One year ago, the Editorial Board interviewed four groups aspiring to be Student Government (SG)’s next executive slate. We were unimpressed with all four slates. None of them, we wrote, had both a comprehensive set of policies to pursue and the creative vision required to implement them. We’re happy to report that, this year, the Thrive slate left us with more confidence.
Running uncontested, Parul Kumar, Murphy DePompei, and Natalie Wang plan to address a wide-ranging set of issues that includes everything from campus sustainability to increasing student engagement with SG. And with an uncertain year for students, SG, and the University ahead, the Thrive slate’s experience, foresight, and skill set equip them well to fight for students as we transition out of an exceptionally difficult period in the school’s history.
Thrive certainly has the diversity of experience necessary to succeed in SG leadership. Presidential candidate Parul Kumar has been working as communications chair for the SG executive committee since her second year, and she will soon be a copresident of Phoenix Survivors Alliance. During our interview, she demonstrated an impressive understanding of Greek life policy and the needs of survivors of sexual violence on campus. Natalie Wang, who is running for vice president for student affairs, also boasts two years of experience on the SG executive committee as community and government liaison and Community Service Fund chair, where she worked with College Council (CC) on initiatives to expand Maroon Dollars to non–University-contracted businesses and secure discounts for UChicago students affected by last spring’s campus move-outs. We left our conversation with slate with the impression that Wang’s experience as a liaison will help her when brokering deals and balancing the needs of the University community’s various stakeholders. In contrast to her running mates, SG vice president for administration candidate Murphy DePompei has not been elected to SG before. However, we believe that her time as a student director for UChicago’s Orientation Team, her experience as a leader in many RSOs, and her perspective as an SG outsider will enrich the slate’s ability to reach previously unengaged students.
Thrive’s 55-point platform displays their understanding of the issues, from those that matter most to students—such as advocacy for the restoration of the 10-week quarter—to administrative SG reforms, such as the establishment of quarterly public town halls between administrators and the student body.
Of course, we’re sympathetic to those in the student body who’ve written off SG entirely and to those who doubt SG’s ability to effect real change—or even rise above interpersonal bickering. In fact, we asked the Thrive slate about SG’s historical struggle to realize concrete policy goals. How, for example, can any executive slate make promises about working with the University administration when University administrators have previously been reluctant to work with SG?
Wang replied that, oftentimes, the main role of SG’s executive slate is to bring major student issues to the administrators attention. Citing a meeting between CC and Dean Michele Rasmussen last week, Wang pointed out that the dean indicated the administration’s stance on recognizing Greek life is not rigid—something most of the student body was previously unaware of. Wang explained that, sometimes, “administrators are not aware of what issues students are thinking about.” As such, she said, it’s “critical to have an executive slate that brings up these issues to administrators and doesn’t waver on them.” Part of Thrive’s mission, Wang said, is to make sure that students’ needs are not lost among the many day-to-day tasks University leaders manage.
We felt this response realistically assessed administrative priorities without resorting to defeatism, as some candidates did last year. Simultaneously, however, we believe that Thrive’s success will hinge on remembering that administrators often have a vested interest in blocking SG and activist efforts and being ready to fight back when necessary while preserving an already delicate SG and admin relationship. If Thrive is able to balance cooperative relations with high-ranking administrators and firm advocacy for their constituents—rare among their predecessors—they may be able to succeed where prior leaders have failed. Fortunately, the new slate will be paired with a new president, Paul Alivisatos, who served as provost at a university with a famously independent and powerful student government system. Given their backgrounds, enthusiasm, and the circumstances of a new University administration, we are hopeful that Thrive stands a better chance than their predecessors of gaining ground with admin.
Thrive also acknowledged the tense internal relations between the current executive slate and CC, promising that their positive relationships with CC members will prevent such infighting from dominating their administration.
We were heartened by their plans to improve communication about SG activities to the broader student body. Noting the student perception that large structural reforms take place behind closed doors, they plan to solicit feedback at quarterly town halls and host office hours open to all students. We’re optimistic that this will improve transparency and allow student concerns to receive a frontline response. The slate’s commitment to transparency appears to also extend to more niche policy areas: Specific transparency-related agenda items stood out during our interview. Perhaps most notably, the candidates spoke about elucidating campus sustainability, describing plans to collaborate with CC members on Freedom of Information Act requests related to campus greenhouse gas emissions.
We were also glad to hear that Thrive does not see themselves bound to either the current SG structure or the one being proposed in this week’s referendum. In fact, they believe the potential change would even improve some parts of the job. Wang, running for vice president for student affairs, would become executive vice president for external affairs should the referendum pass. She said the change could unify executive slate and CC and promised to promote a “culture of support that is not judgmental [but] instead uplifting” for all members of SG. That would certainly be a welcome change. Vice president for administration candidate Murphy DePompei, who would become CC chair, said she looked forward to “directly communicating with [Graduate Council]” on critical issues, such as supporting a public affirmation of Graduate Students United.
Although we are excited by Thrive’s ideas, the ambitious nature of their platform also makes it essential that the slate has a solid plan to hit the ground running.
At the start of the meeting, we asked which specific policies they plan to commit to in the first 100 days, per the promise on their website. Kumar told us that they wanted to revert to a 10-week academic calendar and push for mandatory gender-inclusion training for professors, and DePompei then told us they wanted to establish a Student Advocacy Office and ensure that Student Disability Services keeps Zoom classes available as an accommodation.
However, creating an entirely new office is no small task. A Student Advocacy Office would require significant resources to establish, and no one on the slate told us the steps they’d take to make it happen. Other platform points, such as expanding the Office of Sustainability, lead us to wonder how these massive programs could come together. Nothing said in the interview shed light on this.
This lack of explanation does not mean the slate cannot succeed. Thrive, whose members are regulars on UChicago social media, can certainly find ways to engage undergraduates in their plans. We urge Thrive to use the coming weeks to provide more details on how they will implement their most ambitious policies and to more deliberately prioritize their many policy goals to make the most of this critical moment.
There’s no doubt that next year will be big for SG: Students will (hopefully) return to classrooms, coffee shops, and the rest of campus; the structure of the institution may be overhauled entirely; and, after 15 years, the University will welcome a new president who seems keen to learn about students’ experiences. We believe that Thrive has the skills to make the most of that; we hope that they do.