Editorial board’s picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

May 11, 2020, 6:54 a.m.

Last month, we reached out to each of this year’s candidates for the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate and Executive positions. After interviewing and reviewing the platforms of those who applied for our endorsement, here are the candidates who we believe deserve your vote on May 18.

Note that candidates for class presidents and representatives of the Graduate Student Council (GSC) will also appear on the May 18 ballot for undergraduates and graduate students, respectively. GSC candidates are elected by their graduate schools, and class presidents are elected by their respective classes. As an editorial board of undergraduates of different class years, we have decided not to endorse candidates in either of these races.

ASSU Executive

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Munira Alimire ’22 & Vianna Vo ’21

Majors: Urban Studies and Anthropology / Human Biology

Nearly every aspect of the coming school year is profoundly uncertain. It is this uncertainty that makes it that much more important that the student body has effective and passionate advocates. This is one among many reasons that Munira Alimire and Vianna Vo earned our endorsement. 

Over the past year, Munira and Vianna have proven themselves to be effective representatives of the student body. Munira serves as the ASSU Undergraduate Senate Chair and has held positions on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the FLI Advocacy Special Committee, the ASSU Executive Committee and the SSE Board of Directors. As Senate Chair, Munira co-authored a resolution condemning the University’s inaction on racial issues, led work to increase funding and space for the FLI Office and, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, established and co-managed the ASSU COVID-19 Fund alongside other senators. 

Vianna brings a long track record of advocacy too, particularly in the area of mental health and wellness. She  served as the ASSU Director of Mental Health and Wellness this past year, also holding positions on the CAPS Student Advisory Committee and the Well-Being & Flourishing Working Group. Among a long list of action items she’s taken in these roles, Vianna co-sponsored a resolution to create a permanent disability community center, spearheaded the 30 Day Wellness Challenge with Stanford Well-Being to uplift students during COVID-19, created a directory of off-campus queer-gender affirming providers, and collaborated with students to create a graduate advisor-advisee survey in hopes of establishing accountability mechanisms in the graduate schools.

Munira and Vianna were adamant in their interview with us that their first priority would be to ensure that any budget cuts the administration may make in the coming academic year are fair and do not disproportionately impact certain students and communities adversely.  

In addition to this commitment, Munira and Vianna’s platform stood apart for its detailed, actionable proposals for addressing mental health, racial justice and graduate student concerns. Below are aspects of their platform that were particularly compelling: 

Support for graduate students

Munira and Vianna’s platform underlined concerns among the graduate community, which are often unfortunately overlooked by the ASSU and the administration. In our interview, they discussed the urgency of raising the childcare subsidy, decreasing the cost of housing, improving graduate student mental health support systems and increasing food security.  Their record of meeting with graduate student organizations and actively including graduate students in their roles in the past assures us that they will continue to fight for graduate students in the coming year.

Racial Justice 

Munira discussed a commitment to continuing to fight for the departmentalization of the African and African American Studies (AAAS) and the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE) programs. Together, Munira and Vianna spoke practically about the long-term challenges of increasing faculty diversity, and the importance of ensuring that any loss of lecturers that might result from the financial downturn does not injuriously affect ethnic studies departments and faculty of color.

Mental Health 

Vianna displayed a unique understanding of mental health issues on campus. She proposed improvements such as modifying the off-campus mental health provider referral process, exploring alternatives to police as first responders to 5150s and establishing a standard to hold professors accountable for student well-being.  

Notes on the other candidates 

We were heartened to see Martin Altenburg ’21 and Jennalei Louie ’21 address in their platform the importance of transparency and institutional knowledge. Senators, cabinet members, and past executives are known to have lamented redundancy and a lack of institutional knowledge with annual turnover. And more often than not, the student body is not kept apprised of important new developments. We hope that Munira and Vianna will address the internal organizational structure of the ASSU during their tenure; it is a prerequisite to a smoothly functioning governing body. In addition, we were impressed with a number of initiatives that Martin and Jennalei proposed in the area of mental health — among them advocating for mental health support training among staff members, providing co-pay and reimbursement support for students seeing a regular therapist, working with class presidents to increase the visibility of mental health resources, and creating an opt-in system where OAE letters are automatically sent to instructors. We hope that Munira and Vianna will incorporate these steps into their own initiatives. 

Over the past few years, Martin has also worked to eliminate course fees. It is highly likely in the coming year that this promise often made by ASSU candidates will become a reality, in no small part due to Martin’s effort. 

Undergraduate Senate, incumbent candidates

Six incumbents are running for reelection, and four interviewed with The Daily’s Editorial Board for endorsement. We have endorsed all four. While past Daily editorial boards have lamented the consistent lack of experienced representatives on Senate, it is quite likely that the upcoming Undergraduate Senate will be comprised of a healthy proportion of returnees. The incumbents we spoke with — Micheal, Jonathan, Sarah and Tim — are beyond qualified and will bolster the Senate’s perennially questioned credibility.

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Micheal Brown ’22

Major: Political Science

In this past Senate, Micheal has proved to be an extraordinarily productive senator. Notably, he wrote policy recommendations advocating for Sexual Assault survivors and FLI students and passed a bill to expand the scope of personal projects, removing a limitation on Senator engagement. He also joined the Judicial Charter Review Committee of 10 (C-10). We appreciated that Micheal’s focus is not only on agenda items but also on the functioning of the Senate. Speaking to us about the failed impeachment of Senator Sam Schimmel ’22 in February, Micheal expressed the need to formalize Senate processes, both to avoid procedural errors in difficult situations and to create means to ensure senator engagement in general. We have previously expressed worry about a lack of robust processes in the Senate, and Micheal’s institutional knowledge of the Senate’s troubles in the past year and commitment to the procedural functionings of the Senate make him a vital returning member. 

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Jonathan Lipman ’21

Majors: Philosophy and Computer Science

Jonathan, who has written for The Daily, has been active and effective in the Senate. He has authored bills on topics from formalizing late funding procedures to establishing a librarian to improve institutional memory on a governing body that has had notoriously bad retention. He has also sponsored resolutions on renaming Jordan Hall, forming a student advisory board on sexual assault, and reconsidering intent in judicial proceedings. Jonathan is attentive to those issues on campus that are not widely known yet critically important. At the end of the last academic year, Jonathan authored a resolution requesting that the Hoover Institution share its demographic composition in line with most other divisions of the university for the Long Range Planning IDEAL Initiative. Finally, he has played an important part in improving transparency between students, Senate and administration. He has helped communicate big changes to academic policy, like the Future of the Major and Shared First-Year Experience proposals and the switch in grading for spring quarter, through informative memos and op-eds. We are confident that his dedication will translate to smart and thorough leadership.

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Sarah Saboorian ’22

Majors: Economics and International Relations

In her first term as senator, Sarah has proven to be a passionate advocate for bettering sexual assault policy on campus. From her ongoing work with the Inter-Fraternity Council to implement mandatory consent and bystander training, to her work improving the follow-up to AAU Campus Climate Survey, she has been a focused and principled advocate for change. In speaking to Sarah, we found that she had a strong understanding of next steps for her work, and we were heartened by her clear desire to finish the projects she began in her first term. She also spoke to her desire to extend her work into a broader advocacy for workers’ rights and marginalized communities. We were struck by her track record and deep knowledge of campus sexual assault policy, and we are excited for her to see her work to completion in the coming year. 

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Tim Vrakas ’21

Major: Electrical Engineering

Tim, in his tenure on ASSU, has displayed a commitment to the central task of the ASSU — dispersing $3 million in student fees to Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs). Tim stands apart from his fellow senators in the interest he has shown to ensure that this mundane process runs efficiently and fairly. According to Tim’s platform, the current strategy of treating each group as an account balance while “ignoring the actual activity of each individual group, is wrong.” He proposes various reforms to this process, most notably negotiating multi-year funding plans for large groups. Also of note is Tim’s strong knowledge and understanding of the bylaws and process of the Senate. He is a clear asset, not just to the ASSU, but to the student body as a whole.  

Undergraduate Senate, new candidates

We interviewed a strong pool of candidates running for a first term in the Senate. Most candidates were quite involved on campus, despite the fact that many were freshmen: Many were members of activist groups like Stanford for Workers’ Rights and the 22% Campaign, and a handful were participants in the Senate Associates Program (SAP). In particular, we were impressed by the following five candidates’ record of advocacy and knowledge of Senate procedure and history, and we hope they learn and grow further through serving on the Senate.

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Gabrielle Crooks ’23

Major: International Relations

Like many freshman candidates, Gabrielle is running with a deep-felt passion for racial justice. We were especially impressed by her plans to tackle the dual institutional and interpersonal racism that many students of color face on campus. She discussed her plans to use the ASSU’s stature to increase faculty diversity and combat active injustices on campus. She’s sharply aware of institutional problems, previous attempts to solve them, and the powers afforded to her by the ASSU to address them. As a current SAPling, Gabrielle offers concrete steps to promote accountability and communications between the ASSU and the student body.

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Gabriella Garcia ’23

Major: Political Science

Gabriella has a strong understanding of the campus climate as it relates to sexual violence. She highlights in her platform the importance of increasing the number of Title IX workers on campus, which is currently just two for a campus of 16,000, and designing a more robust curriculum for RAs to ensure they are trained to respond to reports of sexual violence. In our interview with her, she spoke insightfully and knowledgeably about the shortcomings of consent training during New Student Orientation (NSO) and proposed feasible alternatives. She decries the lack of funding and support for LGBTQIA students who experience sexual assault or harassment and calls for Stanford to use gender-inclusive language on all surveys and Title IX reports. Although Gabriella is not alone in wanting to improve university accountability in this area, her proposed solutions demonstrate a unique commitment to understanding the intricacies of this issue. Gabriella has also previously been involved in organizing the Womxn’s March on Stanford’s campus. 

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Nicolas Garcia ’23

Prospective Majors: Economics and East Asian Studies

From serving on his school board in high school to representing Norcliffe on Frosh Council, Nico has been a longtime liaison between students, faculty and administration. Nico’s platform focuses on increasing transparency at two levels: between undergraduates and their senate representatives, and between the ASSU, faculty and administration. When we spoke with Nico, he displayed a clear understanding of the need to repair trust through transparency as a consequence of the Schimmel debacle. He also understood well that the Senate’s priority next year will likely be streamlining funding for VSOs in the aftermath of COVID-19. We hope to see him stay true to his promise to hold the Senate accountable to consistent bookkeeping, disseminating information and holding more office hours.

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Michaela Phan ’23

Major: Classics 

Michaela’s platform stood out in its focus on setting realistic and meaningful goals for a Senate term. Her platform was unique in this aspect, combining the idealism seen so commonly across Senate candidates with a pragmatic approach to enacting change. She outlines two specific areas that she seeks to address in her first term: providing mental health and sexual assault support graphics across dorms and establishing a more rigorous curriculum around diversity and sexual violence programming for first year students. Her pragmatic approach to the role of a Senator, in combination with her clear passion for her specific issue areas, makes her a compelling candidate. It is apparent that her work as a part of the Senate Associate Program under current Senate Chair Munira has translated into a realistic understanding of both the role and its limitations.  

Editorial board's picks for ASSU Executive and Undergraduate Senate seats

Daryn Rockett ’23

Prospective Majors: Sociology and African and African American Studies

We were impressed with Daryn’s passionate advocacy for FLI students, particularly her plans to establish a FLI community center. In her platform and interview, Daryn built on the work of previous FLI activists and highlighted the need for resources, a physical space, and safety for Stanford’s more marginalized students. She has a keen eye for the day-to-day issues that students face, including printing costs, and her knowledge as a current SAPling permits her to leverage the power of the ASSU to ease these financial burdens on Stanford students.

A previous version of this article stated that the platform of Gabriella Garcia ’23 highlights the importance of “designing a more robust curriculum for RAs and PHEs [peer health educators] to ensure they are trained to respond to reports of sexual violence.” Since PHEs will no longer exist in the 2020-21 school year, reference to them has been removed. The Daily regrets this error.

This article has also been updated to reflect that Jonathan Lipman has written for The Daily.

The Vol. 257 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Malavika Kannan ’23, Layo Laniyan ’22, Adrian Liu ’20 and Jasmine Liu ’20. Willoughby Winograd ’22 is also a member but voted in dissent of this opinion.

Contact the Vol. 257 Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to [email protected] and op-ed submissions to [email protected]

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