We need to incorporate people into UCS leadership that have direct experience working within communities,” she said. “I want to work with these communities to fuel (their) initiatives, but also … (make) space for them to speak for themselves and bring them to the table with (the) administration and deans.”

Pelsinger — who is currently the UCS chair of campus life — said she is running because multiple initiatives that UCS plans to continue next semester “are things that I’ve worked on a lot on the ground implementing (and) building through policy.”

Next semester, UCS will enact the Campus Consent Bill, which will require all Category III student groups to send representatives to a training hosted by student groups like SAPE, as The Herald previously reported.

In addition, UCS will further develop systems for bias-related reporting at Brown, which Steele has worked to amend this year. Pelsinger said she would hope to establish new, informal methods for survivors of sexual assault to seek restorative justice.

“It’s frustrating because it’s either trial investigation office through Title IX or nothing happens, and neither of those options are particularly appealing to a lot of people because the trial and investigation process can be very demanding … and triggering, so a lot of people that I talk to feel guilty for not reporting,” Pelsinger said.

Pelsinger added that an informal process would mean creating a way to “find the person that harmed (a survivor), … tell them that they” caused harm and “find a way to prevent them from hurting someone else again.”

Because she has worked on these initiatives with student groups like SAPE and It’s On Us, Pelsinger said she is equipped to further pursue these goals with UCS next year.

​If elected vice president, Pelsinger said she would strongly support student group initiatives, she said. “​So maybe I wouldn’t be doing as much on​-​the​-​ground work ​… ​(but) ​I can support those initiatives and give them a platform and work on those on the policy level,” she added.

Pelsinger said she spends “all of (her) free time” working on sexual violence prevention, immigrants’ rights and other issues because “that’s what makes me happy.”

She has learned more “working with the directly affected communities and communities doing organizing work … than I have from my classes,” she said. “There’s such a wealth of knowledge and resources within our student communities that are doing the grassroots work, which is why I want to run.”

The race for the vice presidency: William Zhou ’20

In one word, Zhou describes himself as “caring.”

“I like to say ‘caring’ both in the sense that I put a lot of care into the work that I do … (and) I really do care about the people and the community around me,” he continued.

Zhou has been involved with UCS for the past two years and currently serves as the chair of student activities.

“I help oversee, with the (Student Activities Office), the 400-plus student groups on campus,” he said. Combined with his previous experience as a general body member and UCS historian, Zhou has built “an extensive knowledge of how UCS works internally” that he said would enable him to support the next UCS president, since neither presidential candidate has experience with UCS.

As vice president, Zhou said he would work to continue collaborating with student leaders to support their initiatives.

This year, Zhou has expanded the scope of the student activities committee by organizing its members into three subcommittees: efficiency, outreach and accessibility. These categories were based on requests from club leaders surveyed by the committee, he said.

The committee’s achievements this year include publishing a club directory, hosting UCS and the Undergraduate Finance Board’s first financial signatory training in the fall and simplifying the form for club categorization.

Zhou also said he wants to work to increase general body participation. “Currently, our general body attendance is very low” because much of the work is done by the executive members and not by the general body members, he added. To increase retention among general body members, Zhou hopes to “designate more autonomy and roles” to the body, which he thinks will “help us get more done.”

Along with Pelsinger, Steele and current Vice President Naveen Srinivasan ’19, Zhou has been involved in working to revise the University’s bias-incident reporting process.

“My experience with this has really been focused on … the student group side of things,” Zhou said, adding that he led an effort to pass a constitutional amendment that requires “all student groups to include a club member dismissal clause in their constitutions.”

This resolution was based on feedback from student groups, the SAO and the Title IX office, who told UCS that club leaders were, at the time, not allowed to dismiss club members “if they (had) concerns from anything related to non-attendance and disruption to something like a more serious Title IX (or) VI violation or a bias incident,” Zhou said.

In his role as chair of the student activities committee, Zhou also works frequently with UFB.

“Because of my position, … I’ve gotten to interact with a lot of student groups ranging from a fun group, like the donut club, to something like First-Gens@Brown,” Zhou said. “Having those established relationships will be really useful in establishing communication between groups and UCS” and contribute more “transparency with what we’re doing,” he added.

Outside of UCS, Zhou works as a Meiklejohn, as a volunteer for Positive Change at Brown and with environmental groups through emPOWER.

All of these roles have given him the “perspective and the opportunity to work with student leaders from across campus … on a really extensive breadth of issues,” Zhou said.

If elected, Zhou said he would focus on student voices.

“I want students to know that … I really do care a lot about improving our community and … listening and addressing student voice and concern,” Zhou said. “That’s been a priority for me this year on the student activities committee, and I want to continue sort of increasing that communication and collaboration moving forward.”

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