With elections for GUSA Executive coming up on Feb. 8, the Voice invited all of the candidates to our office to talk about why they are running, what issues are most important to them, and to have a seat in our green chair for a picture. This is our conversation with Nicki Gray (NHS ’20). This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Editor’s Note: On Jan. 29, after participating in this interview on Jan. 26, Sam Appel (COL ’20), who was Gray’s running mate, stepped down from the campaign. His answers have been removed from the below transcript. The Voice asked Gray a few follow up questions on Jan. 30.
The Voice: We’ll start off with the most basic one: why are you running?
NG: For me personally, I’ve never been in student government before, but I have a lot of other student leadership experience, and I think my experience as a member of recognized student groups, as a member of the student staff of the university, and as a person here, as an RA who sees students dealing with issues every day, allows me to come at things from a different perspective and more of a people perspective, rather than a policy negotiation perspective. And I’m excited to be able to put on that hat of policy negotiation, but seeing it from the, perspective of our students who, you know, witness it every day.
The Voice: It feels like there’s often a sense that to run for GUSA, you need to be a GUSA outsider. That was sort of a thing last year, when everyone was like, “GUSA outsider, GUSA outsider.” But like, should we care that you were never in GUSA? Like, does it matter at all that maybe you haven’t or that he has or that someone has or has not?
NG: When you’re outside of it, you see things from a different perspective. Like I said before, how things affect people on the daily, and how referendums, policy teams, and all of that is viewed by someone who isn’t necessarily actively involved in those conversations through student government.”
Ultimately, I think we all want to make Georgetown a more inclusive, accessible community, but you can get stuck in only one way of thinking. Maybe it’s just because you’ve never had the experience or exposure to the other version of it or the other procedures. It’s hard to connect everything and hard to make use of all the amazing work that students are already doing on this campus, and hard to push administrators if you’ve never been in student government and know how to do these things. It’s important to have that mixture, and I think that’s something that, from my perspective, as someone who hasn’t been involved, has been lacking. And along with that, transparency and allowing students who are on the outside to know what’s going on and actively inviting them to be involved when these are issues that address them.
The Voice: I think a question that that raises, if perhaps needing an outside perspective is important, what is GUSA’s role in the campus community?
NG: One of the best things I’ve seen GUSA do within the past year is the creation of the Hoya Hub. That’s something that came from student activists, students seeing the need of students and other members of our community who were facing food insecurity to have a place to go and have accessible food. I really believe that GUSA did an amazing job in allowing those students who wanted to create the Hoya Hub to have a place to put their ideas together, receive support and resources in funding, structure, marketing, and in all of these things that a grassroots group of students may not have been able to get otherwise. Being able to be that support structure for new student movements, new student organizations that might not be able to build themselves up all the way on their own is an amazing feature of student government and one that I want to keep pushing. I hope that the resources and support will help them grow, but then that they can be their own separate entity from student government. I’d love to use student government almost as an incubator or lab of sorts for student-initiated change.
The Voice: There is sometimes a bit of a feeling among senators that the Executive isn’t working well with them, and the Executive thinks that the senators aren’t working well with them. How do you plan on working with the Senate effectively, and what specifically do you think your job as the Executive within GUSA is?
NG: I think students are elected by their peers to be representatives for them and I think us having be potential, you know, the opportunity to sit with administrators of the Executive, think it’s important for us to really hear what senators have to say since they are elected as representatives of their class and make sure that those desires, those needs of their classmates and peers are being represented in, you know, the big conversations that are being held on campus.
The Voice: So how do you think that if you would be elected it would be by the students when there’s still a large numbers of students who didn’t vote at all. You could call that problem, GUSA apathy. How do you think you are uniquely able to address that.
NG: I want to first acknowledge that not every student on this campus comes in with the same background, I think that’s very obvious. But on a bigger level, not everyone is a 17 to 23-year-old who comes straight out of high school or one or two gap years. There’s so many students who come with different backgrounds. Student veterans, for example, is one group that I feel hasn’t been actively incorporated into the undergraduate experience. This is something I’ve heard from multiple friends of mine who are part of that community. Non-traditional type students find it difficult to engage with the regular undergrad life: the clubs, the events, all of these things. I find it really, really important that as a student government, we represent all of our students, not just our traditional students, whether that’s student veterans, students coming in with other life experiences before college, students who took some time off in the middle and are coming back after having lived and worked on themselves for a while. There’s so many stories that each holds, and I feel as though one of the big contributing factors to what you called “GUSA apathy” is that students in parts of these marginalized groups, which of course I don’t mention all of them, feel as though this student government is not for them, and I want to make sure that it is, that it represents and is working towards the needs and desires of all of our students and our community as a whole.
The Voice: As a follow-up to that, is what will you do specifically? What are a couple specific things that you would like to do?
NG: I think one of the other things is the GUSA Executive holds office hours, but a lot of times, those go underutilized because people don’t know what to talk about, what to bring up, what’s important. One thing I want to do, if elected, is continue the tradition of having Executive office hours but actively reaching out to student populations, student groups that we need to hear from, who really do go underrepresented in student government. For example, international students, student activists, and students who have unique sets of interests, trans-students specifically, and making sure that we actively invite them in to office hours to make sure that we have the issues straight, know exactly what they want us to be pushing for in the administration, in policy, among the executive team and the senators, but also making sure that they feel as though they can work on those things themselves as well.
The Voice: That leads into another question I had about Title IX and sexual assault, which has been an issue on campus and a topic of discussion. What else would you do to deal with the environment on campus to prevent sexual assault
NG: Title IX is only one component of the issue of interpersonal violence, and I think that gets thrown around a lot but we have to remember that while it’s a big part of it, it’s not the only component of that issue. Personally, I would want to push for more nuanced and longer training on interpersonal violence and issues that surround it for members of GUPD and our faculty. Our Campus Climate Survey is something that is flawed, but is the best diagnostic tool we have for understanding the issues that students face on this campus, and really urging students to take that, students who might not be involved in other university-initiated programs or projects and really making sure a diverse group of students’ voices are represented in the responses to that. Making sure that student athletes are represented, international students are represented, students of color are represented, student staff members at the university are represented, and really trying to utilize that data as much as possible to shape the way that we go about changing the campus culture in the future. Regarding Title IX specifically, I want to make sure that there is increased transparency between the Title IX office, Health Ed, and all the offices that are related to this issue and our Georgetown community, so that every time there’s a change in policies, procedures, hiring, anything like that, we, as a community, are up to date on the resources and the challenges that happen and arise for survivors.
And that takes a lot of cooperation and collaboration across departments, but I think that in order to make Georgetown the accessible, interesting, vibrant place that it can and should be, it’s going to take a lot of cross-department collaboration. Issues like interpersonal violence, but also academics and working through our history as a university, none of these things occur in silos, and it really does take the integration of our living communities, our academic communities, our chaplaincies, as well as the upper administration and student government and student activists, to work together in order to create integrated, comprehensive policies procedures to fix these problems. To make sure everything for students, because I come at this from a health perspective, is all about integrating the experience that we have here. Because these are issues that affect not only our mental health and our stress levels, but our physical wellbeing too.
The Voice: And, I’m guessing you focus on health that because you’re in GERMS.
NG: Yes, I’m also in the NHS.
The Voice: Yes, so how do your previous experiences prepare you for this position?
Nicki: As an RA and as a member of GERMS and as a person on this campus, I’ve seen how these issues that people care about affect them day-to-day. I’ve seen the amazing work that my friends have been doing with Green and GU Fossil Free, working towards a more sustainable Georgetown. I’ve seen the amazing work that my friends in GUCCI and Mask and Bauble, Black Theater Ensemble, Nomadic Theater, are all doing to make Georgetown more creative. I’ve seen the amazing work that students are doing all over campus. But it’s not only about that, it’s about really understanding where students are coming from and taking the time to listen to them and why these issues are important to them and making sure they have the resources available to tackle the big problems and change the things that they want to change.
I love Georgetown, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s not perfect. I think the only way we can make it better is by making a commitment to listening to our students, what they need, what they’re already doing, and pushing ourselves forward and making a consistent promise to ourselves in that sense. And pushing our administration too. Being a student staff member of the university, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate across departments. I’ve been an RA for two Living Learning Communities, so I’ve worked in the academic and residential fields, and it’s been amazing learning how to work with the real adults in our community and work with them on making projects, programs that create amazing environments for our students to really thrive.
The Voice: When you say student staff, you mean like as an RA?
The Voice: In your answer, you listed many of the wonderful clubs that we have. How should the club funding process go down? How should that work? Should it go the way it is through the advisory boards? Or should it be more of a every club gets a seat at the table?
NG: Club funding is something that I am still trying to fully wrap my head around. It’s a very, very complex issue, so much more complicated than I had initially thought coming into this. Trying to figure out how the Center for Student Engagement and Financial Appropriations Committee and all of these groups work together or separately, to allocate money to our student organizations and student programs is a rather large task. I would really want to make sure that the members of the CSC, Financial Appropriations, and Performing Arts Advisory Council, all these groups that do have say in funding are able to work together in some way to create a more cohesive funding allocation strategy. I’m sure that we’re not the only ones who find ourselves frustrated with the challenges in understanding the system and the inequities that sometimes may arise from the current system.
The Voice: What is your top priority and what do you think your biggest challenge will be?
NG: I think the way to distill my priorities into one is making sure that what students want to be done, what they’re already doing, is able to be set into motion as quickly as possible when it can be set into motion, without all sorts of administrative bureaucracy and approval. And when it’s not, having a seat at the table with administration and being able to hold them accountable for the promises that they’ve made to the student community and really pushing them to uphold their end of the bargain there.
The Voice: And your biggest challenge you think you might face?
NG: Scheduling. And not just in the normal Georgetown “scheduling is hard” kind of way, but really creating set plans on a calendar for the policy teams of the Executive, for the issues that the Senate wants to resolve, for the student activists we want to work with in and making sure that we’re able to put these things all into motion effectively. Life happens, things come up, and sometimes it’s hard to stay on schedule, especially when you experience some kind of setback, and a meeting with administrators has to be moved or whatever it is. And so really fighting hard to maintain a schedule and knowing what we want to do, what our community wants to accomplish, either through us or in their own work, and making sure that we really stick to that as closely as possible.
The Voice: So, just one more. If your ticket was a freshman dorm, which one would you be and why?
NG: VCE! So I lived in VCE as a first-year student here, and it was the best thing ever because our hall council was made up of students from multiple years, and our RAs would do programs with different floors, which allowed us to meet students of different years and different backgrounds. There was so many transfer students there, so many exchange students, in addition to your traditional first-years.
And that’s the thing. It’s so many different voices and recognizing that our experiences as the first-years, quote-on-quote, in that hypothetical VCE are not the only voices that need to be heard.
Follow up interview, Jan. 30, 2019
The Voice: In light of a change in the ticket which removed some GUSA experience, why should students vote for you?
NG: When I originally made the decision to run with my former running mate, we decided that, in order for us to be a solid ticket, and to be solid leaders, for this university, we would both need to learn a lot about the different areas of campus where we haven’t been involved. And so since I made the decision to run early in the fall semester, I’ve been learning about the history of GUSA and its policies and the history of how it’s worked with other organizations and from my conversations with members of the senate, members of policy teams and student groups outside of student government that have worked with–or, tried to work with–GUSA in the past. I really feel as though I have a lot of that institutional knowledge even though I haven’t necessarily been involved myself, just through research and communicating with people and trying to learn more.
The Voice: Are you a weaker ticket now?
NG: No. Absolutely not.
The Voice: You will, if you win, name a vice president. Do you have a name in mind? If not, how will you plan on selecting somebody?
NG: I have a few names in mind, but I also recognize that my experience on this campus and the people I know is limited to the experiences I’ve had, obviously. And I’m sure that there are plenty of other qualified candidates who are out there. My intention would be to have an application process for anyone who’s interested so that I can make sure that I’m reaching out to as many people, as many capable candidates, as possible, if and when I’m elected.
But there have been multiple people who have reached out to me as I announced that I was going to run alone. There are multiple people who have reached out since then saying that they would like to run with me. With the election so soon, and then the vice presidential debate being two days after I announced, there just wasn’t enough time to vet a new VP to make sure that we were really in agreement about the important policy issues, and one of the reasons I chose to stay alone.
The Voice: One of your main points involves the Working Group on Reconciliation and Remembrance, the 272, etc. Sam was really involved there. You were not. Do you have to drop that from your platform? How do you make up for your relative inexperience?
NG: Just like I’ve said about making sure that student organizations that know their issues inside and out need to be brought into conversations with administrators, I feel the same way about those working on the GU272 project. It’s a project that I knew was important going into this, but one that I didn’t really know much about, as someone who hasn’t really been involved. But, the more I learned from my former running mate, and from reading up on it and from members of that group, it’s made me recognize even more fully why this is an important piece of legislation that we should try to push forward as soon as possible. I think that actively incorporating the people who have been working on it and making sure that their voices are heard as the people who framed it is the most important piece of that. It’s not something that I intend to leave now that I’m running alone.
The Voice: Anything else, given your new campaign?
NG: I am really excited. I’m really excited to be the first woman on the presidential debate stage in three years. And just making sure that, whether elected or not, I’m representing as diverse a population on this campus as I possibly can. And I recognize that my experiences and my identities are limited, but those who are represented in student government shouldn’t be.