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UCS, UFB candidates debate ahead of elections

Participants discuss representation, transparency, Brown Divest referendum

Candidates for top positions on the Undergraduate Council of Students and the Undergraduate Finance Board addressed topics including representation and inclusivity, transparency, campus engagement and the Brown Divest campaign during a debate Sunday night.

William Zhou ’20, Melissa Lee ’20 and Vanessa Garcia ’20.5 vie for the UCS presidency, while Alex Song ’20 and Jason Carroll ’21 contend for the vice presidency, The Herald previously reported.

Julian De Georgia ’20 and Alesandro Walker ’20 are competing for UFB chair. Fatoumata Kabba ’22, Peter Deegan ’21 and Phillip Champagne ’21 are in the race for vice chair.

All candidates for UCS president and vice president discussed issues of UCS transparency and accountability.

“It is critical that UCS works to become more transparent so that we can be more representative of the student body as a whole, recognizing again that we can only speak to our personal lived experiences, and the experiences that our given identities have,” said Zhou, the current UCS vice president.

Song, who is UCS’ chair of Student Activities, referenced the lack of campus awareness of UCS, leading to a “cycle of students and student groups not really understanding what UCS does.” As a result, it is difficult for the student body to hold UCS accountable, he said. Other candidates mentioned similar observations.

The debate’s moderators — UCS President Shanzé Tahir ’19, UFB Chair Lisa Schold ’19, Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes, Director of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center and Student Activities Joie Steele and Herald University News Editor Melanie Pincus ’21 — asked candidates predetermined questions. Audience questions were not permitted, but some official questions were submitted by students prior to the debate.

Candidates all discussed methods for increasing student body engagement with UCS and its initiatives.

“One of the best ways to foster relationships between students, faculty and (administration) is by directly involving students in the development of a lot of institutional structures and policies,” said Lee, UCS’ chair of Campus Life.

Garcia, who is UCS’ secretary, discussed increasing UCS outreach to student groups. “It shouldn’t be their burden to come to us. We should go to them,” they said.

Zhou’s platform includes creating more avenues for student involvement through the creation of a UCS committee focused on supporting culture and identity-based student groups.

Song and Carroll, who is UCS appointments chair, both discussed increasing outreach to first-years and incoming first-years to further engage students with UCS. Carroll also proposed disseminating State of UCS emails to update the community.

Candidates also talked about improving representation in UCS and its work.

“Even though I’m a member of the black community, the queer community, people who go to CAPS — I don’t speak for them,” Carroll said in response to a question asking candidates to describe an experience that helped them understand the needs of community that is not their own. “We too often undervalue our own ability to interact with our own communities and to take in voices that aren’t our own within our communities.”

Garcia drew on their own experiences at the University. “For me, the personal is political,” they said. “(My lived experiences) have given me no other choice but to demand accessibility, inclusion and wellness within my classrooms, students’ groups, including UCS, and wider existence.”

Lee and Zhou both discussed recognizing the limitations of their own identities and defaulting to those with personal experiences. As president, they would each aim to bring groups with expertise into relevant conversations with administrators.

Song described UCS as a platform for any student to pursue any initiatives, focusing on “empowering … any voice, all voices,” he said.

All UCS candidates said they were in favor of the referendum on this year’s ballot. The referendum, proposed by student coalition Brown Divest, will ask students if the University should “divest all stocks, funds, endowment and other monetary instruments from companies complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine and establish a means of implementing financial transparency and student oversight of the University’s investments,” according to the referendum’s official wording, The Herald previously reported.

“There’s no reason why we should be invested in” companies that perpetuate human rights violations anywhere, Carroll said. “We need to divest from all of them, not none of them.”

The UFB debate occurred in the hour prior to the UCS debate with the same moderators and structure. All candidates discussed how to best achieve equity with the Board’s budget, which totals over $2 million.

“In order to obtain equity, we need to start with transparency,” said Kabba, an at-large member of UFB. She proposed that the Board make more information available online about where UFB’s funding is allocated.

De Georgia, UFB’s vice chair, expressed a similar sentiment and said he would aim to further transparency by publishing the Board’s annual budgets among other UFB processes to build on UFB’s first budget report, released in November.

Walker, an at-large member of the Board, emphasized the importance of training UFB representatives to best support student groups. He also stressed applying UFB policies to funding requests on a case-by-case basis to promote equitable funding.

Champagne, who is a member at-large of UFB, referenced the different ways that student groups can receive funding outside of UFB as one way to address the issue of equity. For instance, groups could access departmental funding.

Deegan, also an at-large member, objected to the idea of distributing funding equally across students. His platform rests on the redistribution of funding based on students’ financial need, proposing that when student groups submit funding requests to UFB, they should also present anonymous survey results indicating the number of group members who require financial assistance.

Candidates also discussed UFB’s financial aid fund, which intends to provide subsidies for low-income students participating in on-campus activities.

Every candidate agreed that the fund should be expanded. Walker emphasized the importance of expanding the fund to better cover events such as Spring Weekend, which he said is important to many students’ Brown experiences. Kabba added that the fund should also cover costs for low-income students to attend conferences and off-campus events.

Candidates also talked about representation on the Board.

Students with different identities all “need to feel included when they walk into UFB meetings,” Kabba said. “They need to be able to see themselves in those positions, and they need to be able to know that whoever is on the Board will fully understand where they are coming from.”

Champagne expressed a similar sentiment, saying that “it’s very important that individuals are able to relate to UFB members that they’re speaking to.”

Deegan discussed increasing accessibility to the Board by making UFB outreach-based — instead of requiring students to present to UFB in order to receive all their funds, UFB would approach student groups. Deegan argued that this approach could remove a “barrier” to funding for students who do not come from high-income backgrounds.

Members of Brown Divest presented and answered questions from the same moderators at the start of the debate.

“Brown has implicated itself and therefore its community members in the Israeli occupation and its continuous human rights violations,” Brown Divest member Noah Mlyn ’20 said in the group’s opening statement. “We must recognize that Brown’s investments in certain companies that perpetuate violations of Palestinian human rights render the University complicit in the same.”

The group has proposed criteria “firmly based in international human rights law” to distinguish companies directly involved in human rights violations in Palestine, Mlyn said.

In their closing statement, a member of Brown Divest who requested anonymity out of fear of personal repercussions said that “Brown Divest calls for divestment from companies implicated in unethical activities that are not limited to a particular region in the world.”

“Although the coalition’s criteria for divestment are regarding Palestine, most of the companies that violate these criteria perpetuate violence against marginalized communities across the world,” they added.

Voting for UCS and UFB positions will open Tuesday at 12 p.m. and remain open until 12 p.m. Thursday, March 21. Undergraduates will be able to vote through an online survey.

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