Of all the executive candidates contesting this week’s Georgetown University Student Association election, Abbey McNaughton (COL ’16) has the most tangible experience with the organization, currently serving as the vice-speaker of the GUSA senate, in her fourth semester as a senator.
On the other hand, her running mate Will Simons (COL ’16) has none, instead cultivating grassroots student organizations throughout his time on the Hilltop.
In accordance with their opposing administrative and outsider experiences, the ticket has focused on the student experience, promoting student activities and advocating for student rights.
“[We want] a cultural change within GUSA, making sure that every student is involved and engaged,” Simons said. “If we can create this new culture – an inclusive, representative, engaging culture – then every GUSA administration after us will be more successful. That is a huge priority.”
Both members of the ticket explained that their families instilled their beliefs in the role of service in student government.
“[There was] kind of a feeling I had grown up with my parents, with the focus on service and caring about the bigger picture,” McNaughton said. “So Georgetown was a perfect fit for me.”
Simons echoed McNaughton, noting his father’s influence.
“My dad in the past couple of years has gotten really into civic duty. I have a really high value of public service,” Simons said.
Simons also quoted “The West Wing,” in which the fictional president of the United States implores his staff to leave the country better than they found it.
For the candidates, leaving the campus better than they found it will involve a strong focus on empowering students to protect their rights. McNaughton found her inspiration to run for GUSA executive after speaking with one of her friends during the spring of her sophomore year about how difficult it is to get around Georgetown in a wheelchair.
“I was shocked at how little this topic was discussed on campus and how it didn’t seem like a bigger issue,” McNaughton said. “I thought, you know, I think this is the kind of thing that GUSA should be representing, student voices from all different parts of campus that are traditionally marginalized.”
In addition to handicap accessibility, the team’s 25-page platform also highlights socioeconomic changes to increase opportunities available to students on financial aid and mental health advocacy.
The pair will promote these initiatives and many others with the help of other student leaders. This student involvement and their student engagement platform will allow the team to rebuild GUSA’s relationship with Georgetown’s student body and include voices that have so often been ignored in the larger university discussions.
Queen Adesuyi (COL ’16), co-founder and co-president of the Black Pre-Law Association, commended the ticket’s motivation to be a voice for minorities on campus. As part of the socioeconomic change platform, Adesuyi highlighted proposed programs to help low-income students with laundry costs, as well as transportation, clothing and other costs associated with unpaid internships in D.C.
“Pre-professionalism is experienced differently when you do not have enough money to dress and play the part,” Adesuyi said. “I interned for my congressman during my sophomore year and as much as I enjoyed and appreciated my experience, it was a financial burden. I support Abbey and Will’s advocacy of socioeconomically under-represented students.”
Effectively advocating for all students’ rights will require a change in GUSA’s method of operation, which Simons criticized as unable to engage most of the student population. According to the McNaughton-Simons campaign, the starkly different backgrounds of the two names at the top of the ticket could help change that environment.
“Will has been a part of different student organizations than I’ve been a part of. We have a very strong combination of GUSA experience and non-GUSA experience, but [with] student advocacy,” McNaughton said.
McNaughton has served on the finance and appropriations committee as a sophomore and is currently acting as a student representative on the university board of directors in addition to her role as senate vice-speaker. She also was the vice president of Georgetown University College Republicans and a member of the College Academic Council.
“We come from a strong background in working with the administration because of my position with the board of directors,” McNaughton said. “It has allowed me to be involved in discussions about a lot of issues across campus on things like handicap accessibility, sexual assault and Kehoe field. That’s a wide array of different issues and I think that has provided us with many relationships with the university.”
As much experience as McNaughton has working with the administration, Simons has an impressive background in organizing and founding new student groups. Simons co-founded the Georgetown Speechwriting Advisory Group, a communications-consulting group run by students. He also helped found and lead the GU Club Golf team as well as the U.S.-Middle East Youth Network.
The grassroots experience came to the forefront last year, when Simons started the “Students Against Restrictive Housing Policy” social media campaign last January to fight the university’s changing housing policies. Within a week, the campaign convinced the university to postpone the policy change until the following year.
Simons said that engaging in grassroots campaigning could allow GUSA to become more effective at reaching the student populace.
“GUSA is in a unique role to lead student advocacy, mobilize students, get them involved and keep them involved and lead these efforts because its something that affects every student. The university actually listens to us when we have all students behind an idea,” Simons said.
The combination of GUSA experience with input from student organizations at large has attracted support around campus, including Georgetown University College Democrats President Matt Gregory (SFS ’17), who highlighted the combination of backgrounds as crucial to the candidacy.
“I believe that their ticket’s unique combination of prior GUSA experience and input from leaders representing dozens of diverse organizations … would allow them to serve the student body better than any other team in the race,” Gregory said.
Jessica Hickle (SFS ’18) commended the team’s plan to engage more students in the future, noting the candidates’ concern for the school and its students.
“When I first met Abbey we talked about stress and adjusting to college and I could tell she genuinely cared about what I was saying even though we didn’t know each other,” Hickle said. “I really respect her and Will for how much they care about everyone individually.”
As the campaign reaches its last week, McNaughton implored students to pay attention to the election, underlining the impact the executive would have over the next year on student issues.
“I want students to know that their vote matters,” McNaughton said. “The issues coming up in the next year do affect every single individual. Whoever they are voting for, it is important to recognize that you need to pick the people who you trust to represent your interests at the table in these discussions.”