The UCS Debate: What Went Down

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Last night, the UCS Elections Board put on the annual UCS/UFB Debate. Blog was there to moderate the UCS portion of the event. Here’s a quick recap for those good citizens among you. Way to remain informed. Y’all give us hope. And honestly, we should all care about the outcome of this election. This past year was a busy one for UCS; under the careful leadership of Viet Nguyen ’17, the body implemented a myriad of new policies and initiatives. UCS worked to place tampons in all restrooms, unanimously passed the Campus of Consent Bill, and recently put forth the No Apologies Initiative. Moreover, the group has keenly focused on issues pertinent to first generation, low income, and international students.

This semester, Chelse Steele ’18 is running uncontested for President. Naveen Srinivasan ’19 is running for VP against Alex Volpicello ’18.  Here are some brief bios of the candidates and their platforms: 

President:

Chelse Steele is a junior from Atlanta, Georgia, concentrating in Africana Studies and Computer Science. Though running unopposed, Chelse used the debate as an opportunity to get input on the issues central to her platform, like restaffing the Title IX office, eliminating the Summer Earnings Expectation, and creating a timeline for implementing need-blind admission for international students. Although Chelse is running unopposed, she arrived at the debate well prepared with thoughtful responses. She is clearly taking this election as seriously as if she had an opponent.

[Note from one Blogger: I couldn’t wait to see Chelse debate herself. Chelse: “You’re so lovely, you got this.” Chelse to Chelse: “It’s all you!”]

For more information, you can check out her platform here. 

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Vice-President:

Naveen Srinivasan is a sophomore and the current UCS Chair of Student Activities. He has two years of experience on UCS and one year on the Undergraduate Finance Board (UFB). Three of his four platform issues involve current UCS initiatives: the No Apologies initiative (for the elimination of application fees for low-income students), the Campus of Consent Bill (for expanded education regarding sexual assault), and the implementation of Project Callisto (a sexual assault reporting system). He also wants to launch Project Clarity, a series of guides written for students by students helping to demystify and destigmatize the many facets of Student Support Services. His full platform can be viewed here.

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Alex Volpicello is a junior concentrating in History and Political Science from Long Island, New York. While becoming Vice President of UCS would be his first elected position on the council, his platform is markedly extensive. Some of his key issues include: changing S/NC deadlines, making DPLL courses a requirement, and pressuring the university to support #OurCampus walkout demands. He also hopes to reassess DPS protocol in handling sexual assault and push for lived names in residential communities. His full platform can be viewed here.

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Here’s a crash course on some of the issues addressed by the candidates in tonight’s debate:

Regarding Title IX…

Naveen mentioned the university’s timeline for the staffing of the Title IX Office. Following Amanda Walsh’s recent departure, the position of Title IX Officer is slated to be filled on July 1. With Spring Weekend fast approaching, Naveen believes this position must be filled in a more timely manner. All three candidates called for greater transparency in regard to this office at Brown. 

Financial Aid…

Chelse’s platform includes a provision to get rid of the Summer Earnings Expectation in financial aid packages. This issue has been pushed by numerous low-income student groups over the last decade. When asked which new strategies she would pursue, her response was concrete. She mentioned increasing awareness that LINK/UTRA awards can replace the summer earnings expectations and also explained her plan to work with Christina Paxson and the greater Brown community to ease this burden. 

Limited Space for New Initiatives…

This year, there have been calls to move the First-Gen Center out of the Writing Center and into its own location. There have also been movements to expand the space of the LGBTQ Center, create a Center for International Students, and a new space for Muslim students.

When asked how he would prioritize these requests with limited available space, Naveen said he would work for the expansion of campus spaces to accommodate these initiatives. When one moderator pushed back and mentioned how expansion often results in gentrification, Naveen explained that Brown must also work to consolidate existing spaces. He cited the two graduate student lounges (in the Rock and in Faunce) as an example. 

Need-Blind Admission for International Students…

In Chelse’s platform, she mentions supporting international students who require financial aid by creating a timeline for need-blind admissions. During the debate, Blog asked whether she would prioritize increasing financial aid for international financial aid packages or increasing support for middle income domestic students. In response, she explained that she hopes to implement the Building on Distinction Plan (2014) in a more meaningful way and include all students in the need-blind process. 

Advising…

Alex argued that the Meiklejohn Peer Advising System’s current form needs to be changed. As a Meik himself, he understands the importance of connecting freshmen to advisors who actually relate to their lived experiences. 

Sexual Assault…

Naveen’s platform includes a proposal for Project Callisto, a third-party college sexual assault recording and reporting system which aims to empower survivors and identify repeat assailants. In the debate, Blog mentioned concerns about the program’s security and confidentiality. Callisto’s privacy policy explicitly reserves the right to share all collected information with any third party to protect company interests. When asked about this issue, Naveen responded that he has worked with information security experts and cryptographers to ensure transparency. He reiterated the need to protect survivors and secure their information. 

When asked about which recommendations made in the 2015 Sexual Assault Task Force Report have been the least successful, Alex mentioned problems with the waiting period for resolving complaints. This period is meant to last no longer than 60 days. However, using anecdotal evidence, he mentioned knowing survivors who have been on hold two or even three years. By then, assailants have graduated. Alex continually reiterated that the Title IX office needs a more robust staff- a key issue in light of Amanda Walsh’s recent departure.

Reconciling Student Activism and University Governance…

Chelse argued that the voices of marginalized identities are often left out of conversations about University governance and UCS happenings. As President, she hopes to increase transparency in student governance decisions and constantly assess who is taking on the labor of policy change.

Alex mentioned that he believes student activism on campus is regularly co-opted by the University, with the University taking credit for activism that happens on campus as if it is their own. To address this from the UCS side of things, Alex promised to be a good listener and work with existing activists on campus.

Both UFB and UCS elections will occur March 21-23. 

UPDATE:
March 20, 9 p.m.
Since the publication of this article, UCS VP candidate Alex Volpicello ’18 decided to formally drop out of the race.

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