After contentious election season, SA’s new leadership looks to change the culture

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor

Student Association President-Elect Peak Sen Chua and Sydney Nelson, his former opponent and newly-appointed executive vice presidential nominee, plan to lead the SA past a bitter campaign season.

Peak Sen Chua didn’t ask to be the next Student Association president, but after an election season marked by accusations of stalking and harassment, it will be his job to fill the role.

Chua, who was elected executive vice president earlier this month, officially became president-elect through an SA Senate resolution last week. Chua said he – along with Sydney Nelson, his former opponent and newly-appointed executive vice presidential nominee – have been preparing for weeks to take over their new roles, scaling up their EVP platforms to take on more ambitious projects and working to move the SA past a bitter campaign season.

Chua said he named Nelson his executive vice president this week as a show of unity within the SA and for the student body.

“A lot of what we are focusing on is trying to change the culture through the way that we conduct ourselves in focusing on the issues and not on the politics,” he said.

Chua will assume the role after the SA presidential election was initially pushed to the fall and later canceled entirely. The Joint Elections Committee – the student body that oversees the elections – disqualified former presidential candidate Lande Watson for allegations of harassment and intimidation against former presidential candidate Cole Ettingoff and his team.

SA leaders said they didn’t want to make major changes to their constitution – which a fall election would have required – and instead cleared a path for Chua to take over.

Setting an agenda
The night Chua defeated Nelson in the executive vice presidential contest, he said SA President Erika Feinman and Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno invited the two candidates into a meeting to tell Chua he’d likely never serve in the role he had just been voted into.

The SA constitution doesn’t allow for a fall election and mandates that the executive vice president take over the presidency when that position is vacant. Chua said Feinman told him that night he would likely become president and encouraged Nelson to stay involved in the SA.

Feinman said Chua’s transition process began that night, which happens for election winners every year.

“There is a lot of information that needs to be conveyed immediately, including how to start scheduling transition meetings,” Feinman said.

Over the past several weeks, Nelson said she has worked with Chua to develop a sweeping agenda typical of a presidential platform, using ideas from both of their campaigns and adopting some from the former presidential candidates.

“We kind of meshed our two platforms together, which worked really well,” Nelson said. “A lot of them complement each other, and together, they make for very powerful points that go beyond the scope of an executive vice president platform.”

Chua said they incorporated the most popular ideas from all three former presidential candidates’ platforms.

He said he wants to make an 18th course credit free for all students, a key point of Watson’s platform. Students can currently take 17 course credits each semester without facing an extra fee but have to pay $1,475 for each additional credit hour.

Chua said he also plans to reduce the cost for using student spaces, an idea incorporated from both Watson and Ettingoff’s platforms. Student organizations currently have to pay a fee to host events in some campus spaces like the Marvin Center and Kogan Plaza.

But Nelson said she and Chua were not supporting any particular former candidate or previous campaign agenda.

“Just because we don’t have a candidate that’s traditionally a presidential candidate doesn’t mean we still can’t be as passionate about some of the ideas they raised and how important they are for the student body,” Nelson said.

Chua and Neslon said they will still hold onto many top ideas from their own executive vice presidential campaigns.

Chua and Nelson said they want to reform Mental Health Services by expanding business hours beyond 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and improving affordability. The two said they want to create a new student engagement committee to recruit more freshmen to join the SA.

During the campaign, Chua, an international student from Malaysia, said he would create a directory of international students from different countries, so that international students could reach out to peers from their home countries.

“Diversity and inclusion are about making all students feel at home here at GW,” he said. “It’s about a constant commitment to the strength that we find in our similarities and differences.”

Nelson said she will start dean’s advisory councils for schools throughout the University, consisting of undergraduate and graduate students who will discuss the challenges students face in dealing with the administration. As a senator, Nelson created a Dean’s Student Advisory Council in the Elliott School of International Affairs earlier this year, which is set to launch this spring.

Changing the conversation
After a contentious election season, Nelson said she and Chua have been working to reach out to several student organizations to improve the way SA elections are run.

“We are committed to engaging in a series of conversations not only with the JEC but with the Program Board, Class Council and the wider student body to really get feedback and input on what didn’t feel right in this election season and how we can institutionally change that,” she said.

Nelson said the pair has no current plans to change internal SA rules but hopes to change the wider campus perception of the SA through the way they run their administration and interact with students.

Chua said he has discussed with the JEC the possibility of reforming their charter, which would give the committee more time to prepare for the election season.

Facing criticism
Chua said even though he became president in an unprecedented manner – without being elected by the student body for the position – he is qualified for the role.

“Not only did I run a campaign for the last two months that was focused on the issues, I’ve also accomplished a lot as a senator,” he said. “I have the skills, I have the temperament and I have the drive to effectively serve as president of the SA.”

Nelson said she is prepared to serve as second-in-command and that her appointment was the right move for the SA.

“Every single student who voted in the election is seeing their candidate reflected in the top two offices of the Student Association,” she said.

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