Updated: March 1, 2018 at 10:15 a.m.
A Student Association senator launched a bid for executive vice president Thursday, vowing to be an advocate for minority students on campus.
Sen. Ojani Walthrust, ESIA-U, a sophomore studying Latin American and hemispheric studies, plans to work to reform GW’s dining plan, improve residence hall facilities – particularly on the Mount Vernon Campus – and build up the relationship between the SA and Greek organizations.
Walthrust said his experience as an undergraduate senator in the SA and as a lead on the organization’s finance committee has prepared him to navigate the intricate bureaucracy that would come with the position.
“For executive vice president you need to know the rules. You need to know what needs to be applied,” Walthrust said. “You need to know how to advocate for the Student Association in general and help senators pass legislation to make the community better.”
Walthrust said he is running to give a voice to minority students on campus. After members of a sorority posted a racist Snapchat last month, student leaders across campus have rallied to combat racism on campus and demand institutional change.
“When we see racialized incidents like that, that are slipped under the rug, we have to act and not let the oppressed be oppressed for longer, not let the cycle of perpetual oppression continue,” he said.
Walthrust said he will advocate for more funding for the Multicultural Student Services Center, which is a social hub for many communities on campus, to hire more staff members and counselors. He said he also wants to create a space similar to the MSSC for students to receive additional academic help and tutoring services.
He added that he wants to work with Michael Tapscott, the director of the MSSC, to implement an anonymous online bias reporting system, where students would be able to report incidents of racism or discrimination to administrators. Walthrust said he also plans to push officials to hire more administrators of color, an issue he’s discussed with Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement.
Officials have already pledged to create an anonymous bias reporting system and ensure the new dean of the student experience is a leader in diversity issues as part of a string of diversity measures announced in the wake of the Snapchat.
Walthrust said plans to expand upon the recent changes made to the meal plan by renegotiating discounted meal packages publicized by GW and adding the Hungry Harvest program to GWorld permanently.
Hungry Harvest, which debuted this semester, offers students boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables on a biweekly basis over the course of two months for $60. Walthrust said he is also speaking this week to a member of the GW Food Institute – who released a scathing report on the meal plan last month – to identify “any other way that we can tackle a way to provide healthier foods to students.”
Walthrust said he would also work to add a cafeteria or dining hall to the Foggy Bottom Campus, in hopes that a common meal plan would generate a sense of community that the University currently lacks.
“What I want to advocate for is a push towards a cafeteria because they foster communities,” Walthrust said. “You need a community, especially during this time, when we have a polarizing climate.”
He said the dining hall would use a swipe system where students pay for a set number of meals. J Street, Foggy Bottom’s former dining hall that closed in 2016, operated on a by-weight system that was largely criticized by the student body. Officials have instituted an “open” dining plan, allowing students to spend dining cash at more than 100 GWorld vendors, but are seeking to create an all-you-can-eat system in Pelham Commons on the Vern.
He said the new cafeteria could offer the University a new opportunity to provide fresher and more well-received foods because GW is currently searching for a new dining partner.
“Obviously working with vendors would be essential,” Walthrust said. “I think that talking with administration, and expressing concerns with what currently is, will allow them to change and to have a vendor that is of high quality and caters to multicultural students.”
Walthrust said he also wants to improve relations between the SA and Greek organizations after the Snapchat incident and would add director positions for both the Multicultural Greek Council and the Alternative Greek community to SA leadership. In a senate resolution following the incident, student leaders also called for the creation of an MGC Greek director on the SA.
“I want there to be all Greek organizations on a council, so that we can have insight from all different perspectives, instead of it being narrow,” he said.
Walthrust, who lived on the Vern his freshman year, said he will also push for additional services on the Mount Vernon campus, like adding more water refill stations and ensuring vending machines take GWorld cards.
“I don’t think it’s right for us to pay high tuition when we have subpar facilities,” he said. “My experience on the Vern could have been better if we had things that the Foggy Bottom has – as simple as water refill stations on the Vern.”
Lizzie Mintz and Charles Oberst contributed reporting.