“So… who’s running for UA? Wait, what does the UA even do? Do they do anything? Why do we even care who’s running?”
I know I’m not the first Penn student to ask these questions about the Undergraduate Assembly. Since I’ve been at Penn, I feel like the UA has been a silent actor on campus. I know they’re somehow affecting my daily life, but I’m not exactly sure how. For the most part, anyway.
As election season roles around though, and I hear more about the candidates, I know I should care. The UA, however noticeable its initiatives may or may not be, has a significant impact on every aspect of Penn life, and, therefore, it has a significant impact on my own life. That is why I took the time to read the candidate platforms of Ahmed Mohieldin and Taylor Becker (running for president and vice president, respectively), Ray Clark and Andrew Gegios (running for president and vice president, respectively), and Kat McKay and Sola Park (running for president and vice president, respectively). To me, the choice is obvious.
Ahmed and Taylor are the best pair for the job.
What I believe sets Ahmed and Taylor apart is their ability to clearly and confidently relate what some of the biggest issues facing Penn students are and the obvious time they took in giving a comprehensive and easy-to-understand guide that states specifically how they will try to combat those issues. This suggests to me that they will work hard and be effective in getting things done if they are elected.
What’s interesting is that there is actually a lot of overlap between all the candidates’ platforms. For example, Ray and Andrew and Taylor and Ahmed both want to reform SEPTA transportation costs as to make it more affordable for students. However, Taylor and Ahmed explain what the SEPTA project is and how they plan to implement the program, whereas Ray and Andrew list it briefly as one of the projects they will work on without going into detail about what the program is or how they’ll get it done exactly (saying “we’ll talk to people” isn’t a plan, by the way).
That is Ray and Andrew’s downfall. Their platform is not comprehensive or specific. It is only five paragraphs long, and only one of those paragraphs is attributed to their plans if they get elected. The plans are vague, and for the average student who isn’t up on the latest UA policies or initiatives, they can’t very well know what Ray and Andrew mean when they say they’re going to “create a Social Justice Center alongside the School of Social Policy and Practice” or “revamp the Wellness Guide that lists more alternative resources for students.” Are you planning on erecting a new building for this Social Justice Center, or is it just going to be a new program? What is the Wellness Guide? What is in it now? What exactly do you think should be included in it that is not included already? Platforms are the place to answer questions, not leave your audience with more than they started with.
The response to this observation, I’m sure, would be, “well, why don’t you ask them those questions,” but, come on, even if I did ask them those questions directly, how many other students would care that much or take the time to ask? Not many.
Then we have the issue of people voting blindly for plans they don’t completely understand because the candidates didn’t take the time to flesh out their goals. We have this problem in national politics where we don’t hold our politicians accountable, and then we get angry, and then Donald Trump! Ok, it’s probably more complex than that, but Penn should strive to be better than the status quo. We should hold our student government candidates to a higher standard, and demand that they tell us how they will make Penn an ever-better place to live and go to school.
This leads to another impressive feature of Ahmed and Taylor’s platform, which sets them apart from Kat McKay and Sola Park. While we hear so much about diversity, social justice, and mental health awareness in these campaigns (not to say that those aren’t important issues but they do get much more attention compared to other matters), we rarely hear about or try to solve the plight of another type of minority on campus, the low-income students. Out of the eight proposals in Taylor and Ahmed’s platform, five are in some way related to making things more affordable and giving low-income students more of a voice on campus, including making SEPTA more affordable, increasing the work-study wage, and making Penn traditions free or at a much lower cost than they are now. It is truly refreshing for students to realize that not every Penn student drove a Mercedes in high school or had parents that made over 100K a year. Some of us are struggling, and Ahmed and Taylor seem to want to change that.
Kat and Sola do go into detail about trying to get Penn’s tuition lowered, but, for one thing, that will surely be much harder to achieve than raising the wage for work-study and lowering the cost of Penn traditions. It’s a noble goal and something to strive towards, but even if they were able to get tuition lowered, it probably wouldn’t be enough to really change the burden of Penn’s tuition. These smaller goals that Taylor and Ahmed propose are more feasible and will directly impact students’ everyday lives.
Helping low-income students is also not Kat and Sola’s only priority. They seem to want to help every special interest group on campus and run the risk of stretching themselves too thin. It’s better to focus on making significant changes for one or two groups rather than trying to do everything.
There is a reason that I would support Taylor and Ahmed any day over Ray and Andrew though. In researching for this article, I received multiple accounts of Ray’s dishonesty and how he has hurt the UA’s reputation during his term as vice president.
In Ray and Andrew’s platform they list accomplishments they have had in their time at the UA including the “foundation of the Greek Student Community Consortium to resolve issues between cultural groups and fraternities/sororities.”
Ray’s founding of the Greek Student Community Consortium was a result of a failed attempt to establish the Greek Community Judiciary Board, which would have effectively punished Greek organizations if they did or said something that was “culturally insensitive” according to a board of students.
This obviously would have been a strong violation of free speech on campus, but that wasn’t the only issue in Ray’s proposal. In a DP article, Ray was quoted saying, “I can guarantee that this project will be effective because it came straight from the students. We got feedback and support from Greek Life, the 5B and the UA, and knowing that no stone was left unturned gives me a very positive outlook on how things will play out.”
However, the UA never supported the founding of the Greek Community Judiciary Board. Ray even admits in the comment section of the same DP article that he only received support from three members of the UA. That hardly allows him to say that he, “got feedback and support from… the UA.”
Also, when Ray was asked by a UA member to share the new judicial board’s constitution, that the body apparently supported according to Ray, he refused saying, “I can’t guarantee that.” Why in the world would the UA support something they hadn’t even read?
It’s clear then that Ray’s supposed “success” in founding the Greek Student Community Consortium did a lot more damage than good to the UA’s reputation in the eyes of the administration. It made the UA look divided and unorganized, and the whole affair made Ray look dishonest.
This is not the person I want running my student government; someone who has been dishonest, manipulative for personal gain, and in disagreement with free speech. Kat and Sola aren’t bad candidates, but they seem like they’re trying to please everyone and trying to do too many things at once. Vote Taylor and Ahmed for UA!