The Undergraduate Council of Students hosted its first town hall meeting of the 2022-23 academic year Wednesday, led by newly-elected President Ricky Zhong ’23 and Vice President Mina Sarmas ’24.
Zhong won a UCS runoff election following his appeal last spring, after being defeated by Chas Steinbrugge ’24 — the student behind the @BrownUMemes Instagram account — in the first round of elections, The Herald previously reported.
Town hall meetings, which are “open to the entire community,” as described in a Sept. 6 email sent to students by UCS, are a major change the council made this year to replace the public general body meetings of previous years, Zhong said.
The intention behind the new meetings is “to provide a way for us to hear, … interact (and) communicate with students physically,” he added.
Zhong added that an important part of the new name of UCS meetings is the “intention and purpose.”
“Even though (the general body meetings) were technically open to the public, they tended to be very heavily focused on internal UCS members,” he said. Town halls “are about citizen community feedback on a very constant basis, as well as having an open line of conversation.”
Sarmas added that on top of eliminating a “barrier” to students’ participation in UCS, town halls are intended to be “educational” about the University’s happenings and resources.
“It was interesting to learn about the student committees,” said Giordana Fiorentino ’24, a meeting attendee. “It was also cool to learn about the past projects that UCS has been working on.”
Zhong explained that an important aspect of town halls is that they will be topical. After the first town hall, each meeting will be associated with a topic like dining, housing and clubs, he said.
Sarmas mentioned that there is a “tentative schedule” of topics for future meetings, but added that UCS hopes to be able to “push things around” in case other ideas come up. There will be an academic town hall next week and a student activites town hall the following week, but “things are more up in the air after that,” Zhong said.
During this introductory meeting, committee chairs and directors introduced themselves and their missions, including Chair of Academic Affairs Daniel Newgarden ’25, Chair of Equity and Inclusion Ana Boyd ’24, Community Engagement Director Diego Bermudez ’24, Chair of Student Activities William Borges ’24, Communications Director Ethan Epstein ’24, Outreach Director Jung Haye To ’24, Polling Co-Director Alexander Avila ’23 and Elections Co-Directors Joon Nam ’23 and Eli Sporn ’24.
According to Zhong, the polling co-directors and the outreach director are new positions implemented during an internal appointment process over the summer. Other appointed positions include the elections co-directors, secretary, communications director and community engagement director.
Zhong added that UCS created the outreach team to increase UCS engagement within the student body outside of social media and to recruit for UCS.
Outreach Director To described the committee as “an avenue of communication between UCS and the student body.” On top of hosting bi-weekly office hours, a main goal for the outreach team is to host “social events … where we're bringing together the whole undergraduate community, rather than a specific class like what the Class Coordinating Board does,” he said.
Sarmas mentioned that UCS created the polling director position because they want to increase polling frequency this year instead of only hosting the fall and spring polls.
“We can ask different issues more deeply, instead of having one long poll that students might not feel interested in filling out,” she said.
Bermudez mentioned at the meeting that one of the goals of the Community Engagement Committee is to focus on community service. The committee wants to host an event where “different community service organizations and nonprofits (will) be on the Main Green, and … students from all over Brown (will come) and just do community service,” he said.
Also at the meeting, newly-elected Undergraduate Finance Board Vice Chair Arjun Krishna Chopra ’25 announced changes to the UFB Constitution. Some of the changes include replacing the UCS-UFB liaison position with a first-year representative to increase first-year representation, removing the position of secretary and formalizing UFB independence from UCS.
The new constitution was voted on by the UFB voting body and the UCS executive board and will be uploaded to UFB’s website in the next week.
The town hall ended with a mixer during which student participants could talk to any UCS member. Zhong said that UCS hoped the mixer would “give students more opportunities to get involved with UCS” and promote a greater “diversity of opinions, backgrounds (and) perspectives” within the council.
There is also a vacancy for the chair of campus life, which is open to applications until Saturday, Sept. 17, Zhong said. The elections committee will facilitate the candidates’ interviews with the UCS executive board for equity and fairness, and a 50% threshold from the UCS executive board is required for a candidate to be elected, according to a Sept. 12 UCS email.
Zhong said that the result will be announced early next week.