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Candidates vie for UCS presidency, vice presidency

Candidates discuss platforms as polls open, emphasize student government reforms, transparency

Polls open today for the Undergraduate Council of Students and Undergraduate Finance Board elections. Current UCS Vice President Summer Dai ’22 and Chair of Campus Life Zane Ruzicka ’23 vie for the UCS presidency, while Chief of Staff Sam Caplan ’22 and Parliamentarian Zanagee Artis ’22 compete for the vice presidency. 

Candidate platforms are available on the UCS website, which also lists the student groups that have endorsed each candidate. The voting period will end March 26, and election results will be announced to the undergraduate student body the following day. 

Last year’s elections were the first to be held virtually due to their occurrence days after the University asked students to leave campus in light of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Now, one year later, the Council is again holding elections virtually due to the remote learning circumstances necessitated by COVID-19.

The race for presidency: Summer Dai 

During her year as vice president, Dai has worked to improve student life by making resources more accessible, creating new opportunities for students and advocating for more transparency from the University administration.

In the upcoming year, Dai hopes to continue her work by addressing issues such as student advocacy and inclusivity, she told The Herald. She noted that all of her work around transparency, advocacy and inclusivity “centers around the idea of increasing accessibility.” For example, this past year, Dai began to work with the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services to think about how to make their appointment system more accessible, she said. 

In the upcoming year, Dai has plans to address physical inaccessibility in certain University buildings as well as issues students have had ordering dining hall meals through the GET app. Dai also hopes to make it easier to get involved on campus by creating a centralized platform where students can find information about student groups and their member application processes. 

In addition to working on University services, Dai shared that a central part of her platform is working to engage with student groups directly. “I really want to be proactive in increasing accessibility and bettering the life of students on campus by engaging with student advocacy efforts,” Dai said. 

A specific student initiative Dai hopes to support is Students for Educational Equity’s campaign to permanently make the University’s admissions process test-optional. 

Over the last year, Dai has worked to increase the dialogue between students and University administrators through undergraduate town halls, as well as creating the opportunity for students to attend Corporation meetings, she said. 

If elected, Dai plans to continue to organize events that connect students with the administration. She hopes that the Council can host town halls where students can break into small groups with administrators to foster “more intimate engagement with the administration and (the opportunity) to ask more specific questions,” Dai said.

These conversations would ensure that undergraduates feel like “their voices are heard and their opinions are being incorporated into the decision making process,” she continued. 

Dai also hopes to advocate for more transparency within the Title IX process, she said, as she is currently working with the Title IX Office to think about ways to support students in Title IX-related matters. 

The race for presidency: Zane Ruzicka 

Over the course of his two years on UCS, Ruzicka has gained experience working on social justice efforts, Council reforms and student life initiatives. Some of his past projects include co-sponsoring a bill that addresses reparations for descendants of slaves impacted by the University, changing the referendum process to make it easier for student groups to put referenda on election ballots and working to eliminate “University Pandemic Fees,” he said. 

Many of Ruzicka’s goals for next year fit into the three categories that much of his past work has fallen under: social justice, UCS reform and improvements to student life.

In terms of social justice, Ruzicka is working toward facilitating greater accessibility to both physical spaces as well as to resources that are available to students. “We have a lot of really great programs and a lot of really great people working in those programs, but communication” about them is lacking, he said.

During his time as chair of campus life, Ruzicka gained experience advocating for improvements in areas such as dining and campus experience. If elected, further improvements in these categories would include finding ways to use dining credits off campus and continuing the Council’s support for the establishment of a disability justice cultural center, he added. 

To better achieve these goals, the structure of UCS itself must be changed, Ruzicka said. 

Student government reform is necessary “because right now, we don’t have the ability to actually support students,” Ruzicka said. 

One issue is that the UCS “is not representative,” he continued, noting that the Council has extremely poor retention rates. One reason for this is the “toxic environment” that has emerged due to UCS, the Undergraduate Finance Board and the Class Coordinating Board “almost struggling for power over one another,” Ruzicka argued. 

Another problem, he said, is the unclear rules and regulations UCS must abide by. There are many internal contradictions within the Council’s bylaws that create confusion and impede efficiency, Ruzicka said. “I know that bylaws aren’t the flashiest topic to talk about, but (revising the bylaws is) how we create a sustainable organization.”

Ruzicka believes that student government reforms that address the Council’s relationship to other groups on campus and change the bylaws have the potential to increase the Council’s ability to advocate for student needs. 

If elected, Ruzicka hopes to create “a culture of collaboration … (and) a caring community that people hopefully will want to use as a platform for amplification.”

The race for vice presidency: Zanagee Artis 

Entering his fourth year on UCS, Artis hopes to use the Council’s platform to support the work of student groups and student activists on campus. 

“Student government is really a place to be able to connect with lots of different student groups … it’s a conduit for change for things that we already know students want on campus,” he said.

Citing his experience as the co-founder and policy director of climate justice organization Zero Hour, Artis said that he knows “how to effectively build grassroots movements,” something that “will really be critical in the (vice president) role.”

What we need to do a better job of is building grassroots organizing networks and actually connecting with student groups who are already doing the work,” Artis said. 

He noted that his organizing experience would be especially relevant in working to address the recent calls for reform within student government. 

“What we need to do is improve the system; I don’t think it’s broken,” Artis said. “A way to do that is (with) what I’m thinking of as a collaborative governance model, where we work in tandem with student groups and student leaders on campus.”

Artis noted that building this type of network will require bylaw reform. But, “the most important thing is how UCS interacts with the public student body and how we are sharing information and how we are contributing to the sustainability of activist causes,” he said. 

This contribution can look like anything from amplifying student campaigns to “increasing the number of public-facing town halls,” Artis continued. Currently, student groups mainly interact with the Council through the Student Activities Committee — which is in charge of categorizing groups — and listening to presentations about referenda that student groups hope to place on the elections ballot. 

Apart from using UCS to share the work of student groups, Artis also hopes to use the Council’s platform to implement a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan course requirement and to increase the types of funding opportunities available for student organizations, he said. 

As chair of campus life during the 2019-20 academic year, Artis contributed to the implementation of a shuttle service to help students get to Brown from regional airports and also oversaw the initial implementation of “Project Tampon,” which he hopes to expand next year. This year, Artis was involved with the Council’s reparations for descendants of slaves bill, which is work he is excited to continue into the next year, he said. 

The race for vice presidency: Sam Caplan 

Caplan, who is entering his fourth year on UCS, first joined the Council in hopes of creating “positive change on campus (by) using UCS and its platform.” This year, his work has centered around reforming that platform to make it a more effective space for change, he said. 

As vice president, “hopefully I can help create some of that positive change (by) removing some of the structural barriers that I’ve seen throughout my time as a member of the organization,” he continued.

Two examples Caplan gave of structural inefficiency are the two-thirds voting majority requirement for internal operational changes and the rule that any proposal be discussed at a general body meeting before it is voted on. “In terms of scale, that makes it really hard to accomplish a lot, because anything that we do takes two entire meetings” in a virtual sphere, Caplan said. 

Bylaws reform would help UCS better support student groups by opening opportunities for the Council to engage more in activities such as writing letters on behalf of student groups and endorsing initiatives, Caplan said. 

Currently, “the procedures through which we have these votes and the way we run our meetings can make it very hard to ever really come to a decision to support these causes and to support these groups,” he added. 

Aside from bylaw reform, Caplan also hopes to make structural changes that would improve the Council’s ability to do outreach, such as by increasing the number of representatives on UCS, he said. 

UCS does a “great job of outreach and advocacy during the election cycle (but) I think during the rest of the year we could do a lot better getting in touch with student activists and organizations and supporting their goals,” he said, noting that UCS has seen numerous student groups in meetings leading up to the elections but only saw one during the fall.

Caplan believes that addressing some of these structural problems within UCS could increase retention. Often, when students come to our meetings and “find out what we actually do, they’re like ‘on second thought, maybe my activism would be better elsewhere,’” Caplan said. 

Caplan cited his experience with UCS as a reason he believes he can push for reform successfully. “I know the organization intimately,” Caplan said. “I’ve worked as a member of the organization and also as an activist within the organization for three years.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that voting closes March 24. In fact, the voting period was changed to end March 26. The Herald regrets the error.



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