Hatchet endorsement: John Bennett for Student Association president

John Bennett. Francis Rivera | Assistant Photo Editor

This year’s candidates for Student Association president each demonstrated a clearly defined ethos and sense of priority.

The choice ultimately came down to two exceptional candidates, and deciding whom to endorse required us to not only look back over their endorsement hearings, platforms and debate performances but also consider what traits we value most in a student leader. To that end, The Hatchet’s editorial board confidently endorses junior John Bennett for Student Association president.

Bennett is a truly impressive candidate with a long history of student advocacy and a generally comprehensive plan for arriving at his goals. His platform strikes a healthy balance between tasks that can be quickly achieved and those that require a year’s worth of advocacy, and, more importantly, he has the strategy to accomplish both.

His plan to get SA senators more involved and motivated by including them in upper-level advocacy plans is a smart response to the SA Senate’s typical apathy. It also speaks to his own high-impact term as finance chair this year, during which he reformed the financial allocations process and notably kept open dialogues with the many student organizations on campus by holding well-attended town halls.

We are confident Bennett will be able to negotiate the University bureaucracy to push his agenda and make the right connections to achieve his goals. Not only does Bennett have the knowledge of campus issues, he knows how to apply it. His plan to revitalize Columbian Square, for example, which includes bringing in new furniture and making the area more inviting, is an efficient short-term response to the lack of student space. This could provide next year’s student body with improved community space while he continues to lobby for his long-term agenda to appropriate a student hub. When pressed on the infeasibility of a point of his safety and security platform, he was willing to be flexible on its details as long as student safety did not suffer.

Bennett’s performance during the student media debate didn’t simply exemplify the success he’s had in his current role as SA finance chair. When posed questions about student life issues that weren’t mentioned on his platform, such as how to ensure that campus groups are accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he responded with a smart and effective solution. To that question, he suggested involving major student organizations in safe-zone training and perhaps lobbying to award Greek excellence points to chapters that have trained members.

But we worry that Bennett is not willing enough to ask for the counsel of the students whose vote he seeks. There is no denying he has a huge ego, and while this might fuel a tenacious students-first lobbying agenda, he should make it clearer that he will continue to seek student input.

If elected, we have confidence that Bennett will bring about important change during a short one-year term.

Ashwin Narla has made frequent communication with the student body the focal point of his campaign. Often, Student Association executives become so entrenched in their efforts that they lose sight of the students they are serving, but Narla’s strong students-first platform and plans to hold frequent “State of the Campus” updates reassures us that, if elected, he will keep his ear to the ground and maintain dialogue with his peers. Narla’s attitude about what sort of chief lobbyist he would be is one of the greatest strengths of his platform. He asserts that he won’t just work with administrators as one student taking on the University, he will, through his outreach, mobilize the student body to also be involved in initiatives and lobbying efforts.

Student space is a principal campus issue and Narla has a clear focus to garner an area that will serve as a student union. He said the Multicultural Student Services Center townhouse could serve as a model for an ideal community space, and we see this as a smart and attainable goal if he relentlessly lobbies for it.

That said, Narla’s platform comes off at times as too dependent on his passion and lacks a clearly outlined method. If elected, Narla must take the time to develop an even more comprehensive and detailed plan for how to achieve his platform promises. We were very impressed by his fervor and charisma during his endorsement hearing – he certainly has the magic – but during the debate it became clear that his platform lacks serious substance beyond plans for frequent student outreach. There is a huge difference between having charisma and being able to carry a platform out. While he couldn’t be expected to speak to certain issues with as much savvy as an SA insider, we were disappointed he wasn’t able to address student issues unrelated to the SA with much substance.

Narla’s infectious personality and commitment to improving student life would make him an excellent lobbyist. We were disappointed to find that his platform wasn’t developed enough to match the strength of his passion and desire to lead the student body.

Jeremy Iloulian was a clearly knowledgeable candidate with a variety of innovative reforms for day-to-day student issues. His career services plans are a creative fix, and his understanding of the initiatives already in motion shows he will capitalize on that trajectory and advocate for even more student-focused reforms in the field. His method for gathering student concerns – by holding town halls that are co-hosted by the SA and specific student groups or schools – is a wise fix for the poorly attended town halls the SA usually holds.

Iloulian was able to showcase his impressive resume and list of accomplishments through his strong debate performance. This gives us confidence that he has the tools to be an effective lobbyist for students.

But Iloulian’s call to allow members of Greek life to self-adjudicate is a concerning one, as all students should be subject to the same set of regulations and enforcements. This policy goal is such an egregiously bad idea that we can’t help but worry he hasn’t thought all the way through the rest of his platform.

Will Thompson made a notable effort to demonstrate his commitment to building strong relationships, which we also believe is key in effective lobbying. His platform drew attention to a number of innovative issues that would have otherwise gone unaddressed during this campaign.

But Thompson’s ideas are not fully developed and many of the changes he pledges to achieve have already been taken care of, such as his desires to improve alumni connections with students and limit construction noise.

While it is important to distinguish oneself from the other candidates by having a variety of campaign goals and identifying unique issues, latching onto ideas that are already solved or in progress does not make for the strongest lobbying strategy.

Ben Pincus’ platform read more like one for executive vice president than president, and even when pushed on his goals, he remained exclusively committed to calling for internal reform to the SA Senate’s financial allocations process. His goal of increasing financial allocations transparency would require him to usurp power from the future SA finance chair and executive vice president – power we suspect neither person will be willing to cede.

Pincus demonstrated little knowledge of campus issues aside from SA reform, and when pressed on what else he would pursue, his responses were ambiguous. Pincus’ sole plan for SA reform would require effort over the summer and first weeks of the school year, and we can’t help but think that if elected he wouldn’t serve as an advocate for real student issues after that.

You have a number of candidates to choose from, but there is only one who can provide results as next year’s SA president. Vote John Bennett for SA president Wednesday and Thursday.

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