Your guide to the 2020 SGB elections

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(From left) Voices slate’s Eric Macadangdang, Your slate’s Ravi Gandhi, Launch slate’s Tyler Viljaste and Cedric Humphrey, and independent Aman Reddy.

By Rebecca Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Bernie Sanders or Mike Bloomberg? Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg? With the nation hotly debating the Democratic primary for the presidency, undergraduate students have the opportunity today to choose a leader much closer to home — the president and board members of Pitt’s Student Government Board.

Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on elections.pitt.edu and winners will be announced at Tuesday night’s SGB meeting. The eight board candidates who receive the most votes will be elected to the board and serve under the winning presidential candidate for the 2020-21 academic year. Most candidates are running in two- to four-person slates, which is similar to a political party.

Students will also vote on a referendum on whether Pitt should raise the minimum wage for student workers to $15 per hour. Nick Bibby, the chair of SGB’s Elections Committee, said SGB Executive Vice President Anaïs Peterson was interested in students’ perspectives.

“This is a question that hasn’t been posed to the student body before,” Bibby said. “With this topic being so hotly debated on the national level, we felt it was appropriate to gain some student insight.”

The Pitt News sat down with each slate to discuss their respective ideas, policies and goals for the board if elected.

Voices

Presidential contender Eric Macadangdang is running alongside Ben King, Kathryn Fleisher and Annalise Abraham on the Voices slate.

Macadangdang, a current board member, said he is focused on making SGB “a better advocate and ally for all students” by enacting a campus-wide survey that would provide the board with student opinions from across campus.

He also hopes to promote programs that make Pitt more affordable, including encouraging professors to use open educational resources like textbooks and creating a tuition lock to ensure the same rate for students through graduation. Macadangdang said he also wants an expansion of debt-relief programs like Panthers Forward.

King, the current chair of SGB’s Allocations Committee, said one of his main priorities is making the Student Organization Resource Center more efficient. He would accomplish this by either providing more resources to SORC to hire additional staff, or changing policy to allow student organizations to have bank accounts separate from the University.

King also said he would advocate for more student representation on Pitt’s Board of Trustees. He wants future representatives to be able to report on what they hear as well as vote on measures discussed in committees. King is unsure of how many student representatives he would want on the Board of Trustees and whether they would be SGB members.

Kathryn Fleisher, the current executive vice chair of SGB’s Community and Government Relations Committee, said she wants “students in the room where decisions about students are being made.” To accomplish this, she envisions building a comprehensive database of student leaders to serve on the University administration’s various committees and task forces to ensure Pitt isn’t choosing the same students consistently for student representation.

Fleisher also said she is focused on improving mental and physical health resources on campus and increasing civic engagement for students by creating a civic engagement center that advertises current opportunities for students and has staff dedicated to community engagement advising.

While slate member Annalise Abraham has no experience on SGB, she is a core organizer of the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition and co-authored a resolution that the board unanimously passed last October in favor of fossil fuel divestment.

Abraham said, if elected, she would continue to push for divestment, as well as find ways to make the move-out process more sustainable, include a public comment period at Board of Trustees meetings and allow a way for students to exchange meal swipes at the end of the semester to decrease food insecurity on campus.

Your

The other presidential candidate, Ravi Gandhi, along with SGB newcomers Katie Richmond, Victoria Chuah and Victor So, make up the Your slate. This slate is critical of several current SGB practices.

Gandhi, the current chair of SGB’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, criticized the relationship SGB members have with administration and what they called “the ‘talk to admin and get nothing done’ reality.” Gandhi envisions SGB under his leadership as more student-focused, which he said he achieved through his year-long term as chair.

People in SGB right now go talk to admin for kicks, they go in so underprepared because they don’t talk to students,” Gandhi said. “When we go directly to Provost Cudd with 400 people’s worth of responses saying this is an issue, they listen.”

At the Feb. 17 presidential debate, Gandhi called the allocations guidelines a “headache” for smaller organizations. Gandhi said they hoped to streamline the guidelines after talking to student organizations of all sizes and learning the problems that groups encounter. Gandhi also said they want students to have an expanded role in the selection of a new dining contractor, by allowing students to vote on dining companies once an initial contract is negotiated by University officials.

Richmond said she also wants to increase transparency in allocations and mental health resources on campus. Richmond said she recognizes the difficulty of hiring staff members in the University Counseling Center, so she will push for promoting current resources like the Stress Free Zone, a meditation and stress-reduction space located on the third floor of the William Pitt Union.

Chuah’s primary policy is increasing space on campus for cultural dance groups to practice. This concern follows last November’s new University policy banning dance teams from practicing in Posvar Hall or risk losing access to the University’s online platform to book on-campus spaces.

So would like to use his position as a resident assistant to address concerns he sees among students living on campus, including changing due dates for on-campus housing applications so students have a better idea of what apartments or suites they will likely qualify for based on their housing lottery number.

Launch

Tyler Viljaste and Cedric Humphrey are the two candidates running under the Launch slate.

Viljaste, the current chair of SGB’s Community and Governmental Relations Committee, said if elected, he will be proud to “combat the negative perception of Greek life” as a brother of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Viljaste will accomplish the goal by promoting the philanthropy work of Greek life and encourage University administrators to invest more resources into events such as Greek Sing.

Beyond Greek life, Viljaste also said he will advocate for an LGBTQ+ center in the WPU as well as changes to campus dining. Viljaste said he will petition the University to choose a different contractor than Sodexo, get rid of the mandatory $2,000 meal plan minimum for first-year students and integrate more local businesses like Millie’s.

Humphrey, a current board member, is championing reforms to the internship credit policy so students can receive monetary compensation and University credit for internships simultaneously. Humphrey also said he wants to increase civic engagement on campus in light of the coming November presidential election.

Aman Reddy

As the only candidate who is running as an independent, Reddy said not associating with a slate gives him “freedom from group mentality.”

Reddy, who does not have SGB experience, would like to improve infrastructure by asking administrators to acquire more parking lots near campus for student parking. Reddy said he would then want buses to loop to these lots.

Reddy also said he envisioned an off-campus site that would provide underprivileged students with fresh, prepared food. To acquire this site, Reddy said he would work with Sodexo or the next dining contractor that Pitt selects.

Reddy added that he would also like to increase transparency in SGB by physically rearranging the office to make it more accessible and accommodating to students.

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