Competitive Senate elections: Who’s running and why

PAAVANI LELLA & ETHAN TAN

Staff Writers

As the academic year comes to a close, ASUSF Senate is hosting elections of new Senate members with voting opening on Monday, April 19. 

There are a total of 19 undergraduate candidates running this spring, and for the first time in years, the race for senate president is contested, in addition to three other races (vice president of advocacy, transfer student representative, and students with disabilities student representative).

There are 11 other races on the ballot that are not competitive: vice president of internal affairs; vice president of finance, vice president of marketing and communications, College of Arts and Sciences representative, School of Management representative; senior, junior, and sophomore class representatives, international student representative; and the gender and sexual diversity student representative. 

In addition, there are two referendums on the ballot which would both increase the number of Senate seats by establishing new constituencies and positions.

The Foghorn spoke with all of the undergraduate candidates who are running in the competitive races. 

President

With it being one of the most powerful student positions on campus, it is no surprise that the candidates running are well-qualified and eager to make change.

Marisol Castro, a junior environmental science major, is one of the two presidential candidates. “What had really sparked me to run for president is the recent events of the men’s soccer team investigation and the noose incident at Loyola Village that had occurred in late March,” she said. “I had the will to apply for president because we simply need accountability from all leaders on campus to follow solidarity messages and Instagram posts with immediate action.”

Castro is not new to ASUSF Senate, having served as both the Students with disabilities 

(SDS) representative and the vice president of advocacy during the 2019-20 academic year. As SDS representative, she passed a resolution that allowed students with disabilities to request housing accommodations. As vice president of advocacy, she was able to build connections with administrators, something she wants to continue if elected president. “Especially in events that have discussions about issues on campus, I want to ensure administration’s accessibility for communication with students, because that should always be their priority.”

The defining issue of Castro’s campaign is better financial assistance for students. This comes from her own experience as a low-income student. She spoke at lengths during an interview about how she did not feel supported by the University with tuition increases, poor financial aid, and discussed the struggle to find student employment during the pandemic. 

Sarah Ali, the other candidate for president, is the current ASUSF Senate vice president of finance. Ali feels that this role has prepared her to be ASUSF president, citing her work managing the student activity fee and budgeting process for student organizations.

Ali is a sophomore politics and economics major who will be in her third and final year at USF as she is graduating early. She told the Foghorn that although she has been at USF for only two years, her experience working on the Senate during the pandemic has prepared her for the role. “These circumstances have given me the opportunity and the privilege to understand the needs of students on a more personal level, a lot of students have been able to reach out to me for their issues.” During an interview, Ali stressed that, as a Muslim woman of color, she wants to use her experience advocating for minority groups to help bring the change she wants to see.

Tieing into her current senate role, Ali hopes to increase financial transparency for students around University use of tuition payments. Additionally, she intends to improve sexual assault awareness on campus. “Being a woman on campus is very difficult, and I think there needs to be more education provided by the administration to students on the resources that can be provided for victims.”

Vice President of Advocacy 

The first candidate for vice president of advocacy is Sarah Chavez, a freshman politics major. Chavez decided to run for vice president of advocacy because of how discouraged and outraged students were with the University’s inability to respond to critical situations. “As a first-year, I gradually became more disappointed as I learned and watched how the University disregards students’ circumstances by constantly raising tuition, how they deal with sexual assault, and how they have a history of neglecting instances of racism on campus,” she said. 

Chavez has been on the advocacy committee since last fall and is currently the ASUSF College of Arts and Sciences representative. 

As vice president of advocacy, she hopes to create a safer space for Black students at USF. “I want to see the University uphold its missions and values by re-evaluating its expulsion protocols, keeping in mind how students feel unsafe and outraged due to the blatant presence of anti-Black racism and hate crimes on campus.” 

Chavez also intends to establish a student-led committee to work alongside the Board of Trustees. By doing so she hopes to increase transparency and hold the University accountable for its “idleness and constant failure to protect and represent marginalized groups on campus.”

Idea Fatarida Phuwadonanon, a sophmore psychology and management major, is the other candidate. “I feel the need to help fix various ongoing issues that USF students face such as financial stresses, exclusion and hate crimes towards minority groups, and unsatisfactory mental health services,” she said

Phuwadonanon said her past experiences as secretary of the Thai Student Union, founder of Not Virus Just Human campaign, and budget manager for ASUSF Voices qualify her for the position. She has also had the opportunity to advocate for those with disabilities, various minority groups in the isolated Northern parts of Thailand, and those battling with mental health.

Phuwadonanon believes that she embodies the qualities that the vice president of advocacy should have. “I’m an organizer, leader, enthusiast, nature-lover, helper to the underprivileged, advocate, and, most importantly, I’m a friend.” 

Transfer Student Representative

In the transfer student representative race, Miles Goodman, the incumbent who was appointed to the position this spring, is seeking to continue in his role. 

Goodman told the Foghorn that he wants to continue to serve in the role in order to complete the work he has started since stepping into the position in February. “The work that we’ve accomplished as a Senate is far from complete. To leave my post now would be a disservice to my oath of office, and I intend to carry this momentum and the relationships I’ve established into next academic year.”

Goodman, a junior psychology major, has been an active member of the transfer community and told the Foghorn that he was endorsed by USF TransferNation, a transfer student club on campus. One of his target issues is the affordability of college based on his experience as a first-generation transfer student. Goldman explained that his main goal if re-elected is to establish a formal on-campus transfer center. “There’s this stigma that somehow the transfer process ends when someone comes to a new college … This constituency deserves a space that is accessible and informative both for their academic plan and social life.” In addition, he would like to see more transfer student representation on campus committees and groups, explaining, “ours is a constituency that truly understands that the path to higher education is seldom straightforward.”

Justin Pang, a sophomore nursing major, is Goodman’s challenger. Pang said he hopes to be an advocate and create a better community for transfer students. 

“One primary reason I am running this year is because I see a need for connection amongst my fellow transfer students, especially with the pandemic this year,” Pang said. “My desire to connect with others on deep levels no matter their background is one of my strengths as a representative.”

Pang currently holds a leadership position on campus with InterVarsity, a Christian fellowship organization.

His goal, if elected, is to provide or promote spaces to transfer students, where they can connect with other students and learn more about the resources USF has to offer. 

Students with Disabilities Student (SDS) Representative

In the SDS representative race, Ava Albert, sophomore biology major, is an incumbent seeking another term. Like Goodman in the transfer student representative race, Albert was also appointed to fill a vacancy earlier this year.

Albert said that her experience in the role already is what sets her apart from her opponent. When asked why she wanted to be the SDS representative, Albert cited her personal experience dealing with a disability and not getting the proper support. “I know what it feels like to work through problems by myself and feel alone and misunderstood. I felt like I was the only one working through my disability at times and all I wanted was to meet someone who had a similar disability and hear their experiences.”

If elected, Albert said she would work to “create a safe space for students with disabilities so they can connect and help support each other,” in addition to working on making the University more accessible, and to work with faculty to develop classes that are specifically for students with disabilities.

Zuri Vera, a sophomore psychology major is challenging Albert and was inspired to run after joining ASUSF’s Marketing Committee this year. She admitted that she loved being able to solve and discuss problems within her community. “Past and current senators and members inspire me to continue working hard to make sure all students’ voices are holistically heard, respected, and attended [to].”

Like Albert, Vera’s inspiration to run came from personal experience and frustration. “Freshman year, I had someone tell me to ‘fix’ my disability, even though there is no such thing.” Vera further said that at USF she has spent time trying to eliminate the stigma that students with disabilities face. 

When asked how she views herself in the role, Vera said: “My goal is to be like a mini advocating coach for all students with disabilities; I see myself uplifting individuals with disabilities, encouraging them to take that class they’ve been thinking of taking, and learning from all students with disabilities!”

On Vera’s Instagram page, she lists her 10 campaign goals which center around the inclusion of members of the disabled community in spaces of governance, bettering student relationships with Student Disability Services, implementing disability justice programs, and eliminating the stigma that students like her face.

ASUSF Senate elections will take place online. Voting starts Monday, April 19, and ends Friday, April 23.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Idea Fatarida Phuwadonanon as a junior, she is a sophomore.

Paavani Lella is a freshman biology major and a Deputy News Editor at the Foghorn. She’s previously covered campus life and the administration. She can be reached at plella@dons.usfca.edu

Ethan Tan is a junior politics major and the Foghorn’s News Editor. He covers the University’s administration and campus labor unions. He can be reached at etan@sffoghorn.com or on Twitter @tanethans.

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