Munira Alimire ’22 and Vianna Vo ’21 are the presumptive Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) executives for the 2020-2021 school year. The slate is running unopposed in this week’s elections, and it is endorsed by Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR), the Stanford Students of Color Coalition (SOCC), The Stanford Daily’s editorial board and the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP). Portions of this interview have been edited for concision and clarity.
The Stanford Daily [TSD]: Could you tell me about your background?
Munira Alimire [MA]: I’m a sophomore from Minnesota, but I also grew up in Kenya. I’m currently majoring in urban studies and anthropology. This year I served as the [Undergraduate] Senate chair, which was a really rewarding experience, and gave me a look into the way that the ASSU functions, the way that the ASSU can grow. Overall it was a really good experience — I think I learned a lot.
Vianna Vo [VV]: I first got involved with the ASSU my sophomore year, as an executive fellow with the mental health and wellness committee. And that was my first glance at organizing and activism and what student government in particular can do. From there, I got really interested, and a lot of my work has been focused in mental health and wellness. So this year I’m currently the director of mental health and wellness and through these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about how Stanford works or what administration is like, I’ve been able to meet a lot of really amazing people who are super passionate about trying to make a change here on campus.
TSD: What made you want to get involved in student politics?
MA: When I moved back to the U.S. … I was involved with the Minnesota Youth Council and other politics, activism-related organizations. And I was actually really burnt out coming into Stanford, and I felt like, “Oh, there’s not a lot of ways that you can effectively make change.” But, in retrospect, it was weird because I didn’t really have an idea of what change–making actually looks like as a structure …. I got involved with activist organizations on campus who were really specific in their goals and demands and taught me a lot about how do you build a movement, how do you ask for change, what does change actually look like, what are these ideas, how do you take care of yourself when you’re doing organizing and everything.
VV: I wanted to figure out what’s the best way to change things around here, or at least the best way for me to change things around here. I know there are a lot of different routes you can go through, such as direct action. I was really frustrated with not knowing what was going on, what projects Stanford is working on, what is actually being changed, and so I wanted to be in the room where all those decisions are being made. And so that’s why I, with Munira, have been running for Exec. And we’re super excited to serve for Exec because we want to be in that room, we want to be able to advocate on the behalf of others for the community, we want to be able to relay whatever needs that the students have to the administrators, and also promote more transparency between the administration and students because I know it can be really frustrating when you don’t know what’s going on.
TSD: How did you choose each other as running mates?
MA: So me and Vianna have known each other since winter quarter of my freshman year.
VV: And my sophomore year.
MA: We actually met talking about mental health and everything … we also lived with each other in Terra. We’ve known each other for a while. … I’ve always really admired Vianna’s advocacy style, and the fact that Vianna’s on top of her shit. There’s not a lot of people in the ASSU who are as on top of their shit as Vianna.
VV: This year, I’ve also attended a couple Senate meetings, and Munira was the Senate chair, and I really admired Munira’s style of leadership and ability to get things done. Munira is super passionate about being able to pursue change, especially through the ASSU. Munira also has a vast amount of institutional knowledge about specific areas such as sexual violence and prevention as well. So I thought we could work really well together.
TSD: With COVID-19 affecting the Stanford community, what do you expect as roadblocks in the future? How will you work to overcome them?
MA: The first thing is the budget and … trying to figure out how Stanford’s gonna navigate that. We are currently working on a budget letter for the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA), and that’s going to be presented when Persis [Drell, the provost] starts making her deliberations June 1. We will have reduced funds throughout the school year. The ASSU will still be able to do many functions and start its own initiatives, but many of the things that we want to advocate for, like increase faculty diversity or fully funding and staffing the Title IX office, might be things that we have to put into the long-range planning process rather than things we’re gonna start accomplishing right now.
Beyond that, trying to navigate all our projects, teams and group work in a virtual setting — I’m thinking about how, by the time spring quarter ends, everyone is going to have a lot of Zoom burnout. We’re really lucky that the people that we’re going to work with, the people who we already know pretty well, are committed to this work … and we can rely on them to do that. But I’m just worried about onboarding new senators and everything, and trying to educate people on projects.
The fact that we’re not coming back in the fall — kind of scary. Even though it’s not 100% confirmed yet, it is more likely than not that everyone’s not gonna be able to come back in the fall, and trying to figure out how are we going to navigate that. What will advocacy look like, especially since we don’t know who the key decision makers are? There was a Senate meeting last week with a Fall Planning Committee, and as we were asking them questions, we found that there’s up to 25 different committees that are making decisions on the various issues surrounding COVID. How do you address that? How do you start when you don’t know who’s the key person on affordability or who’s the key person on international students?
Everyone is really emotionally going through it. We were Zoom-bombed at the People’s Caucus Rally… it was really scary and terrifying. We need Stanford to be able to respond and to provide services.
TSD: How will you navigate an uncertain future?
VV: Whatever we do, our highest priority is communicating clearly to the student body and making sure that their needs are heard. Even just maintaining honesty and transparency about what’s going on or what’s not going on. I think taking it step by step, really thinking ahead of time, having contingency plans — we have to be really creative about how we want to move forward with this iteration of ASSU, especially since this isn’t really something that we’ve encountered before, like how are we going to maintain productivity within the [Executive] Cabinet, the Senate, the Graduate Student Council (GSC), but also while making sure that people don’t burn out?
Burnout is already an issue that comes across many people who are advocating because it is a lot of labor — but it’s a labor of love, as I like to say — but at the same time, people are juggling a lot of things, not just for school but for personal things as well. So, in addition to making sure we have an efficient ASSU, we want to make sure that people are looking out for themselves.
MA: I want the ASSU to be a hub for student advocacy and really giving people what they need, but we can’t do that unless we are able to take care of ASSU members.
VV: In times of uncertainty, people need to know who to turn to, and I’m hoping that the ASSU can be that safe place for people to come to for information, to know that we’re working for them.
TSD: What’s a fun fact about you?
MA: Even though I fall off my skateboard often, I’m a big skater!
VV: I can play between seven and 10 instruments! Some of them are like 0.5 now since I haven’t played them in a while.
The ASSU elections take place on Monday and Tuesday.
Contact Munira Alimire at amunira ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Contact Vianna Vo at viannavo ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Contact Anna Milstein at annamil ‘at’ stanford.edu.