Speech Night: Candidates for the Inter-Hall Board and the SGA Executive Committee speak out (Update): Students listen as candidates explain their goals for the next academic year

Posted by Julia Leef

Election Results:

SGA President: Matt Walsh
Vice President for Academic Affairs: Ben Bechand
Vice President for Residential Affairs: Jess Sonnenfeld
Vice President for Club Affairs: Leland Martin
Vice President for Communications and Outreach: Amanda Seres
Vice President for Diversity Affairs: Jovany Andujar
Senior Class President: Emilee Bell
President of Wiecking: Ryan Rubbico
President of Wilmarth: Farwa Naqvi
Vice President of Howe-Rounds: Noam Yossefy

More than 60 students filled the Spa during Wednesday's Speech Night, watching from the hallway and the upstairs balcony as 15 candidates voiced their platforms and ideas for the open positions on the Inter-Hall Board and Student Government Association Executive Committee.

Although more than half of the audience left after the two candidates for SGA president spoke, approximately 25 remained to hear the remainder of the speeches. The filmed event was hosted by Raiza Nazareth '12, vice president for Communications & Outreach on SGA.

"As a senior, it definitely feels strange that my time on the SGA is soon coming to an end," Nazareth said. "Being a part of the SGA is like being a part of a family. I will truly miss the work I've done, the events and committees I've been a part of and most of all the people I've worked with."

Of the 11 open positions, eight had students who ran uncontested. The only three that had more than one candidate were the positions for the SGA President, Vice President for Club Affairs, and Vice President for Communications & Outreach.

Candidates for SGA President: Aaron Shifreen '13 and Matt Walsh '13

Shifreen currently serves as vice president for Residential Affairs and the SGA's digital coordinator, and has been an SGA officer since the third week of his freshman year, when he started as the president of Howe-Rounds. He has served on numerous committees, including the Inter-Hall Board and the Student Affairs subcommittee.

Among his goals, he said, is the need to make the administration feel more accountable to the student body and to increase student involvement in faculty committees.

"The administration sees us as an apathetic body, which I see as absolutely not true," Shifreen said. "I think the best way to fix this is to increase channels for student output. I want to demonstrate that students are still interested in Skidmore College."

When asked to define a leader, Shifreen described a person who is conscious of his environment and is aware that working toward the next thing inspires others to follow in the same path.

"A leader is someone who does the right thing, even when no one else is watching," Shifreen said.

Walsh, who is now president of the Class of 2013, opened by repeating what he described as the most memorable thing anyone has ever said to him: "Solve the problem today." He said his time serving on the Sustainability Ad Hoc committee has shown him the importance of the student voice, especially in his work on the team that created the Sustainability Committee, the latest addition to the SGA.

"I found that, in our work with the student government, our voices are heard in the conversation, and that's what's important," Walsh said. "If our voices aren't heard, there's no point in sitting through a meeting. We need to recognize where the issues are for the general population of Skidmore and to adjust our own issues to reflect that."

Walsh said that although he has not sat on the Executive Committee before, he sees this as an advantage, as he experienced first-hand the divide between the Executive Committee and the Senate. He said that by defining Executive Committee members and the Senate separately in discussions, it makes it difficult to see them working together as a whole.

"I want to use that experience to alleviate that split next year, and hopefully nobody else will feel the same way that I've been feeling," Walsh said.

Both candidates advocated for a set schedule of "office hours" to become more accessible to the general student body and supported more personal conversations with students around campus.

Candidates for Vice President for Club Affairs: Donald Duff '13, Leland Martin '14 and Laura Venner '14

Duff has participated in many clubs, including Hyatt and the Hip Hop Alliance, and has served on the Club Affairs Committee and the Budget & Finance Committee on SGA. He said he hopes to help new club leaders who do not know who to go to or what to do in order to run their club, especially financial-wise.

He also would like to see clubs given more opportunities to showcase their efforts, perhaps through a "club day" in addition to the traditional club fair, in which clubs would show students what and who they are.

"Clubs are the life on campus," Duff said, adding in response to a question that he would like to see more SGA senators become involved in non-SGA clubs, and vice versa. "If I'm reaching out to you, I'd like to see you reach out to me as well."

Martin has served on the SGA since the first semester of his first year, and said he gained insight on how club budgets are put together from his time on the Budget & Finance Committee. He is also involved in several clubs, including the Chemistry Club and the Irish Dance Club.

One of his goals, Martin said, was to encourage different clubs to reach out to each other, perhaps through establishing a separate budget that would help financially sponsor multiple clubs collaborating on one event.

"I would encourage all clubs to work together, and to improve the community at Skidmore," Martin said. He also told students not to be afraid to go to the SGA for help, and that if elected he would work to bridge the gap between the student government and the rest of the student body, as a student who has had experience in both SGA and non-SGA clubs.

Venner has been a part of the student council since serving as the treasurer for the Class of 2014 in her first year and recently joined the SGA Senate this year, sitting on the Club Affairs Committee.

If elected, she said she would work to initiate discussion between the executive boards of different clubs, and to provide active support for new leaders of clubs who may not know the resources available to them on campus.

"Clubs are an integral part of this campus," Venner said. "They create close-knit communities for students with similar interests and allow students to expand their horizons."

Venner said she believes it is important to have SGA members sit on non-SGA clubs, as she has witnessed the divide between the two through her participation in the student-led Pre-Med Club. Conversely, she also encourages club members to serve time on the SGA, at least as a member of the Senate.

Candidates for Vice President for Communications & Outreach: Amanda Seres '14 and Stacy Sullivan '13

Seres, this year's Willingness-to-Serve coordinator, has worked with more than 100 students who have run for Willingness-to-Serve positions and said she believes her work helping people find an outlet through which to voice their own opinions translates well into her work in the SGA.

"I think it's a good fit that I would continue on to become the vice president for Communications & Outreach next year," Seres said, adding that her previous experience on the SGA would be very helpful in continuing the plans and ideas from this year into the next. "In order for a body to be effective, it needs to have continuity, or nothing will ever get done."

Seres said that if elected to the position, she would evaluate the SGA Senate, to make sure it is run as effectively as possible and maximizes student involvement.

When asked by Walsh how much she thought clubs should be able to update their own content on the SGA website, Seres said she prefers the idea of having an SGA member, possibly the digital coordinator, serve as an intermediary between the clubs and the website to manage content and create an aesthetically pleasing site that would best represent the College.

Sullivan has sat on the SGA Senate for three semesters on the Academic Affairs Committee, and said she would like to work with the Dean of Student Affairs to ensure students have the opportunity to give input on changes to policies before they are passed.

In addition, Sullivan said she would try to institutionalize a revision of the SGA constitution and major policies at the beginning and the end of every year, to ensure that they still reflect the needs of the student body.

"I would like to use my position to highlight certain things that the SGA and the Senate do that are really beneficial to the student body that students don't always know about."

She also said she often thinks about the divide between the Senate and the SGA, and would like to create more events to garner student input on the matter, improve the SGA's relations with the student body as a whole.

"Our purpose is to serve the student body and their needs," Sullivan said.

SGA Executive Committee Positions:

Ben Bechand '14 is running for vice president for Academic Affairs, and believes his most important responsibility would be to increase the communication between students and faculty, incorporating a higher degree of transparency to what faculty inform students about on campus.

"Working with a team of passionate students who want to make a difference in the coming year, I can accomplish some really great things," Bechand said.

Jovany Andujar '13 is running for vice president for Diversity Affairs, a position he held last semester. He said he would like to adjust the idea of allies on campus, encouraging students to become allies or everything, rather than for a specific issue.

He also said he wishes to increase the diversity of some of the major groups on campus, such as the sustainability committee, which he described as predominately white and female, and the SGA. Such diversity, Andujar said, is important, both for students currently enrolled and to give prospective students a more well-rounded perspective of what the student body is.

Emilee Bell '13 could not attend Speech Night, as she is currently studying abroad in South Africa, but spoke about her desire to serve as senior class president through several pre-prepared videos. In these videos, Bell emphasized the importance of bringing all the classes together, so that underclassmen could benefit from the experience of their older peers.

Bell said she also wants to encourage student voice and to help build relations between the student body and the SGA.

"I want to make sure that everyone has their voice heard in some way or shape," Bell said. "I think people get scared of the SGA as a body, and that's wrong. We want to do things and we want everyone to be involved. I want people to care about what we're doing."

Residential Hall Positions:

Jess Sonnenfeld '14, who has been a dorm president for the past two years and said she enjoys planning events for students, is running for vice president of Residential Affairs.

Sonnenfeld said that among her ideas is to plan a fall Fun Day, to celebrate the return of old students as well as to welcome in new ones.

Ryan Rubbico '15 is running for president of Wiecking, and said he would like to address the issues he has heard about the lack of community in the dorm by increasing the dialogue between himself and Wiecking residents to hear their ideas.

"I think it's key for any leadership position to have transparency. This will allow me to better understand what students need done and for them to understand what I'm doing and how I'm listening to their concerns," Rubbico said.

The candidacy for president of Wilmarth is filled by Farwa Naqvi '15, an international student who said she wants to become more involved in the community as a representative of her dorm. She said she would like to see more interactive all-hall events and is open to suggestions.

"Just email me and I will make it happen," Naqvi said.

Noam Yossefy '15 is running for vice president of Howe-Rounds, and said she would like to establish a better connection with the student body, welcoming freshmen when they come into their dorms for the first time, and fixing issues between roommates when they arise.

Kate Bridgham '15 is running for vice president of Wilmarth.

Voting begins at midnight, and will continue until 11:59 p.m. March 29. Students may vote at the SGA desk in Case Center, in the Atrium of the Murray Aikins Dining Hall, or online on the SGA website.

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