The Voice sat down for an interview with 2018 GUSA executive candidates Sahil Nair (SFS’ 19) and Naba Rahman (SFS ‘19). In the interview, they discuss how being outsiders to GUSA will give them a platform to engage with the Georgetown community and their plans to address the affordability of the university.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The Voice: Why did you decide to run?
Sahil Nair: Naba and I have known each other for too long. We became friends senior year of high school, both of us were on the Speech and Debate circuit and friends of ours connected us. In actually November of last semester, we were getting a meal and talking about Naba exploring the possibility of running for GUSA. We kind of kept talking about it, and at one point it was said like, what if we just did this together? I’m really passionate about this school and passionate about what student leadership and advocacy and representation can do. I realized [that] if this was a step that either of us were going to take, it would make so much sense for us to do it together because we know each other so well, we trust each other, we have a great relationship. We’ve known each other for too long, like I said earlier.
Naba Rahman: Firstly is, you know, Sahil and I both come from backgrounds where, at times, because of who we are and because of the environment that we were in, we were just not heard… but I never want anyone else to feel that way. We recognize coming from the outside looking in that GUSA is this institution that really doesn’t serve the rest of the student body. And so what we wanted to do was finally create an institution that actually can empower all the different voices from all different corners of campus.
And I think the second thing: we’ve been here for three years, we’ve met a lot of different students, and they have so many diverse backgrounds. But I think there’s one thing that really does unify all Georgetown students and that’s everyone single one of them has something that they want to do, some impact they want to make. But I think a lot of times that impact, that idea stays in the idea phase without getting to the end product or result, and that’s because there’s a lack of resources and a lack of institutions that work. GUSA has a massive amount of reach, they have the resources at their hand, they have the ear of the administration.
TV: You all say that you’re not typical GUSA candidates. So many tickets are running “outsider” campaigns, and by “outsider” I mean outside of GUSA. What do you bring to the table because you’re an outsider?
SN: I’ll take a stab at this first. I think the outsider perspective is something that’s a part of our identity that we not only acknowledge but embrace. We understand different corners of this campus. We get that the vast majority of them write off GUSA and ignore it, don’t understand how it can be a resource or why it should be something that they should care about. We understand how to take ideas and get them to a point of fruition through our positions of executive leadership. And that at the end of the day is critical to student leadership, to student representation, to student advocacy.
NR: And also, I’ll kind of dig in to something that he said. Sahil and I have been leaders in other aspects of Georgetown. He’s on the board of Innovo, I’ve been involved on the boards of SIPS and Own It and I ran one of the Georgetown Model UN conferences. That experience of being a leader outside of GUSA, that execution ability, bringing that in to the institution can give it a real jolt of energy that right now it’s lacking.
TV: You’re campaign slogan is “Because every voice matters.” Can you explain what this means and how it relates to your platform, your campaign?
NR: We think that GUSA right now doesn’t serve the student body, it serves a small segment of students. There are two ways that we wanted to go about this in our platform. Firstly, that has to come from Sahil and I, we have to be in positions where we understand what it’s like to not be heard and to be willing to listen to other people. We’re not here to be the face of the entire Georgetown population. But what we want to do is bring everyone to the table. And that’s the second point here: structurally having a way to go about this. So we have this thing that we’re calling, it’s the “Community Voices Initiative.” Essentially, the point of it is to have rotating round tables in which at one point in the semester, every club single club out there has space and time with the executive. GUSA should be the one that has the responsibility to reach out to the organizations out there. And for us, I think that’s a massive structural change that can really work on making every voice matter.
SN: It’s not lost to us that Naba and I are the only people of color in this race. I want to echo what Naba said earlier, just because we are the only people of color in this race, doesn’t mean that she and I have any illusions about being able to represent every minority perspective, or being able to represent every colored perspective, or gender perspective or identity perspective on this campus. But at the end of the day, what Naba and I do have is an experience that is so central to who we are as people— of having to discover our voice, of having to make ourselves be heard in a room. Growing up in Kentucky, I was the only person of color in my elementary school. And that was just a fact of life. Naba, growing up in Mississippi, having to face the same experience, if not more extreme and more profound.
That part of our identities means that we are oriented to listen. We are oriented to understand how perspectives that don’t currently have seats at the table, need to have seats at the table. We are driven by that, and our administration would be one that is serving the voices in our Georgetown community that right now don’t have real, tangible ways to intermix with GUSA.
TV: What do you think Kamar and Jessica have best achieved, and on what part of their platform did you most disagree?
NR: One thing that I think that Kamar and Jess did really well was generally with accessibility. I think the unpaid internship stipend was pretty successful. I think it’s a great idea and definitely does a lot in making a first step for university students to explore options that they otherwise could not have. I’ve had internships that I honestly, because they were unpaid, was really struggling because I had to take on another job in order to compensate for that. And that made it so that my Georgetown experience wasn’t as fruitful as it could have been. So I definitely, on a personal level, agree with the unpaid internship stipend.
SN: That’s something that we want to continue to build upon. I guess I’ll take the opposite of that question, that, you know, a concern that every GUSA campaign and every GUSA administration identifies is the engagement that our student association has with the overall student body, with communities on this campus. This was a priority, this was an issue that Kamar and Jessica identified early on in their process, that was one that was called out in their budget submission, one that was central to the values that they were running on. But at the end of the day, there’s more that can be done to make sure that GUSA goes to students seeking their perspectives, seeking their priorities, things that need to be advocated for. That’s why Naba and I are really passionate about the community voices initiative and institutionalizing some of these ways for new, fresh, and unheard voices to be part of our GUSA conversation.
TV: In your platform, you mention affordability. In what way is your platform effective when other GUSA campaigns have promised the same thing?
NR: I think that, you know, you hit the nail on the head: affordability is something that’s important to all GUSA campaigns and the student body is affected by affordability. I think there are two key buckets of items that we wanted to address with affordability. Firstly, that’s cost of living here at Georgetown, and secondly is transparency and accountability. I think that it’s important to be realistic. You know, you’re not going to sit here and slash the budget, or the tuition by 75 percent—
SN: Or freeze it for that matter. Tuition freezes are not feasible.
NR: Yeah, exactly. So it’s about what we can do feasibly. For us, in that there’s three key areas: cutting down cost of food, of transportation, and of academic affairs. We want to advocate that, in contracting with dining options down the line, having smaller meal plans. I think for transportation, opening the opportunity for free Metro passes the way that other universities do for students that want them. And I think for the academic standpoint, costs of books at Georgetown are insane. On the course evaluations, make it so that at the end you say, okay, so I’m taking “X” course and that course cost me 500 dollars worth of books. Having it so even before the student takes that class and gets in, they know how much money they’re going to need and that can do a lot to push students away from those types of classes and pish professors to make their classes more affordable for students.
SN: Look, the context of this question is not lost on us. Affordability is a question that ever GUSA campaign, past, present, and future deals with. Naba and I are advocating for the creation of an “Affordability Standing Committee.” The work on affordability should not be lost from administration to administration, instead it should be centralized and that work should be able to continue regardless of who’s in office. Additionally, the standing committee format would allow for greater inclusivity and greater representation on an issue that affects all Hoyas at the end of the day, but that has greater effects for students of low income, students within our GSP, students of different identities and backgrounds.
TV: If your ticket was a Winter Olympic sport what would it be and why?
NR: Curling? What is curling?
SN: It’s that sport where they have those rocks that they slide across the ice. People are broomming.
NR: Oh yeah! I’ve seen that.
SN: I feel like that is perfect for us. [Naba is] the stone, and [she’s] sliding on the ice. And [she’s] going to keep going, going to get wherever you want to go. And I am the broommers or the sweepers… to try to guide [her] in the right direction.