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UCS candidates discuss platforms as polls open

Candidates for Undergraduate Council of Students emphasize transparency, inclusion

Polls open today at noon for the Undergraduate Council of Students elections. Vanessa Garcia ’20.5, Melissa Lee ’20 and William Zhou ’20 are in the race for the presidency, while Alex Song ’20 and Jason Carroll ’21 vie for the vice presidency.

All candidate platforms are available on the UCS website and address issues from accessibility and inclusion to increasing council transparency.

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

The race for president: Vanessa Garcia

When deciding to run for UCS president, Garcia thought about “what I’ve experienced in certain spaces (at the University) in terms of accessibility, inclusion (and) diversity,” they said.

“It’s not enough to try to represent these people,” Garcia said about accessibility for and inclusion of historically underrepresented groups. Instead, it is necessary “to have them there with you because otherwise … their voices (will not) be heard.”

Garcia serves as the UCS secretary and works on the council’s Academic Affairs and Student Wellness committees.

UCS “should be coming to folks when there are clear concerns going on in those communities,” they said. The burden should not be on student groups or communities who are experiencing issues or who need resources to come to council general body meetings, they added.

As a business, entrepreneurship and organization concentrator specializing in organizational theory, Garcia questions the efficacy of the council’s bureaucratic structure as compared to grassroots organizing models. Students in positions deemed lower in the hierarchy can feel as if they have no stake or purpose in the council, which “fights against a sense of radical empathy and also collective communal work,” Garcia said.

Restructuring UCS “needs to come first in order for other things to get better. … If you’re changing the structure, the accessibility will come through.” This should be followed by any initiatives proposed by different communities on campus, they said.

In their time with UCS, Garcia has raised questions about why the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan does not specifically address ability in the same way that it does gender and ethnicity.

“We need to continue progress in the DIAP,” Garcia said. “There’s this sense that we’re done now that we have this, but that could not be further from the truth.”

Garcia also said that student groups should consider how to best incorporate the values of the DIAP in their organizations in a way  that is not unduly formalized but still ensures implementation.

As president, Garcia would prioritize compiling both quantitative and qualitative data to do due diligence on the council’s initiatives and ideas. Garcia applies this standard to their own projects, including a UCS Academic Affairs initiative concerning the academic trajectory for students who complete their degrees midyear.

If elected president, “I want to be able to provide a sense that the person that can be the face of UCS … (is) not infallible. They’re always working on themselves, with others, for others, behind others,” Garcia said. “I’m really curious to understand what it means for someone who is disabled to be in the highest position of leadership, and why that is somehow a contradiction for some people,” they added, referencing their own identity as a person who is disabled.

Garcia’s values of vulnerability and empathy would guide their approach to the UCS presidency. “I really do want to listen, especially if I can hear narratives or lived experiences … that are coming from positionalities that I don’t possess or live with,” they said. Garcia will also be voting in favor of the Brown Divest referendum.

“I realized that while I humanized both sides and did listen to both sides, … I would hope that (the referendum) would create action to divest,” Garcia said.

The race for president: Melissa Lee

As president, Lee hopes to build on her work as chair of Campus Life in making UCS relevant to students and improving day-to-day amenities.

Issues that fall under the Campus Life committee’s purview, including residential life, meal plan costs and transportation, are “things that students feel on a daily basis,” Lee said. “I spent a lot of time talking to students on the ground level, seeing what their day-to-day experience was.”

In her year as chair of Campus Life, Lee worked on initiatives such as advocating for hydration stations in every dorm building, beginning a long-term plan to include restaurants on Thayer Street in meal plans and creating an airport shuttle service to lower transportation cost barriers. Lee is working with the University Resources Committee to institutionalize the airport shuttles and also hopes to develop a partnership with Lyft to provide nighttime transportation for all students, she said.

“Even though these big-picture initiatives are … of the utmost importance,” the “little things … increase your overall happiness,” Lee said. “Having improvements for students’ day-to-day lives” has been one of one of Lee’s priorities this year, she said.

Lee also hopes to incorporate UCS resources into an app that Computing and Information Services is piloting “so that UCS can also be at students’ fingertips,” she said.

Internally, Lee would work to increase general body participation as president. UCS struggles to retain general body members because “when people come and feel like they don’t have work to do or their work isn’t being valued, (they) kind of have an inclination to stop coming to these meetings.”

To make UCS more accessible to student groups, Lee proposes appointing general body members as representatives for every housing cluster, Category III student group or major project, she said. Category III student groups may apply for funding above a $200 baseline from the Undergraduate Finance Board.

These representatives would attend group meetings and serve as liaisons in communicating the resources UCS can offer, Lee added.

Though Lee emphasized that she does not want to force any group’s involvement with UCS, “UCS does have a direct line of conversation with (the administration), and being able to help in any way possible without overstepping our bounds would be facilitative,” she said.

The council also lacks cohesion among its various committees and projects, Lee said. As president, she would work to enable communication between committee chairs and the executive board. “There would be more student voices involved in these projects, and that might also help facilitate and drive change on campus as well,” she added.

As chair of Campus Life, Lee is “constantly playing a facilitative role, but also pushing for initiatives to be heard,” she said.

If elected, Lee would strive to directly include groups with “lived experiences” in relevant conversations and rely on their expertise in shaping various initiatives, she said.

Lee will also be voting in favor of the Brown Divest referendum.

While condemning any personal harm students experienced as a result of the referendum, Lee said “it’s extremely important for us to address any human rights violations in Palestine … and hold the University accountable to a higher moral standard.”

The race for president: William Zhou

Currently UCS vice president, Zhou has been involved with UCS for the past three years, previously as the co-chief of staff and chair of student activities.

“Those experiences have really given me an opportunity to work …with students, student groups and administrators to be able to create some positive change on campus, and I’m really motivated to … continue that work,” Zhou said.

Zhou is running for president  to hold the administration to “higher transparency, equity and accountability” standards. His campaign also focuses on increasing council’s proactivity in reaching out to and supporting student groups and communities, particularly “identity- and culture-based groups,” he said.

This semester, Zhou helped develop Campus Conversations, an initiative that has brought administrators like Provost Richard Locke P’18 and Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue to UCS general body meetings.

“What I really wanted to do was create spaces in which students could bring up their priorities to administrators who have a lot of influence in the University,” Zhou said.

As president, Zhou would “ prioritize channels for students to be involved and give feedback” and make the council more transparent and representative. To achieve this, he hopes to appoint UCS liaisons to all Category III student groups to “form continued relationships.” Zhou also hopes to “continue strengthening resources for student organizations because oftentimes they are the source of where activism happens on campus,” he said.

To do so, Zhou would expand the council’s New Initiatives Fund, which the Council allocates to student groups who are not eligible to receive funding from UFB.

In addition, Zhou wants to “increase institutional support as well as UCS support for … students who hold historically marginalized identities” by implementing a special UCS committee “focused on supporting these groups (as they) deal with unique challenges that they face,” he said.

In his time on UCS, Zhou has worked on the policy writing and implementation of the Campus of Consent bill, changes to the University’s bias incident reporting system and mechanisms for student groups to better address harm within their communities in collaboration with the Title IX Office.

Zhou has also worked with the Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center, other first-generation college student groups and the Office of Sustainability on the FLi Into Brown program, which helps ease the moving process for first-generation and low-income students.

“Because I acknowledge the limitations of my personal experiences, I have been very motivated to actively seek out and listen to students with different perspectives and experiences than I have and … work together to create initiatives,” he said.

As a volunteer with EcoReps, a student group that has merged with Green Events, and a member of the Meiklejohn Peer Advising Leadership Committee, Zhou has had “the opportunity to … form relationships with both students and administration and work across communities to motivate change.”

Zhou will be voting yes in the Brown Divest referendum on this year’s ballot.

The University should not be “complicit in perpetuating human rights abuses in the Israel-Palestine conflict,” he said. “No matter what its intentions with its investments, it should be held accountable for the impacts that they create.”

The race for vice presidency: Jason Carroll

With two years of experience on UCS, Carroll said he is drawn to student government because he “grew up the son of a single mother, who really valued giving back, community service and doing work for others.”

Since his first year on UCS, Carroll has been a member of the council’s Student Activities Committee. Currently, Carroll serves as UCS appointments chair, where he aims to be “very proactive in promoting student voices” and has worked to “extend outreach to groups UCS has not historically contacted,” he said.

If he is elected vice president, one of Carroll’s priorities would be advocating for need-blind admission for international students. He noted that Brown was “the last university in the Ivy League to bring need-blind admission to domestic students.” While he is sure the change will be made eventually, Carroll said he “doesn’t want us to be last again.”

Carroll is also concerned with promoting student well-being. He is particularly interested in addressing the “brown, foul-smelling water coming from campus taps,” which he said he has documented in several dorms around campus.

Promoting access to Counseling and Psychological Services and contraceptives are also priorities for Carroll. To expand access, he plans to advocate for the introduction of Saturday appointments at CAPS.

He also hopes to bring an “emergency contraceptive (Plan B) vending machine similar to Stanford and other schools” to campus, according to his platform.

Carroll is also committed to protecting Harambee House, “a living center for all those interested in the politics, culture, society, and other aspects of African and African-American culture” according to its website. “I want to use UCS as a vehicle to support Harambee and Black student space in an institutionalized manner,” Carroll said.

Carroll is also looking to address the course registration process. He referenced unexpected course caps and loss of seats in courses experienced by students over winter break as examples of difficulties in the process. “That’s disrespectful of students’ time and harms people academically,” he said.

Carroll is interested in making what he calls “common sense changes” that will address student concerns. “One thing no one is really talking about is reckless driving through campus,” Carroll said. “We don’t have speed bumps on campus — why not?”

He also said he would like UCS to discuss “undue charges on Brown students,” such as the price of laundry. These costs can present a particular burden for undocumented, first-generation and low-income students because the costs are not covered by financial aid, he added.

Carroll said he will vote yes on the UCS referendum proposed by Brown Divest. Carroll is “involved with Jewish and activist communities” and said he understands both sides of the issue.

“I think we should divest from human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. I think we should divest from human rights abuses in China,” Carroll said at Sunday’s candidate debate. “We need to divest from all of them. There’s no reason we should be invested in Muslim internment camps. There’s no reason we should be invested in bombs blowing up school children in Yemen.”

Ultimately, Carroll joined the race for vice president because he wants “to highlight the voices of others.”

The race for vice president: Alex Song

If elected vice president, Song said he would hope “to lay the foundation culturally for more systemic changes (to UCS) in future years.”

As a result of his three years on UCS, Song “became really passionate about how UCS can empower student voices around campus.” He has served as UCS treasurer and is currently  chair of Student Activities. “I think I have a lot of the leadership skills needed to change the … culture of students not really being aware of what UCS does,” he said.

Song also coordinates the Campus of Consent program, which requires that representatives from certain student groups attend “tailored educational workshops” provided by organizations such as the Sexual Assault Peer Education program.

On UCS next year, Song said that he will work to expand Campus of Consent, which “means for me improving on feedback and making sure that students that are trained have substantive conversations with their groups.”

He also hopes to create a “system of reporting student groups perpetrating harmful behavior against students,” according to his platform. That system would create a framework for students to report incidents of harm to UCS caused by student groups.

UCS is “perfectly situated for that role,” Song said. “I want to make sure everyone is having a safe and equitable experience on campus.”

While the University’s lack of strong pre-professional culture is a strength, according to Song, “it’s important to make sure people are prepared for life after Brown.” Therefore, “there needs to be a resource that is proactive about disseminating” information about internship and employment opportunities, Song said, adding that he does not believe current resources such as Handshake are sufficient.

Another gap in support exists in first-year advising, Song said. “I don’t feel that first-year advisors are proactively engaging with their advisees enough,” Song said, so he hopes to encourage “at least monthly email check-ins,” so that first-years will feel more comfortable turning to their advisors for support.

Song also plans to extend support to new student groups, for which he said “the first barrier, often, is financial.” In addition to wanting to expand the “scope and long-term availability” of the New Initiatives Fund, Song said he wanted a “concerted effort by the UCS to push for more succinct, more aggregated resources for new clubs.”

Improving outreach is also a priority for Song. “UCS needs to do a better job reaching out to students, even before they come to Brown.” Song proposed developing a pre-orientation program that would involve UCS to achieve this.

Song also hopes to expand the UCS office hours initiative. “Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been sitting in the Blue Room during UCS office hours,” he said. “The end goal is having students feeling comfortable bringing their problems straight to us and to really use us to pursue initiatives that they’re passionate about.”

Song will vote yes on the Brown Divest referendum. “I believe the University should always be reflecting on itself and on its practices,” Song said at the candidate debate.“There always needs to be more financial transparency and more student engagement.”



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