NBN sat down with ASG presidential candidate Weinberg junior Joji Syed to ask about her platform. Syed is the current vice president of community relations for ASG.
Check out our Q&A with Christina Cilento and Macs Vinson, the opposing ASG candidates, here.
Q: You’ve called for a paradigm shift, a “NU Deal.” What does that mean?
I think students don’t see what the student government can provide in terms of their day-to-day experience. We want to emphasize that ASG can be so much more on this campus. The “NU Deal" embodies this concept. When we’re approaching problem solving, we’re looking at issues and problems that are affecting and impacting students on campus and really thinking about what are the major issues on this campus we’re all aware of, but that we haven’t really tackled.
Take the alcohol policy, for instance. I think all students agree that the current policy is not conducive to student safety, nor is it benefiting any student. When we all agree that this is an issue, student government's job is to put through a reformed policy. And in at least the three years I’ve been here, NU has never tried to partner with any institution on this campus, such as IFC (The Interfraternity Council), that has pushed for a reformed alcohol policy. The whole point is to work with the student experts on this campus, work with the students who are passionate about these issues.
Q: Noah Star and Christina Kim emphasized communication with student groups last year. What makes you different?
First of all, Archie and I have been involved in so many different groups on this campus. For me it’s business groups, from president for Students Consulting for Non-Profit Organizations (SCNO) and then being an active member in Northwestern Student Holdings (NSH), and for Archie it’s endless, from South Asian Student Alliance (SASA), to being a PA, to Brown Sugar, to being a tour guide. We’ve been impacted by the communities on this campus. So when he and I stand together and say half our platform is focused on elevating student groups on campus to better impact the student groups we’re a part of, that’s a very personal experience for us.
Secondly, we’ve started working with groups already. We’ve been doing this as we’ve been drafting our platform and that’s very unique. In terms of mental health, we’re working directly with the students involved with NU Listens and NU Active Minds and students who have amazing initiatives like Isabel Schwartz’s idea of wellness chairs and incorporating that as a core element of our platform.
Q: So when you talk about voices not at the table are you talking about student groups?
It’s much more than just that. ASG can do a better job of helping every single student on this campus have the best possible NU experience. Take any component of our platform and there are a number of communities being impacted by it. Alcohol policy: though a lot of students relate it directly to Greek students, it impacts anyone who lives on campus, it impacts anyone who is involved in a student group who would like to host an event on campus where alcohol is served to students of age. Take our mental health policy; it applies to every student. These are topics that are indicative and effective to every student. By prioritizing the issues in the reflective manner that we have on our platform, we’re showing that we're engaging with all of campus, from social justice to alcohol policy to student-athletes.
There are a lot of voices that have not been heard, and we’ve failed on that respect. By having a comprehensive platform, we truly believe that there is something on that platform that impacts your day-to-day experience at NU. So when I look at our platform, I think mental health affects me, alcohol policy affects me and social justice platform affects my life as a marginalized student on this campus. It’s a very comprehensive outlook on what ASG can be doing for the student body.
Q: What do you think ASG’s role should be in terms of amplifying the voice of marginalized students?
ASG’s role should be that it’s voicing the concerns, helping every single student pursue their passion. That said, ASG needs to take a more active role in ensuring that marginalized students feel the same way. Our current systems in place haven’t done enough. I truly believe we’re making the right steps to make that gap smaller so that marginalized students also see ASG as a resource that directly impacts their experience on campus.
Archie and I addressed this in our whole conversation about making sure ASG works for every single student, which inherently includes marginalized student. That said, there is a focus on marginalized students in our social justice platform because as students of color ourselves, we’ve been involved in these communities, we have a very personal narrative that attaches to this community.
Q: In a letter to NBN, the opposition called you out for not having enough systemic change in your campaign. They asked “how can ‘reducing miscommunication’ be the most important task at hand when students on this campus can’t breathe?” How do you respond to that?
I don’t think that’s fair. I was very upset, very insulted. It felt like a personal attack on issues that Archie and I are passionate about. To make fun of us for pursuing these topics, that’s a little insulting. When I, as a student group president, read a platform that says “Optimize SOFO” so your treasurer isn’t waiting in line for four hours, I don’t see that as an easy change. These are all issues very pertinent to the student experience, and each has its own weight. Every issue that we’re talking about in our platform is important in its context. So you can’t belittle student group leaders for being passionate about SOFO and for centralizing resources because for them as a leader of that group, that’s how they’re engaging with ASG; that’s how they’re engaging with this campus.
If we're able to make SOFO more accessible to students by pushing it online, or by opening for more hours, or allowing advisors to sign off on vouchers online, then I made the lives of student leaders a lot easier. Now they can better help and serve the communities they’re impacting.
We’re here to serve every student in the best way we can and every student has a different way in which they want to engage with us.
Q: Should student leaders have a voice at the table when you’re talking with the University?
I want every student group leader, when they hit a hurdle, I want the first resource in their mind to be ASG. Not the adviser, not their best friend who used to be a student group president, not a graduate. It should be ASG, because we should be a resource for every single student and that’s not the case right now.
As a former student group president, ASG would be the last person I came to with an issue. And I want that to change. Building this trust with them and having these meetings, I can say that every group has reached out to me with changes they want to see or just random questions and that excites me because I want them to see me as a resource.
Q: Some of the things you have asked for, such as the expanded resources for students with low socioeconomic backgrounds, have already been pushed for. How will you make a difference?
I don’t think ASG has done an adequate job of working with these students and pushing and demanding these reforms with regard to the administration. As someone who’s served on our exec team, I don’t think we’ve done an adequate job at all. That’s something we need to focus on.
You’re right, lots of students have these ideas and it's great but who actually gets them done?
Archie, in this situation, is an exceptionally visionary person. When he believes in something, he will do everything in his might to make sure he is making progress.
We have a pragmatic approach to these major issues that help us move in the right direction. One of our ideas was to make an event subsidy fund for these students because a lot of events have been pricey.
Q: That’s already been asked for.
You’re right; it has. Where ASG fell short is they didn’t collaborate with the right people who were pushing for these initiatives. And another thing: a lot of things have been tried on college campuses and fail; that doesn’t mean you stop trying. At the end of the day, our goal is to get this subsidy fund in place so every student who can benefit from it, does.
Q: What should ASG look like in a year from now?
One of the first things that comes up when we talk with student groups, if Archie goes around and asks how many people know what ASG is and cares about. I swear to God, if the room is 20 people, 2 people raise their hands. I want next year whoever’s running to ask the same question, and I want every single student to raise their hand. Because in that year of Archie and me in office, they will have seen the tremendous impact ASG can have on a student being at NU. Students will believe in what their student government can do for them.
Editor's note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.