Student leaders begin shaping next year's agenda

by Kaya Yurieff

Student Association president-elect Ashwin Narla embraces his girlfriend, senior Madeline Bush, last Thursday after winning the runoff against John Bennett, the SA's finance chair.
Media Credit: Michelle Rattinger | Senior Photo Editor
Student Association president-elect Ashwin Narla embraces his girlfriend, senior Madeline Bush, last Thursday after winning the runoff against John Bennett, the SA's finance chair.

The newly elected Student Association outsiders are setting out to learn the ropes of the organization they will soon be steering by getting an early start on outreach and student organization finances.

Ashwin Narla, who won the Student Association presidential runoff March 1, will work with executive vice president-elect Abby Bergren to move forward with ideas from their platforms, including outreach from the SA, streamlined finances for student groups and a campus-wide calendar.

“This is only the beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Narla, a junior, said minutes after securing the top post. “We’re going to make ourselves more transparent, accessible.”

The election marks the second-straight presidential victory for an SA outsider over a finance committee chair and the highest turnout in SA runoff history. Narla earned support from 53 percent of students, a total of 2,331 votes.

The previous record for turnout stood at about 3,000 votes in 2008. This year’s election saw a 43 percent jump over ballots in last year’s runoff to reach 4,385 votes.

Before the two take office in May, Narla said he plans to work with Bergren to kick off their efforts early.

“Abby is fantastic. Working with her, I know we’re gonna get a lot done,” Narla said.

He and Bergren both said they want to help connect more students to the SA, stepping up the use of social media and face-to-face interactions with students.

Narla, whose platform includes a monthly "State of the Campus" address, has made communication between students and student leaders top priority.

“I really want to be held accountable. I’ve been saying that since day one,” he said.

Narla intends to sit down with Bergren as well as returning and newly elected senators to “see what they’re trying to do and what they’ve accomplished this semester,” he said.

In the next few weeks, Narla will familiarize himself with student organization needs by making appearances at events. He also hopes to catch up on the conversation about student space on campus by working with the SA and Marvin Center Governing Board members.

Bergren, who beat out competitors Ben Leighton and Austin Brewster for the post two weeks ago, has already begun preparing for her role as head of the SA Senate by attending its most recent meeting Feb. 27. She said she plans to speak to departing and returning members of the senate to field their feedback about how to run the organization.

Her campaign focused on having greater transparency about student fees, expanding student space and advocating for graduate student organizations.

She will tackle fees first, keeping up the “momentum” of this year’s fee commission created by Student Association President John Richardson and Executive Vice President Ted Costigan.

During the general election, Narla came in second to John Bennett, who received about 130 more votes but did not reach the 40 percent threshold needed to secure the presidency.

Narla credited his team of supporters for their help in publicizing the elections and edging him above Bennett in the runoff. His campaigners focused on word of mouth and making a strong effort to talk to students, Narla said.

“You’re only as good as your team. I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said.

He secured the top spot by a margin of about 300 votes, unlike last year’s tight presidential race in which Richardson beat out then-senate Finance Committee Chair Chris Clark in a runoff by just 34 votes.

Narla won 58 percent of votes from students in GW's nine other schools, Phil Gardner, chair of the Joint Elections Committee, said.

Bennett earned 97 percent of the 300 law school votes, Gardner said.

“I want to thank John for running a clean campaign, for being a great competitor. He’s a phenomenal guy,” Narla said. “I would really like to work with him in the upcoming year. He brings so much to the table.”

A three-year veteran of the SA with two years on the finance committee, Bennett said about 24 hours after the election that he is “at peace with the situation” and will consider how he wants to continue his involvement on campus next year.

“I put so much time and effort into it for so many years,” he said. “It’s almost like all the hard work was overlooked, underappreciated.”


This post was updated on March 5, 2012 to reflect the following:
Based on inaccurate data provided by the Joint Elections Committee, The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Narla carried 71 percent of the non-law school vote. Narla received 58 percent of the votes from this student population. We regret this error.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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