Georgetown University Student Association vice presidential hopefuls discussed plans to restructure GUSA at the vice presidential debate Wednesday night.
Candidates Leo Arnett (SFS ’22) and Nicole Sanchez (SFS ’22) answered questions about their plans to restructure GUSA, their past work as GUSA members and how they plan to advocate for marginalized groups on campus. The GUSA Election Commission moderated the debate and posed questions to the candidates. Some audience members were also allowed to ask questions.
Arnett, who is running alongside presidential candidate Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22), is currently the director of campus affairs within the GUSA Executive and was formerly a GUSA Senator. Nicole Sanchez, who is running alongside presidential candidate Nile Blass (COL ’22), serves as a GUSA Senator for the at-large class, a member of the student activism team and the senior policy advisor for the GUSA Executive.
A key component of the Sanchez-Arnett platform is using input from the student body to restructure GUSA to incorporate greater inclusivity, according to Arnett.
“The way that we want students to engage with GUSA is to literally rebuild GUSA,” Arnett said during the debate. “What Daniella and I want to do, and what we’re campaigning on, is an entire restructure process to make sure that the student association actually represents the students.”
Daniella Sanchez and Arnett’s four-step restructuring process includes disbanding the GUSA Senate, which Arnett says is the main source of exclusivity and elitism in GUSA. Sanchez and Arnett plan to establish a new student representative organization, giving students a voice in the structure of the new organization.
Restructuring GUSA should involve eliminating hierarchies, titles and parliamentary procedure in the senate, according to Nicole Sanchez, who is one of the leaders on the current restructuring project in the GUSA Senate.
“I think restructuring and rebranding and reintroducing to students what advocacy is, you have to create a space for people to feel safe enough to engage with you,” Nicole Sanchez said during the debate. “You have to create a space where students who aren’t leaders and who aren’t activists and who are freshmen who want to engage and make change can feel comfortable enough.”
The GUSA Senate currently operates under Robert’s Rules of Order, a formal set of guidelines similar to parliamentary procedure, to run its meetings and vote on legislation. GUSA senators are divided by class year and work on different committees, which each have a number of different positions, including a committee chair.
The senate is currently reconsidering the role of these formalities in its current, ongoing restructuring process. While GUSA leadership has not yet revealed many of the restructuring process’s details, the senate is looking to eliminate Robert’s Rules and other specific titles and positions that senators feel create too much of a hierarchy.
The Sanchez-Arnett plan is distinct from the Blass-Sanchez plan because it will prioritize input from students outside of GUSA, according to Arnett.
“We believe that student voices should be the priority, not the secondary, when it comes to forming a new GUSA,” Arnett said. “So instead of forming the restructure plan within a committee within a committee in the senate in GUSA, we would like to dedicate the first step to student input solely, and then work throughout the whole year to process that information.”
The Blass-Sanchez platform plans to engage student leaders within GUSA who are strong representatives of the student body, as well as garner additional feedback, according to Nicole Sanchez.
“These are students who are known on campus for being activists and organizers who are speaking out against GUSA,” Sanchez said, “And beyond that, there is student input. There are student representatives that are involved in this. There’s people from the executive that are involved in this, and these meetings are open to everyone.”
Another pillar of the Sanchez-Arnett platform that is crucial to successfully restructuring GUSA is the platform’s proposed Student Bill of Rights, a document that would outline student autonomy and prevent any university overstep, according to Arnett.
“I think that the two fundamental policy platform ideas that Daniella and I have laid out and that I’ve talked about extensively right now truly empowers the student body to not only one reform, a student association and a student government, which actively and accurately represents the needs and the intentions of the student body, but also empowers the student body to fight back against the administration,” Arnett said.
In addition to their plans to restructure GUSA, Nicole Sanchez and Arnett were also asked about their plans to include and advocate for BIPOC communities in the Georgetown community. Blass and Nicole Sanchez plan on using their experiences as students of color to inform their initiatives and work with on-campus student affinity groups, according to Nicole Sanchez.
“I think the major things that need to happen is supporting the efforts to create an AAPI house to create a safe space for the Asian students on campus, to then supporting the Asian American studies program, to making sure that students are held accountable for racist rhetoric in classes and making sure that we have diversity of thought in our professors and diversity of thought in readings that we’re having,” Sanchez said.
The Sanchez-Arnett administration will use the results from the university’s first cultural climate survey, which was launched last year, to better understand the experiences of Georgetown’s BIPOC communities and their needs, according to Arnett.
“Our policies that we want to enact that address racism on campus have to use and acknowledge the personal experiences that students on campus do go through in order to better inform how we want to go about it, and to convince the administration that it’s something that is prevalent on campus, whether they know it or not,” Arnett said.
Blass and Nicole Sanchez have the experience advocating for underrepresented and marginalized communities at Georgetown that is necessary for success as president and vice president, according to Nicole Sanchez. The pair recently worked with the university to successfully repeal mandatory meal plan requirements, according to Nicole Sanchez.
“We sat in an hour and a half meeting and we pushed and we pushed and administration finally did it,” Sanchez said. “I think the reason why my team, and the people that I worked with, and that me and Nile have been so successful in our advocacy efforts with admin is that we don’t take no for an answer, is that we come in fully prepared. We come in stacked with information, stats, testimonies, and we know that there’s so much more on the line that I know is not acceptable to these students.”
Students living on campus this semester were initially required to purchase the university’s biggest and most expensive meal plan, causing students to raise concerns about safety and financial issues.
Although GUSA has seen positive change in recent years, there are still significant changes that the Sanchez-Arnett campaign hopes to oversee, according to Arnett.
“I was in the senate my first year and sophomore year at Georgetown, and to see the change that’s happened in the senate, really, is something that’s remarkable,” Arnett said. “We’re not saying that we don’t want a representative body in GUSA; it’s saying that in order to change that, we need to start from the ground up.”