A chat with UCS presidential candidate Viet Nguyen ’17


Polls for the UCS elections open today, Tuesday, April 12 at noon and will remain open until Thursday, April 14 at noon.

Blog: What is your overall platform?

Viet: I have two overarching ideas. One is making sure that resources and support systems on campus approach students from an intersectional standpoint. For example, with mental health, or Title IX–we can’t apply a blanket support system and assume it’s going to work. We have to think, how are we best serving trans students, how are we best serving Native students, et cetera?

Second, increasing student input into administrative decisions. Student feedback shouldn’t just be solicited at the end of a project for final revisions–students should be incorporated throughout the process.

B: How do you see the role of UCS president?

VN: I see it as an outward facing position. First, it’s about making sure that students understand how to talk to, and push the administration to get real changes, and then it’s how to work with administration, which levers to pull, and knowing how to navigate bureaucracy. I think I am well suited for both. Through my work on the First-Gens@Brown Committee I know [about] student groups doing work on campus, but I also know a lot of high-level, and mid-level administrators.

B: Speaking of which, what have you been doing at Brown this past year?

VN: The majority of my work has been acting as co-president (along with Emily Doglio ’17) for the First-Gens@Brown organization. It’s a fairly new group (we started last spring), but we’ve gotten a lot of institutional change achieved already. The biggest thing so far has been the opening of the First-Gen Center (it is going to be on the fifth floor of the SciLi, which is currently being renovating). I co-wrote the proposal last year (first draft with Manuel Contreras ’16 and second with Doglio). I met with President Paxson, Provost Locke, and Dean Mandel. First we were focused on gaining legitimacy–making sure that Brown committed to this, and once we had written confirmation, we needed to make sure the Center had the right support systems before opening. This included hiring a part-time graduate director, and hiring five paid students for positions involving alumni affairs and mentorship. Also, really small things, like picking the fabric for furniture (which was surprisingly fun)!

B: What’s your background?

VN: I’m from Mountain View, California. I’m a first generation college student, and I come from a low-income background. I have a little sister who is nine right now, so she’s going through the rough middle school stage.

B: When did you decide you wanted to run?

VN: It was a very quick process. I’d say the seed was planted when Justice ran. I think seeing the excitement around xem, especially in the POC community, really inspired me and exemplified how the position could be used as an instrument of change. I started talking to people in the First-Gen Center, to see if they would get behind it, and after a while of talking about something, it just happens.

B: Talk to us about your plans for financial aid.

VN: My personal experience has been through the first generation and low-income lens, but in doing this work, I think I know where the holes and gaps are for middle-income students, and international students, so my larger platform goal is to close those gaps. On a more specific level, here are two things. One, I want to make the process clearer for students with divorced or separated parents. Particularly in situations where a parent is estranged, and/or legally separated, but because of past histories it is unsafe for the student to reach out and get something like tax returns. Right now it’s a very unclear process, so I want to streamline it for these students who don’t fit the “FAFSA norm.” Two, I am pushing for mid-year reevaluations. This comes from stories I’ve heard where students had family situations that affected their financial standing midway through their first year, and their situation didn’t match their package, but unfortunately it’s extremely difficult at Brown to renegotiate that package in the middle of the year.

In general, I want to look at other communities and figure out how we can best support all of our students. For example: reaching out to undocumented students, and not only providing them with better financial support, but also legal guidance. We want to make it so not only can they afford to attend Brown, we want to take their family experiences into account, and ensure that the administration deals with them holistically.

B: Your platform seems very well thought out and targeted. Can you speak to that?

VN: Everything on my platform was decided in consultation with specific communities on campus. One of the reasons that my policy points are so specific is because they came from talking to the students on the ground, doing the hard work. They’re the experts. You can’t approach policy only from the side of the administration and UCS, so I think that’s where I can really utilize my connections to the different communities on campus.

I developed these relationships early on. I think one of the reasons that UCS has been ineffective in the past is because there’s a gap between what the students want and what the administration hears about. I think UCS can be a great conduit for student voices, but I don’t think that it’s happened yet.

B: So you have never run for a position on UCS before?

VN: No, I have not actually participated in UCS before–but the past four weeks I’ve been meeting with Sazzy and Alana [current UCS President and VP], as well as attending UCS committee meetings to familiarize myself with the structure.

B: How did you decide to come to Brown?

V: On a whim. My guidance counselor happened to have gone to Brown. I couldn’t fly out here to visit because of the airfare costs, but one of my friends from high school went on this tour of all of the Ivies in the northeast, and uploaded a bunch of pictures, so I just looked at his Facebook. I chose a school based on if they had a need-blind admissions policy, and if they met 100 percent of financial need for accepted students. After all that, the open curriculum was the biggest draw. I jump around a lot, and I think it’s helpful for exploring different career paths.

B: What do you do for fun?

VN: I love watching TV shows. I am also a co-president of the Brown Lecture Board, which I haven’t really gotten a chance to talk about in the election a lot, but I’m very proud of…Bringing all of these amazing people to Brown, and being in the same car as Viola Davis–it was so surreal when I had seen her on the screen all of the time.

B: Anything you haven’t mentioned yet?

VN: Something personally that I am going through right now is that American Idol is ending. The finale was actually on the [UCS] debate night, so I just watched it after, but the show has been going on for fifteen years. I feel like a chapter in my life has just ended.

B: Ratty vs. V-Dub?

VN: The Ratty is closer but I prefer the V-Dub’s ambience.

Image via Viet Nguyen ’17.

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