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What you need to know about spring 2021 RUSA election candidates

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Gavin Mayes, a School of Arts and Sciences junior from the Rutgers People's Party ticket, and Bilal Yousuf Ahmed, a School of Arts and Sciences junior from the IGKNIGHT RU ticket, are this year's presidential candidates for the Rutgers University Student Assembly. – Photo by Ignknights RU and Gavin Mayes / Instagram

The spring 2021 Rutgers University Student Assembly elections are now open for voting until Sunday night. This semester, two student tickets are running for open positions — IGKNIGHT RU and the Rutgers People’s Party.

IGKNIGHT RU includes Bilal Yousuf Ahmed, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and presidential candidate, Nina Gohel, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and vice presidential candidate, and Shaun Hsueh, a Rutgers Business School sophomore and treasurer candidate.

The other ticket, the Rutgers People’s Party, includes Gavin Mayes, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and presidential candidate, Nikhil Sadaranganey, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and vice presidential candidate, and Adnan Akbar, a Rutgers Business School junior and treasurer candidate. They discussed their platform and experiences relevant to their candidacy.

Our party’s policy platform centers around a core group of main policy areas —infrastructure, mental health, student voice, transparency and recovery,” the Rutgers People's Party candidates said. “Our goal is to make Rutgers feel more like a home by improving tangible aspects of our community.”

Mayes said he wants to create an ad hoc committee to assess the University’s current facilities used by students and to make recommendations on how to improve them. These recommendations would be carried out through an alliance between the Assembly and facility staff.

The Assembly Allocations Board will have more than $300,000 in reserves next semester from student fees, part of which can be used to fund infrastructure improvements, Akbar said.

“Allocating some of these funds to the infrastructure project will put the funds to good use,” he said. “Students deserve to see the impact of their tuition money while they’re still students at Rutgers.”

One of his goals, Akbar said, is to increase transparency on how the fees on a student’s tuition bill are spent. He said term bills should provide more information than 4 to 6 line items lacking explanations for charges, which would help student leaders spend funds more efficiently.

In addition, Akbar said the Rutgers People’s Party would implement a more equitable funding model that would address the specific needs of individual organizations, rather than funding events based only on their size. He also hopes to make Assembly positions and Rutgers internships paid to give students equal opportunities regardless of financial status.

Sadaranganey said he wants to lead the party’s efforts in getting a voting seat for the student representative to the Rutgers Board of Governors and to make sure students have affordable access to class materials. He would also like to improve the Assembly’s visibility as well as communication with the student body, which he feels is an issue often overlooked.

“(The Assembly) often suffers from a lack of engagement, and we can improve that by informing students of the body’s decisions throughout the year and thereby bring more students to the table and increase our influence when negotiating with administrators,” he said.

Other policy plans from the Rutgers People’s Party include restructuring the RUSA Recovery Fund, which provides economic relief for students during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, having 24-hour in-person availability for Rutgers mental health services and increasing diverse representation among counselors.

The candidates said their ticket has a unique diversity of representation compared to IGKNIGHT RU in that members have been involved in organizations, such as the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps and Rutgers Emergency Services, that have rarely been present in the Assembly. They said they also looked outside of the Assembly to recruit candidates.

Mayes and Akbar said they are first-generation student workers, which helps them understand the struggles of their Rutgers peers. Sadaranganey said his experience in the Rutgers Student Advocacy Corps sets him apart in that he knows what it is like to advocate at the highest levels of government and can advocate for students in the same way with administrators.

“This election comes down to one question: Do you want to talk about change, or (do you want to) actually see it?” the candidates said. “Anyone can talk a big game, but few can actually deliver. We have a team of mature professionals who have held significant roles both in and out of student government. Our diversity in experience and contacts with administrators will allow us to actually practice what we preach and make (our) house feel more like (our) home.”

The candidates for IGKNIGHT RU said they have a comprehensive policy platform that focuses on areas including ethical actions on campus, student advocacy and social justice, student financials and transparency, sustainability, academic and student representation, mental and physical health, infrastructure, COVID-19 response, student conduct and University oversight.

Similar to the Rutgers People’s Party, the candidates said they want to add a student voting seat on the Board of Governors to increase students’ say in important University decisions.

“We will also work with Black student leaders to create a comprehensive plan for reparations at Rutgers, something that would push the University to embrace our values of diversity, equity and inclusion,” they said. “In terms of sustainability, we’ll push for carbon neutrality through increased investment in renewable energy and the creation of an official Office of Sustainability to guide Rutgers (toward) full carbon neutrality.”

The candidates also discussed some specific issues they would personally like to focus on if elected to office.

Ahmed said one of the main areas he would like to concentrate on is economic relief for students, which he plans on addressing in multiple ways.

“This includes exploring income share agreements, addressing the current state of NJ CLASS loans, expanding and increasing Pell Grants, creating a fund for transcript payments for (Educational Opportunity Fund)/(Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)/high-need students and turning the RUSA Recovery Fund into a long-term … Resilience Fund,” he said. “Each of these options will help ensure students that require financial assistance are able to receive it and continue to study at Rutgers.”

Gohel said her main priorities include representation, social justice and restructuring the inner-workings of the Assembly. With these areas in mind, she hopes to ensure that the Assembly reflects the student body and amplifies the marginalized voices of the Rutgers community.

“It is my central goal to make sure that the environment in (the Assembly) is one that is nurturing and supportive. One where new members can properly assimilate into and be comfortable when pursuing the change they want to make here at Rutgers,” she said. 

Hsueh said his area of focus includes increasing the transparency of University finances and the student fee that funds organizations. He said the current state of the term bill, budget and student fees are troubling in particular.

“This includes our ‘infrastructure equity’ platform and our push to understand, dollar for dollar, where our money is actually going,” Hsueh said. “I’ll bring my experience as (Association of Big Ten Students) liaison to working with the on-campus governing councils, in order to maintain sound relations and to make sure that the student fee is being used as effectively as it can be.”

IGKNIGHT RU said representation and diversity is a large strength of their ticket, with approximately 20 percent being Muslim-American, 10 percent being Black, more than 50 percent being women and 20 percent coming from greek life. Additionally, the ticket said they have members from the Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander Desi American and LGBTQ+ communities as well as transfer and out-of-state students.

The candidates said they also have the most returning members of the current Assembly’s executive board, which can help them better address student issues and give them a variety of connections with administrators.

Ahmed and Gohel said their experiences within various positions in the Assembly have allowed them to develop clear understandings of its inner-workings as well as gain meaningful knowledge and experience, making them good fits for their positions.

“Everyone on this ticket is running for a reason, whether it’s to fight for more financial support for students or push for university reforms that protect our environment,” the candidates said. “Anyone can desire change, but IGKNIGHT RU also has the experience and resources to make it happen. Our knowledge of the Assembly and our connections across campus will help us form coalitions within the Rutgers community to fight for the changes the student body wants to see.”

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