Mid-way through the spring semester, student organizations always receive visits from aspiring student body presidents and vice presidents. The candidates' messages are often similar: Let's improve parking, dining services, rec center facilities or funding for organizations. But how do those promises move from campaign platforms to policy changes?
I sat down with juniors Maggie Callaghan and Luke Elfreich to discuss their platform as well as some of the topics at the forefront of Miami students' and administrators' minds such as student drinking and mental health.
Callaghan, a Baltimore, MD native who now who now lives in Columbus, is a double major in journalism and political science. She is also an active member in her sorority, Delta Gamma. Elfreich, a political science major from Toledo, was the vice president of his fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi. Lately, Elfreich has been busy preparing for the arrival of bee hives for Miami's Apicultural Society, of which he is a co-founder. The pair met their sophomore year when they both served as academic senators in ASG for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Callaghan and Elfreich are visibly excited -- and a little dumbfounded -- when they discuss their roles as student body president and vice president. They have pledged to be some of the most visible leaders in ASG and want to increase the organization's transparency.
TMS: A couple weeks ago, you found out that you were Miami's new student body president and vice president. How have those first weeks been like?
MC: I think it's still sinking in. It definitely did not feel real the first couple days. I know we both really want to do a good job next year, and I know there's a lot of pressure on us to make changes. For me, the fact that people wanted us to lead is such an honor that I'm always going to keep in the back of my mind.
LE: From the first couple days all the way up until now, it's just been nothing but excitement for what we'll be able to do in the next year. I think there's kind of an energy that I've seen.
TMS: The theme of your platform centered on creating opportunities for students. Can you explain why you chose to define your platform that way and what that means for ASG in the next year?
MC: We sat down and talked about the issues we wanted to focus on first rather than thinking about a theme. Creating opportunities for all students felt like it fit what we wanted to do next year. You know, I do think there are a lot of groups of students on campus that feel like their voices aren't heard. We feel like ASG has been working as their own separate entity for too long so that's really where reaching out to student organizations more and looking for their collaboration is really big.
TMS: You've talked about holding ASG's cabinet more accountable. To you, what will that look like and do you have a plan in place to accomplish it?
MC: Making sure they come to every senate [meeting] is going to be huge. We're going to be at every senate [meeting]. In years past, cabinet meetings have gotten canceled because it's a Sunday, so I think it's important that those meetings happen. There's kind of a lax attitude in cabinet that you don't really see in senate. Senate's always writing bills and legislation, they're really engaged, and sometimes things fall flat when it comes to cabinet. That's something we really want to change. Our chief of staff next year, Brandon Fogel, is going to be a really big part of that.
LE: Having Fogel facilitate a lot of the collaboration is going to be very key. We find ourselves in the situation a lot of times where people have been earnestly working on something for quite some time and then they realize, 'oh wow, this other group of students has been working on the exact same thing.' Having him in that collaborative role is going to move things quicker.
TMS: ASG as a whole is not demographically representative of the student body in both gender and racial diversity. Is that something that you're trying to change, and, if so, how?
MC: Yes, for sure. Making sure that we have better PR when it comes to telling people how to run and how the whole process works is part of the reason why Luke and I want to create a directorship for international students. I don't want to give spots to different groups necessarily. I would rather have people run because they want to run, and hopefully we can help more students know how.
LE: If people see that there is good change that they can do, that there is better representation, that would make more people want to run so that it's not a cycle of friends replacing each other.
MC: People who run are usually people who know other people in ASG because other people just don't know.
TMS: There has been criticism in the past that the vice president has not had an active enough role in ASG's cabinet. Luke, how do you see your role as VP playing out, and do you see it being different from past VPs?
LE: I definitely see it being different than past vice presidents. There's a lot of talk about changing the by-laws related to the vice president's role. There are not a ton of listed responsibilities. I would like to take a much more active role, being a much more visible person in this position, setting a precedent and hopefully pairing that with a by-law change that would change things for vice presidents going forward.
MC: I wouldn't have picked Luke if I didn't think he would take a more active role, because I think a lot of times in the past, the VP has done nothing, and I wanted a vice president who would be engaged. We are friends outside of ASG, but we met working together, and we work really well together.
TMS: One of the points of student government is opening up opportunities for students who don't have as much of a voice on campus, so, each of you individually, is there a group that you think you can personally speak for that doesn't always get a voice?
MC: I can speak to students who are experiencing mental health issues. I would say it's more of a silent group, because I think a lot of students are afraid or embarrassed to talk about what they're going through. I think it definitely is a voice that's sometimes missing.
LE: I think that environmental awareness is something I can bring to the table. It can be difficult to promote positive, sustainable initiatives on campus, especially with the absence of Yvette Klein [former director of sustainability for Miami]. There's a bit of a vacuum, I feel, in the administration when it comes to sustainable efforts.
MC: He's also a voice for the bees.
TMS: Some students, including members of the TMS staff, have voiced concern about a lack of transparency from ASG leaders. Do you plan on addressing that, and how?
MC: I think the live Facebook stream will be a good start for that. Having cabinet give more reports to senate will be important as well. We also want The Student to feel like we're more available to talk to. I do think that people see Luke and I as more approachable than some people in the past maybe, and I think that will help with the level of transparency. ASG does a lot, but so much of it people don't know about. I think it looks like we're trying to hide something when we're not.
LE: In the last year, I think we've taken a lot of internal steps to increase transparency, and that will only continue in the next year. Having Brandon Fogel so in tune with those changes, too, I think will only be a positive for our team.
TMS: Do you see that transparency also extending to ASG's budget and how money is spent within ASG?
MC: It's something we have talked about, but haven't necessarily come to a decision on. I will say, from our perspective, we definitely want to get rid of cabinet gifts and turn it into some outreach or fund. The cabinet gifts thing was started in years past and for some reason continued, and it's something that we definitely want to change. We also want the treasurer to make more reports to senate so they know what's going on.
LE: [Senator] Nick Froelich and I, along with Alex Cary [secretary of finance], presented a bill regarding the internal budget necessitating a senate vote of approval, essentially making the rules for our own internal budget the exact same as any other student organization, because I don't see any difference.