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 Sina Nemazi (COL ’21) Roya Wolfe (SFS ’21). This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The Voice: Why are you running?
SN: We’re running because we want to bring feasible change to campus, and we want to make student government relevant. I was just walking through White-Gravenor, and there’s signs that say ‘Abolish GUSA’ on the walls, so I feel like any situation in which people are really unhappy with an institution where they actually put that on the wall, there needs to be some sort of change. I think the problem with GUSA is that a lot of people make a lot of promises and they aren’t really detailed, specific promises, more just, like, religious inclusivity or something like that, which is important, but what does that really mean? So our platform is really focused on this idea of feasible change, where we’re actually going to achieve certain goals. Like if we say mental health, we have a specific proposal for mental health. And we’re running basically to connect students to GUSA. We know a lot of different student groups on campus, and we want to bring them all together and run with them to help support their advocacy work because we don’t have all the answers, but we will be given resources to help them push their projects, because they know best about what they’re advocating for.
RW: We are also running to instate trust in the institution of GUSA because there isn’t a lot of trust in it right now. We want to lay the groundwork for certain programs and projects that can be seen through by the next GUSA candidates or whoever wins. Our message goes beyond us winning. We hope our mandate is so powerful that even if we don’t win, it is something that the students want to look for. So our message is more important to us than winning, I would say.
The Voice: What, specifically, do you think your role as executive is?
RW: So, our role as VP and P, I guess, would be to give voice to student advocacy groups, to be liaisons to the administration. Our initiatives and our projects would need the help and backing of advocacy groups. We are not saying we can do it by ourselves. For example, our initiative for mental health is the Zen Den, this idea to transform a graduate student lounge into a meditative space within Lau. So we would need the help of Project Lighthouse and Caps to make sure that everything we do with the Zen Den is targeted toward health and wellness.
RW: Okay. We want to be the type of executives that feel equal to the student body. For example, we’re walking around campus, I want someone who I don’t even know to be able to say “Hey, I have this idea. I think you should run with it.” Or “Hey, I like what you did do,” or even better, “Hi, I don’t think this worked that well.” Because if someone has the trust in us to be able to say to us, even if we’re strangers, that they don’t like what we’ve done or they do like what we’ve done, we are ready to listen, and we are ready to have those conversations.
SN: Yeah, at the end of the day, we’re facilitators. All the great work that has been done on this campus should be attributed to student advocacy groups like Project Lighthouse or GREEN, or working with Title IX issues. I think the issue with GUSA is that people like to think that it is, like, the all-empowering student government that’s going to do everything, but at the end of the day, it’s the institution that is going to go in front of the administration and say, for example, Project Lighthouse is doing this great initiative and whatever budget we can help them get or attain just to push them over the edge of completing that is what we want to do. As Roya was saying, we just want to be able to help these other student groups, but we also want to be held accountable for it. So if someone thinks that we’re not doing a good job, we want people to tell us that there’s an issue. And also, Roya and I have discussed this, but we want to be the types of people where, and when we mean this, we mean actually connected to the student body, where someone who has an issue would just be able to text us and say like, “Hey, Sina,” or “Hey, Roya, we haven’t met.” And we would make our information accessible, like email and phone number, possibly. Just saying, like, hey —
RW: — probably only email!
SN: Probably only email. We’ll see how that would work out. Just like, “I have this issue, I’m in this advocacy group, can you help me? Can we meet?” And we would love to. And we just love to — that’s why we’re running. We’re not running for ourselves, we’re running for everyone here.
RW: Also, just before we continue, when we mention clubs like Project Lighthouse or if we say H*yas for Choice or College Dems, College Republicans, whatever we say, we’re not endorsing those clubs. We’re not allowed to be endorsing those clubs. These are just theoretical…
RW: Examples. I just want to make that clear.
The Voice: What is your top priority as a campaign?
SN: I think you said it really well yesterday.
RW: Okay. So, if you look at our Facebook page, we have our platform lined up. Our platform, like Sina said, isn’t based off of buzzwords or umbrella categories of issues we want to target. It is those categories with a project. So, for example, I think what we care about — I would say each project is a priority, but the one we are going to tackle first would be our sexual assault prevention and safety of survivors initiative. So it’s basically — sorry, I just want to get my thoughts together before I word this. It’s a training group within SAO, Student Advocacy Office, that would train certain SAO officers in Title IX to be well-versed and proficient in Title IX. This would serve well for a lot of students on the campus, not only to be — to know that they have someone, as survivors, sorry, to know that survivors have a representative to — sorry, I just need a second.
SN: Do you need a second?
RW: No, it’s okay. So, a survivor could go to the SAO and say, “I want someone to represent me.” And the SAO would provide an officer. It would take a long time to install the program, just based off of time, administration, and training, because we want to make sure that officers that are trained for this position respect the job and know how much of a responsibility it is. Because the Student Advocacy Office already works with the Office of Student Conduct, Title IX is actually part of the Office of Student Conduct. And I’ve talked with the head of SAO, Grant Olson, to see if it’s feasible. Once again, I’m not saying he endorses it, but we do know it’s feasible and possible to do.
SN: They just need the push.
RW: Yeah. Do you want to add anything on to that?
SN: Sure. So, I would say — Roya said it well — we listed out our platform because those are all of our priorities. We all think they are very important, and if we didn’t necessarily list something, it doesn’t that mean that it’s not important, but we think these are issues that students consistently talk about, and we do want to just push the sexual assault prevention program. But, I would say, as a pair, as execs, to, you know, be a voice. We don’t think that people speak out enough. For example, there are continuous conversations about tuition increases. We want someone to excite the student body and say something new and nuanced. Kids are getting stuck in their VCW bathrooms, elevators don’t work, I have a friend who lives in McCarthy and there hasn’t been a working shower since the second week of school, yet the tuition is still going up. We want some transparency in why this money is being spent.
RW: And I was just going to say, that’s not in regards to the reparations referendum. We actually do support the reparations referendum for 272. That’s just in regards to — because we know where that money is going and we do support that — that’s just in regards to non-transparent costs.
SN: I think that actually the 272 is an important issue. At the end of the day, Georgetown wouldn’t be Georgetown if it were not for the sale of those 272 slaves, and I think it’s, in all honesty immature that we haven’t addressed this issue yet, and we’re still — it’s 2019 and we still haven’t solved this issue or at least had really had intense conversations about it. We haven’t really brought any of the descendants into the conversation really well, so that’s an issue that I think needs to be voiced.
RW: We have a strong stance on [the 272]. Also, do you want to hear, very briefly the other parts of our platform?
The Voice: Yes, we can go to that.
RW: We talked about the Zen Den already; that’s on it. That’s for the mental health category. We talked about the SAO training program, and I also want to reframe it because it’s not a sexual assault prevention program. It’s making sure survivors know that they have the resources on campus. Sexual assault prevention has to do with bystander trainings and also just getting into the conversation through H*yas for Choice and other student advocacy groups. Another important aspect of that is those representatives would know what Title IX officers can and cannot ask. There actually currently is not a Title IX coordinator right now, so the first thing we would need is to find someone, to push the university to find a Title IX coordinator so they could help us train these officers. Along with that, just examples of questions you can and cannot ask, you’re not allowed to ask survivors if they’ve had previous sexual relations with the person who assaulted them. And I think a lot of the time, just in all cases, a lot of people don’t know their rights, whether it’s for Title IX or for getting written up for a party. So to have someone to go with them, I’ve seen it be, I know it’s beneficial, I mean I’ve heard it’s beneficial for students to have that resource. And then also, do you want to go?
SN: Yeah, sure. I’ve been the dining chair this past term, so I’ve always been doing dining, but to give proper credit, I’ve done it with the past experience of student advocacy groups like the Muslim Student Association and the imam, who has done a lot of work for pushing for halal. I’ll say that with their help, I worked with Aramark to bring Olive Branch, to make it become fully halal, which is great. And I worked with Aramark over the summer — I live in Maryland, so I come here a lot to work on efficiency, for example in Royal Jacket and upstairs Leo’s. And I’m still continuing on increasing the value of the meal plan. Recently, it’s been kind of restricted with time and the times kind of being restricted and also not being able to use meal swipes during breaks, so that’s kind of like a loss of value. So just continually voicing and advocating for the student body. And also with socioeconomics, we want to push professors at an administrative level to put up readings rather than making students buy books that they don’t have to read. We also have specific, tangible ideas with sustainability and transparency in the sense that we have this idea called the idea, or, you explain it.
RW: It’s called the Sustainable Living Initiative. And the reason it’s called the Sustainable Living Initiative because the word “living” has almost a double entendre because each student probably — it would only really be feasible through mostly freshmen and sophomores would receive a punch card and every time they used a water bottle with a meal instead of getting a cup to go, whether it’s at Crop Chop, Royal Jacket, or upstairs Leo’s, they get a punch in the card. So we don’t know if it would be 50 punches in card or 100 punches in the card, once you receive a certain amount, and it doesn’t overlap, so it’s not like once you get to 50 and then 100 there’s more rewards, you get 0.1 of a housing point. So that would give an incentive for people to use a water bottle.
SN: And that’s huge because housing points, like if people have the same level of housing points, 0.1 could push you over the edge, so that’s just more incentive to want to help the environment. And, I think you should talk, because you’ve been, you’ve done a lot of research on it…
RW: So one big part of our campaign, along with all these other aspects, that is probably the most feasible — I mean, all of them are feasible but this is very feasible — is to get tampons and pads in the women’s restrooms, feminine hygiene products, menstrual products, however you want to say it. There already have been initiatives on campus; I think [unintelligible’s] was part of that initiative. We recently found that out, so we are excited to work with groups that have already started the groundwork for this initiative. I did this with my sister at my old high school: we put tampons and pads through the femme club into the bathrooms, and I know that was on a smaller scale, but I did do it. So, we know it’s feasible; we know the budget for that, and I would say that that covers a lot of our platforms.
The Voice: How do you plan to work with the GUSA Senate effectively?
SN: Yeah, so, as the dining chair, I’ve been within executive administration, or only one. The Senate? People don’t even know each other in the other body. I think it’s a huge problem — there’s not a lot of transparency between the two. 10 bills get passed in the Senate, and I wouldn’t know what happened. There’s the one instance is a bill passed unanimously supporting halal being implemented at upstairs Leo’s, and that’s the only reason that I found out about it. One thing actually we wanted to implement is — I didn’t mention this but — we want to have liaisons working with other advocacy groups — I know this doesn’t deal with the Senate but just to reach out and bring people together,and asking them “What do you need? What resources do you need? What have you been up to?” so that we can educate ourselves on what’s been going on and how we can help them. But at least with the Senate, we would like to have joint meetings with both bodies, and I guess a good comparison of this is kind of like a State of the Union with the US government. We just want to speak in front of the Senate and give our priorities as an administration and have the leadership, and also any senator, but leadership speak to us as well, to our administration, including the cabinet and liaisons. We want to just create relationships with Senate leadership and other senators.
RW: And even a GroupMe. We would love to have a GroupMe with the full leaders of the Senate, or just the Senate in general maybe, to see what, to get updated on things. If we want to appoint one person in the Senate to tell us what’s going on, and there’s one person in our cabinet to tell the Senate what’s going on, I think that would provide a lot of well-needed transparency.
SN: Right now we use Slack, and I don’t think it’s really efficient, and I think that a GroupMe would be better. And just to even have a group chat with leadership, just constantly talking about how we can work together. Because if the exec is trying to do its own thing and the Senate’s trying to do it’s own thing, I think just it’s easier to work together and talk to the administration, because if we have the whole Senate and the president, vice president, along with the bureaucracy doing that, that’s great. So that’s what we would envision.
The Voice: What is GUSA’a role on campus?
RW: I think that’s a complicated question because I think there — what we see as GUSA could be different from what other people see as GUSA. So what GUSA should be and what GUSA is. I think GUSA should be an organization where students can go to when they have issues on their minds. I do not think it is at the moment, and that is just coming from someone who has not had a lot of experience with GUSA. I have never been on GUSA, but I know that last year when I was a freshman, if I had an issue with something which was the tampons and pads, I didn’t know where to go to. So I want it to be a place of trust; I want it to be an organization that is known for getting things done rather than an organization that has signs saying “Abolish It” on it, you know? So I think you definitely want to add some stuff to that.
SN: I think at the end of the day, we’re facilitators. And to make this relevant — or, as I said earlier, we want to make GUSA relevant to the student body so that people actually appreciate the work that it does and knows what they’re trying to do. But, for example, running this campaign has been a lot, like, really stressful. And I think —
RW: — Well, I wouldn’t say it’s been stressful.
SN: Well, not stressful. But there’s a lot on our plate. And I think it’s important that there is some sort of institution on campus that just provides information. For example, when I was on campus as a freshman, I wouldn’t know where to go if I had an issue with GERMS or with CAPS, and I just think GUSA should just be providing objective information about where to go, or at least do a better job of it, because that’s what a student government institution kind of does.
RW: And I also — this isn’t to say that — good work is being done in GUSA right now. The people working in GUSA right now are working hard, and there are — but I think it needs to be more of a — I think the idea of GUSA versus what the people in it are two separate things because from what I’ve heard, especially today, there was the referendum on 272, the 272 reparations, and I know that bill has been worked on very hard by Sam Appel particularly and other members of GUSA. I don’t think that work should go unrecognized. I think it’s just rather the connotation of GUSA than the people who are in it is something that needs to be changed.
SN: I just think it’s the same thing every year. It really is. And I just think we want to instill, and I hope all the other campaigns do to and I’m sure that they are trying to do this — just a new age of GUSA where it provides feasible, tangible, change and is held accountable and is more of a facilitator to student advocacy groups rather than relying on itself to do all the work.
RW: And this campaign has been a lot of fun, I would say.
RW: I’ve been having a great time. I’ve never done anything like this before, and so to be able to meet people and especially freshman, actually, who are excited about the election and people from different advocacy groups and even the other candidates who are running. It’s awesome to see ideas and share ideas and just be surrounded by people who are so passionate about making positive and feasible change.
SN: We just want to change the concept of just stating buzzwords and just, yeah, change.
The Voice: How does your past experience prepare you for this position?
SN: As I said, I was appointed last April as Dining Chair and, not to discredit any other candidates except Sam Appel, who does do some great work, I’ll say that and knows what he’s doing as well, I think it’s important to at least know someone who knows a little bit about GUSA, as the Dining Chair, it took a little time to learn the ropes in the sense of which administrators do what and how long the process actually takes. So for dining, I dealt with a lot of administrators, auxiliary services, Aramark and with VP of Student Affairs Todd Olson. We have a good relationship. So my experience is advocating and getting things done in the least amount of time because the longer we wait, the students have to continue going through a difficult process, whether it be dining or any other concept like mental health or sexual assault. So I think it’s important to have a group of people that is passionate and have drive to get things done. When you think about it, the term is actually not that long, and one thing we want to make clear is we are the only sophomore ticket in this election.
RW: All Sophomore, yeah.
SN: Yeah, both of us are sophomores and I think it is important to acknowledge that it doesn’t take someone special to do amazing work or be in a position of power at Georgetown to do amazing work as a lot of people do. But I think it means something to be able to work with administrators closely and be able to set up appointments.
RW: And see the projects through.
SN: Exactly and these are projects we’d plan to start for the next administration and would love to continue seeing them through as seniors once we are done with our term.
RW: As I said before, I don’t have any prior experience with GUSA, but I do have experience with advocacy and for standing up for what I believe is right. I come from a household that prioritizes human rights; my mom is a human rights activist. I was raised in a single-mother household, but that doesn’t really apply so, you don’t have to include that, but with my sister and her, and so I’ve been surrounded by a rhetoric of what is right and what is wrong my entire life. And I was the president of the diversity club at my high school — I know I’m talking about high school, but when I got to Georgetown, I’ve been looking for and searching for something that I want to do, something that I want to change, be a part of, and I am ready to take on this role and this journey. I’ve been to marches and protests for DACA, for the Women’s March. We want to help people, that’s it comes down to. It’s not about winning; it’s about the message; it’s about getting across what we believe in, and, even more importantly, what the student body believes in. I love hearing people’s stories and telling people’s stories, and I am sure that you are the same way, and I think this is just a different way of doing so. So, I think that’s what gives me the ability and the responsibility to run for this position.
The Voice: If your ticket was a freshman dorm, which would you be?
RW: That’s such an awesome question by the way. We’re going to say Harbin because it’s in clusters, so even though they may be different groups of people, they’re all in one building together, and we want to represent different groups on campus.
SN: And run for all the clusters.
RW: All the clusters, yeah. Also, I didn’t live in Harbin, but I know that that’s a place that fosters, I think, really close friendships, and I am excited to — actually, I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m just excited to meet more people and make friends along the way on the campaign.