Outgoing GUSA executives President Juan Martinez (SFS ’20) and Vice President Kenna Chick (SFS ’20) stopped by the Voice’s office to talk about their time as executives and experiences in GUSA. Their term ended March 16, 2019.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The Voice: What was one highlight of your time in office?
Kenna Chick: Oh, we can only pick one? I would say definitely working together is a huge highlight, but beyond that, there’s this idea that GUSA doesn’t do anything, but for me the highlight of being in GUSA is actually doing the work. It’s going to the meetings, planning, anticipating what’s going to happen and how best to work around it, how to best push for advocacy, just opening those avenues and ensuring that people feel comfortable talking to us and bringing forth those issues and then us being able to advocate by their side or on their behalf sometimes.
Juan Martinez: Definitely a highlight working with Kenna. Another big part of that is doing outreach to students who oftentimes don’t feel themselves represented in GUSA or simply don’t feel like they enjoy much institutional support from any institution on this campus.
KC: It’s why we do what we do.
JM: Exactly, and I know that might sound kind of pretentious, like oh, we’re president and vice president, we love meeting with constituents and groups, but I think honestly some of my best memories of GUSA have been the instances where I’ve been able to sit in the room with students who haven’t been represented, and I’ve just been able to be frank and say what can we do, where do you need us, and just be in a space where we shed the things that are bothering us. It’s hard to be a student when there’s so much stuff that’s also piled up, so I think that’s been an extremely great experience.
The Voice: On the other side of that, what was one issue you wish you had done more work on in your time in office?
KC: I think one of the biggest things that we really wish was different is just the amount of time that we had. I started in October, you started in the end of September, and then after that it was maybe a few weeks for transition. We just had to run the cabinet and run GUSA, and now we’re here. It feels like there were a lot of projects that we have started or a lot of things we wanted to address. We definitely have made steps toward moving those projects forward, but at the end of the day, the biggest thing I’ve reflected on was being able to let go of some of these projects and feel comfortable that the next administration would move them forward.
JM: I definitely agree with that. It would have been great to just every week reach out to a different student group. We had limited time, so we always went with students we identified as having greatest need or not often being in these rooms, but I think making the rounds through Georgetown and fostering this large school spirit and saying what’s your experience here, that’s something that I couldn’t get enough of.
The Voice: Going off that, was there ever a big project or idea you talked about but said ‘there’s just not enough time, we are not working with our own budget or policies chairs,’ something concrete you would have really liked to do had you had an orthodox administration process?
KC: Well, which of the 50 things should I choose?
JM: So, a lot of it was time. I’m not going to be in office next week. And a lot of these projects are just left in a process of evolution. Because a lot of our job is diplomacy. It’s not necessarily Kenna and I are going to craft legislation, or even some executive things, and give it to an administrator and they say yes, that sounds great, perfect.
KC: That happens sometimes.
JM: Very rarely.
KC: Very rarely.
JM: But it’s a series of meetings where we propose this, and it could take months. And that’s why the summer is so important—it allows you to do that crafting.
KC: That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about student government. People seem to think, oh it’s students who are running things, but at the end of the day what our job really looks like is identifying key issues to bring them to administrators. A lot of our work is really just that long-term negotiation, and usually projects take two to three years to be implemented.
JM: And I’d say specifically one project that we really wanted and didn’t get to was the construction of a coalition space under GUSA for representatives from different groups across campus so they can feel heard and represented. We wanted to give students more direct input on that, and we started constructing a coalition space, but elections were moved up, and it will have to go under the next executive. They’ve expressed interest, but it would have been great if we could do it. We have to understand we can’t rush doing stuff because we want it done, it has to be right, and it has to be done in a way that will benefit students.
KC: And another part of our work is just creating those relationships with administrators. Part of what we’ve been working on is creating committees that are focused on specific topics that are important to the campus. These include the mental health task force because we know this is a very important topic to a lot of administrators right now. From what we see, a lot of people are having these conversations, but we want to make sure we’re on the same page and are having them together.
The Voice: So you talked about the effects from the unorthodox way you came into office, but can you talk a little about the transition and taking over from Sahil and Naba?
JM: We had to push seven months of work into one so we could get to the actual school year period. And that’s just not possible. But we tried to take care of a lot of the logistics, do everything we had to do, hire all of the positions. First, find out what positions were open because people were resigning, some people just aren’t responding, but also being mindful throughout all of it that we handled it in a very careful and proper way, and not exacerbating those conditions that were so unhealthy. The first thing I did was I met with a lot of people within GUSA, without GUSA, people impacted by it in different ways to craft a statement about how we would move forward. I was mindful of giving the campus a breathing period, and I was literally the only senior executive on board, so I was chief of staff, treasurer…
KC: And then when I came in, we had several long meetings. I remember we’d have nights where I would go to his house at 8 p.m. and leave at 3 a.m. or 5 a.m.
JM: Or we’d be like, okay we’ll take a nap, I’ll come wake you up downstairs, we’ll work until eight, and then you can go home. And then Kenna would be there until 12.
KC: We had all the jobs. I think at that point we were creating the newsletters, organizing the structure of the cabinet, and creating the cabinet application. Policy chairs had done a lot of great work throughout the summer, and so we really wanted to work with those people. A lot of our transition was just making sure that everyone was caught up and new members and old were happy with the way things were being run.
JM: And the last thing I’ll say is our cabinet was a mix of people who were here before and people we had hired, so we didn’t have complete say over a lot of things, but we made the best of what we had. We came in, we tried to address everything in a very good way and be mindful about the situation that the entire school was in and everything else going on.
KC: Neither of us had anticipated being in office, which meant that Juan had a job, I had an internship, so when we calculated the time, we spent more than 20 hours a week on GUSA, and there’s time spent outside of that with different things like checking emails or putting out fires. Even with that, we both definitely tried hard to ensure GUSA was our highest priority.
The Voice: What was your relationship with the senate like, and can you describe working with them?
JM: I’m from the senate. It was a great relationship. I think it was very successful. Eliza [Lafferty] was vice speaker for me shortly before September and the transition, and then Pat Walsh was elected vice speaker, and I had already worked with him closely as well, so I think we were very communicative. It feels so nice to have those people there for you, and you know that it’s not just you.
KC: And then structurally, there were some changes made to the structure of the senate as well. We changed the policy terms to reflect three different policy categories: campus affairs, university affairs, and students affairs. That same shift was also made in the senate, so that made coordinating the senate and executive relationships a lot easier, and we encouraged the senate to work with their executive counterparts.
The Voice: What are your thoughts on the incoming administration? What should they focus on?
KC: I’m very excited about the upcoming administration. We’ve had several transition meetings with them, and I’m very amazed by how fast they learn and how willing they are to listen to some of our horror stories about working in GUSA. They’re very prepared and very excited.
JM: I agree with Kenna. I think that Norman and Aleida are great. Since the transition period, I’ve been happy to see their excitement and willingness to learn and engage with everything and ask questions. And we’ve even developed a friendship just from the period of transition, which is unexpected.
KC: We text each other every day.
JM: I’m texting them as much as I text Kenna. I’ve already told them I’m here as a resource, and Kenna has expressed the same. In terms of what they should focus on, it’s up to them. It’s their cabinet, they won the election, they get claim to that. But I think they’ve been doing a great job of reaching out to students, and I’m so impressed by the level of commitment they’ve shown.
The Voice: During the campaign season, and during the debates, there were some critiques of your administration’s transparency. Do you feel those are accurate, and do you feel you’ve done anything to mitigate those concerns?
KC: Any organization can be more transparent, but what we’ve tried to do is increase the number of press releases we’ve had to show support on certain issues and made sure the community feels supported by us. Especially with elections, there’s a focus on the flashy parts of GUSA. There’s a lot of ways where we’ve made a lot of impacts, but sometimes they aren’t large-scale or change everyone’s lives, but they are huge impacts for the community that we addressed. For both of us, the work is what’s important. It’s not who knows our name.
JM: I think we did make good use of the press release. That was something we did because we saw the importance of directly stating ‘here’s our stance on this, and here’s our response to this.’ Something we struggled with is, we want to push out press releases and be as transparent as possible, but how do we decide when those are called for and when they are just another press release? And that’s something that could have been standardized a bit better.
The Voice: We’re going to move into a couple questions about policy and things that have happened while you’ve been in office. The first and most recent, what, if anything, do you think GUSA and the administration should do about the current admissions scandal?
KC: I think a large part is just being a student who didn’t grow up from a community that offered a lot of opportunities. One thing that is particularly shocking is the disparity between what it’s like to get into college for different populations. A lot of students are feeling a lot of unrest right now, and one way is reaching out to students and saying we’re students as well and we understand the feelings around this. I think there’s an importance in reaching out and really having those honest conversations with people.
JM: And one thing that anybody can do is listen to students who are from low income backgrounds and who are first-generation students and hear about their frustrations with college admissions. As a first-gen college student myself, I can tell you stuff like this has never been extremely surprising because it seems like all around us there are legal ways to get this done, and I think what we can do is support our students on campus to ensure stuff like this isn’t continuing in the future and manifesting itself here on campus.
The Voice: What was the process of the 272 resolution from your end, and what is your prognosis of it?
KC: A lot of our process is really ensuring that the conversations are being had. We were at some initial meetings of the GU272 advocacy group, and a lot of the conversation went to what is the motivation behind this and how can we ensure students are able to get their voices heard on this issue. I know Juan especially had a pulse on the senate and how it functioned around referendums and was able to give a lot of sound advice on that as well.
JM: We put out a press release focused on the importance of hearing the student voice on matters like this, because there were very serious concerns that this discussion might just die in the senate because some senators were uncomfortable with it. We wanted to emphasize the importance of allowing the right to this discussion and showing appreciation for the work these students were putting on. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen with it. What I can tell you is the GU272 advocacy team is working really hard to have a community approach to this, and any members of the Georgetown community should make themselves informed and attend these.
The Voice: In the past year, another movement that gained some ground on campus has been the Abolish GUSA movement. What do you think the feelings are on campus that led to the creation and popularity of that movement, and how do you think these feelings should be addressed?
JM: I think one narrative that has been heard a lot throughout this election season is that there’s a lack of confidence in GUSA. But being a senator throughout my freshman and sophomore year, I didn’t think there was ever much confidence in GUSA to begin with. And that’s in part because we are a governing body, and it’s good to criticize governing bodies because you want to make sure needs are being met, and that’s healthy. I think it’s not anything new, though I don’t want to discredit the events of September and the impact they may have had. And one of the things we did to address the existing structure was to create the Department of Student Activism to bring in more students from the outside. But we can’t simply reform GUSA. That lies in the constitution, which the senate has the power to amend.
KC: Along the same line, a lot of the work done in GUSA may not be front page news. Our policy chairs have done such an amazing job with their work. I think that because some of these things aren’t groundbreaking news, there’s the false conception that it’s just student government in these positions because they want a line in their resumé. And that may be true for some people—I’m not saying that’s a lie—but I also know there are a lot of people who do work in GUSA who are very passionate, very knowledgeable, and have put a lot of hours into work. There is a difference between policy and politics, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
JM: We’ve had so many outsider campaigns win, and that’s not a bad thing. But it speaks to people wanting to bring in outsiders to switch up. I will also echo what Kenna said about our policy chairs. They are some of the most passionate students on our campus, and sometimes they won’t receive the recognition they deserve because a lot of them are not asking for it. They work extremely hard, are experts, or have had experiences that allow them to gain knowledge in their field, and I think it’s important to recognize the work they have done
The Voice: What are your plans to be involved on campus in the future? Is there any work you’re particularly attached to, you want to continue?
KC: For me, the ones that come to mind are work around sexual assault and student safety, mental health, and student health in general. These are topics that are so important to me and are still things I see myself having involvement in. Even though during our time we definitely had some victories in those areas, there’s always work that can be done.
JM: I think there’s just so many possibilities. I’m going to take a step back and reflect and see what I want to do—I honestly don’t know. For so long I’ve been thinking my presidency ends on this day. And as we get closer to the end, I want to make sure these projects continue, so I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but I do know I’m going to be involved with one of these projects, whether it means working in GUSA again or maybe just doing external work. I’ve been in GUSA for a while.
The Voice: Last question, which is a fun one. You have to collaborate on this one. What dynamic duo are you most like? And you have to identify which of you is which person in the duo. I have a list of some if you need some inspiration. Tom and Jerry, Batman and Robin, Bert and Ernie, Scooby Doo and Shaggy, Han Solo and Chewbacca, peanut butter and jelly…
KC: YES! We are peanut butter and jelly!
JM: I’d be jelly.
KC: There are ways that we complement each other very well. We both have different strengths and different weaknesses, so we complement each other, but no one is the stronger one, because like, Batman and Robin. Batman’s going to kill Robin in a fight.
JM: I’m jelly ’cause I’m like a little bit soft. And Kenna’s peanut butter because you just can’t get enough of it. It’s always sticking in your teeth, but you’re okay with that.
Image Credits: Annemarie Cuccia