The polls for this fall’s student government senate elections opened Thursday night, after a week of competitive virtual campaigns that largely focused on financial aid reforms and accommodations for students.
The voting period will close at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19. Throughout the week, candidates for the Georgetown University Student Association Senate flooded social media timelines and GroupMe channels with policy points and colorful campaign graphics. On Sept. 16, GUSA hosted a senate town hall, during which freshmen candidates were granted the opportunity to voice and debate their ideas.
GUSA canceled the virtual town halls for upperclassmen candidates, as the senate decided to extend the deadline until 2 p.m. on Thursday for students to petition to join the ballot. The senate held an emergency meeting Wednesday night to pass a bylaws amendment that extended the petition deadline after receiving several last-minute petition applications. Petitioners needed to gather 50 student signatures to join the race.
Twelve candidates, mostly BIPOC students and sophomores, joined ballots by petition. Leading up to the influx of petition candidates, heated criticism of the student government body surfaced in GroupMe chats and on social media. Many students criticized senate culture, raising particular concerns about the treatment of women of color.
The GUSA Election Committee published candidate lists for each race Sept. 11. Twenty-six freshmen are competing for only seven available senate spots for members of their class. The other races are less crowded. Twelve candidates are vying for six sophomore slots, eight candidates are running for six junior positions, seven candidates are campaigning for six senior spots and six candidates are running for four at-large positions. Four sophomore candidates, who were all former GUSA senators, dropped out of the race before elections began.
The majority of candidates emphasized the importance of transparency and communication between GUSA, the administration and the student body. Sophomore candidate and current GUSA Senator Leo Rassieur (COL ’23) has made open communication a central tenet of his platform.
“In my year thus far in GUSA I have gotten a sense of how much information tends to be concealed from students, and therefore how important it is that we demand transparency and accountability when it comes to Georgetown’s energy sourcing, for example, as well as its investments in unethical sectors like the prison-industrial complex,” Rassieur wrote in an email to The Hoya.
In light of recent financial aid problems, many candidates have also focused their platforms on increasing financial aid transparency and creating additional aid opportunities for low-income students.
Another common theme in candidate platforms was increasing accessibility of academic accommodations, an issue that has become more relevant since Georgetown transitioned to a virtual environment this past spring.
Freshman candidate Dominic Gordon (SFS ’24) has made accessibility for students with disabilities the crux of his campaign.
“As an autistic student, I know personally how a lack of communication has been difficult to deal with,” Gordon wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I know how the Academic Resource Center has struggled to handle the current crisis. I believe that I will have a better idea on how to improve the system, since I actually have experienced these current problems.”
Current GUSA Senator and senior candidate Leo Teixeira (COL ’21) highlighted the importance of representation and diversity in GUSA and advocated for the interests of BIPOC and low-income students and organizations.
“The University has never and still does not prioritize students like myself,” Teixeira wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It has never cared or prioritized its marginalized students over the wealthy, average member of our student community. The work will always fall on students, ourselves, to advocate for our interests and that will not be done unless more marginalized students have representation within our Senate, rather than the privileged, self-interested students who typically make up the body and its leadership.”
Sophomore candidate Kwan Hopkins (COL ’23), who petitioned to be included in the race, also emphasized the need for more representation of marginalized groups in GUSA.
“I hadn’t intended to run this year but I entered the race because the Class of 2023 GroupMe was overrun with controversy involving both race and the political affiliations,” Hopkins wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I saw that so many were feeling left out and that so few are represented by the group that is supposed to fight for all of the student body.”
At-large candidate Yaritza Aguilar (COL ’22), who also emphasized representation in her platform, has campaigned by reaching out to BIPOC communities such as the Latinx Leadership Forum and the Georgetown Scholars Program.
“I hope to encourage BIPOC and low-income students to vote as usually we tend to dismiss GUSA elections, however, I think we can demonstrate that we do have a voice on campus and that we build coalitions to help each other out,” Aguilar wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The university’s digital format has changed the face of campaigning. The majority of candidates have used forms of social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and GroupMe, to spread awareness of their platforms. Several candidates have relied on infographics and short videos that can be posted on social media sites, including freshman candidate Nirvana Khan (SFS ’24).
“Campaigning has been very strenuous!” Khan wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Since there’s no in-person campaigning, there’s a lot of pressure to constantly be posting graphics and videos on social media.”
To connect on a more personal level with students, candidates have also used Zoom to meet directly with peers. Freshman candidate Lincoln Le (COL ’24) has set up “Doodle Hour” Zoom calls to chat with potential voters, while Rachel Li (COL ’24) has similarly hosted her own “Candidate Corner” over Zoom. Freshmen candidates Adora Adeyemi (MSB ’24) and Deborah Wey (SFS ’24) plan on hosting a baking Q&A event over Zoom, where they will both bake and answer questions students have about their campaigns.
Even with the additional creativity, however, social media campaigning comes with some significant disadvantages, such as more emphasis on name recognition or large followings than actual policies, according to Teixeira.
“There’s certainly less of an ability to make sure you really get a chance to meet the people you’ll be representing and it makes things difficult to get your name out there if you don’t already have ‘name-recognition’ or large social media followings,” Teixeira wrote. “Hopefully, however, it will lead to a greater focus on policy issues and stances themselves.”
This is a developing story. The Hoya is investigating criticism of GUSA Senate culture. Check out The Hoya website and Twitter for upcoming GUSA election coverage.