Each year, The Maroon invites candidates running for executive roles within Undergraduate Student Government (USG) to sit down for interviews with the Editorial Board. The outcomes of these interviews are rarely predictable; while last year’s interviews yielded ringing endorsements for the sole executive slate on the ballot, the Editorial Board’s outlook was considerably more tepid two years ago, when The Maroon declined to endorse any of Student Government’s four executive slates.
In keeping with tradition, The Maroon’s Editorial Board spent a few hours last week interviewing this year’s USG candidates. We’re glad to announce that this year’s ballot features a number of truly commendable candidates—candidates with spirit, mettle, and ambition. We do, however, think it’s also worth noting that optimism alone isn’t a guarantor of success. Our endorsements reflect our assessments of candidates’ platforms, the viability of their proposals, and—perhaps most importantly—the earnestness and sincerity of their campaigns.
No matter what your impressions of our endorsements are, we hope you’ll take the opportunity to read further about the candidates’ platforms and cast your vote this week; the democratic process is only as good as the people that partake in it. The Maroon’s endorsements are as follows:
Good Vibeslations for Executive Slate
The Maroon Editorial Board endorses Good Vibeslations for executive slate in the Spring 2022 USG election. The slate consists of third-year Summer Long and second-year Jefferson Lind, running for president and executive vice president respectively.
Running uncontested, Good Vibeslations has presented a platform that addresses both internal setbacks with USG and pressing issues that concern the student body at large. Two items stand out as top priorities for Good Vibeslations: improving the overall structure of USG and providing more support for recognized—and unrecognized—student organizations (RSOs) on campus. Among the top agenda items in Good Vibeslations’s future conversations with the University administration are returning to the 10-week quarter and expanding University transportation and dining. It pledged to uplift the work that RSOs such as Phoenix Sustainability Initiative and Quest+ have done to substantiate its advocacy, including a push for environmental data transparency and improving the first-generation, low-income student experience.
While last year’s referendum has allowed USG to become an independent entity that serves the undergraduate student population more effectively by delineating government members’ roles, it has not delineated the responsibility of communicating with the University administrations. We are confident that Long and Lind have the expertise required to push for the changes they advocate. Both candidates serve on College Council for their respective class; Long is currently the vice president for student organizations, which oversees RSO funding, and Lind sits on the Committee for Recognized Student Organizations. Given their backgrounds in USG finance and RSO funding as well as their enthusiasm for those items, we are hopeful that they will actualize their vision for USG.
However, we must remind readers that any platform needs to be read in the context of previous interactions between the University administration and the student body, especially during a stressful pandemic that is hard to navigate. In the past, University policymaking has never been communicated to its students as clearly as it should. Take, for example, the decision to switch to a nine-week quarter last academic year and the delayed start of winter quarter this year merely 11 days before classes were scheduled to start. Just this month, the University dropped the classroom mask mandate without known student input, likely contributing to the rising COVID-19 cases. We see USG as a unique entity that represents the undergraduate student body and translates student concerns to the administration, a process that cannot be solidified without a robust structure of taking in student input. Therefore, while we admire Good Vibeslations’s initiative to connect RSO leaders to the administration, we hope to see more concrete plans that allow students to understand the decision-making process of University-wide policies that affect everyone. In our conversation with Good Vibeslations, we were glad to hear about plans to increase the visibility and accessibility of USG resources through social media and newsletters. In addition to those ideas and existing structures such as office hours, we encourage the slate to take a more proactive approach in reaching out to the student body and campus groups, to offer regular conversations both with USG members and with the university administration, as we continue to navigate the pandemic.
Ariana Ukaonu for Vice President of Advocacy
We enthusiastically endorse first-year Ariana Ukaonu for vice president of advocacy and encourage others in USG to look to her as a model. In her interview, she was frank yet diplomatic, aware of the big picture yet specific, and excited yet realistic As vice president of advocacy, Ukaonu would occupy a role revolving around serving undergraduate students; however, she also conceives of that duty as encompassing the broader South Side. We were particularly impressed with her commitment to holding the University accountable. Ukaonu describes herself as “a bit stubborn,” saying that if the University dismisses an agenda item, she’ll “just meet with them again next week [and] make them sick of [her].” We are confident that this tenacity is well paired with her congenial manner and willingness to engage with the University in difficult and constructive conversations. From increasing the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD)’s transparency to finding ways to support South Side businesses, Ukaonu demonstrated awareness that the University is situated in a larger community.
While we recognize some of her goals are ambitious, we believe that UCPD transparency, diversity within USG, and investment in the South Side are some of the most urgent issues the vice president of advocacy should address. We hope that the University and the rest of USG will listen carefully to Ukaonu. If they do, the community will be a better and more just place. Ukaonu, who is running uncontested, would succeed third-year Tyler Okeke.
India Hill for Vice President of Campus Life
We endorse second-year India Hill for Vice President of Campus Life. We interviewed Hill and Evelyn Li—two of the three candidates for the role (Devin Johnson declined to interview). We believe the vice president of campus life must balance their policy initiatives with short-term, actionable plans that will positively impact current students’ lives, in addition to setting in place plans that will improve future UChicago students’ experiences. We believe Hill’s five-point plan, with its emphasis on forward-thinking sustainability projects as well as plans to expand Maroon Dollars, perfectly aligns with what the vice president of campus life needs to do to serve UChicago students best. With experience as the chair of the Committee on Campus Sustainability, Hill has the knowledge and connections related to sustainability to ensure effective follow-through on the policies she has set for herself.
Although we appreciate Hill’s substantive, forward-thinking policies, The Maroon would love to see an increased emphasis on goal-setting and short-term targets within larger projects, like the push toward a zero-waste campus. Such targets are admirable, but how can the student body ensure that progress is being made? In her discussion with The Maroon, Hill stressed very ambitious goals. We hope that in her tenure, she will balance these goals justly and effectively with her other student interest policies.
We feel that it’s important to note that Editorial Board’s vote between Li and Hill was close. We were impressed with both candidates’ platforms, but we ultimately feel Hill’s vision is more fleshed out.
Ketan Sengupta and Gage Gramlick recused themselves from this vote because of personal relationships with the candidate(s).
Julia Brestovitskiy for Vice President of Student Affairs
We endorse second-year Julia Brestovitskiy for Vice President of Student Affairs. We interviewed Brestovitskiy alongside Darya Foroohar; both candidates left us wanting clearer and more original ideas. Nevertheless, we feel Brestovitskiy’s platform has more potential for success and implementation. As chair of the Academic and Career Affairs Committee (ACAC), Brestovitskiy has engaged with more than 55 different academic departments and built up experience working under Connor Lee, the current Vice President of Campus & Student Life. She has demonstrated a strong commitment to students and their interests, having organized as an ACAC chair a survey of hundreds of students addressing academic calendar reform and following up on dozens of reading period rights violations.
Her platform outlines goals that the student body can reasonably expect to see fulfilled before the end of her tenure. She hopes to increase funding for Metcalf internships, reinforce reading period rights, and increase students’ exposure to the relief opportunities provided by USG’s Mental Health Fund. Although her central policies are career focused (with Metcalf funding her self-described primary policy initiative), she believes in a holistic approach to student welfare that addresses “all the areas that have tangibly affected students’ physical and mental health.” Brestovitskiy is the strongest and most obvious choice for VP of Student Affairs.
Gage Gramlick recused themself from this vote because of a work history with Foroohar.
Tyler Okeke for Trustee and Faculty Governance Liaison
While we were not able to interview Tyler Okeke because of logistical issues, we did review his platform and endorse him for Trustee and Faculty Governance Liaison. Okeke is running as a write-in candidate. His platform—which focuses on raising funds for low-income students, working with advocacy-oriented RSOs, and generally deepening meaningful engagement with trustees—strikes us as well-developed, timely, and insightful. Based on Okeke’s success as the 2021–22 vice president of advocacy and his experience on various USG committees and College Council, we are confident that he has the connections, talent, and will to actualize the goals he enumerates in his platform.
The board briefly removed this endorsement because other candidates announced their write-in campaigns on Wednesday morning, briefly after voting started. However, after carefully reviewing the platforms for all candidates, we believe that Okeke is the most capable and experienced candidate for this position. Therefore, we reinstated the endorsement.
Though Student Government elections will place students in these positions of power, it is important for the student body to remember that it is also responsible for putting certain ideas and projects at the forefront of Student Government’s conversations. Regardless of whether the candidate for whom you vote wins or loses, engage with the newly elected government not only to make your voice heard but also to continue to make life at the University as vibrant, inclusive, and fruitful as possible.
Members of the Editorial Board active in these decisions: Gage Gramlick, Kate Mabus, Ketan Sengupta, Noah Glasgow, Rawan Abbas, Solana Adedokun, Yiwen Lu.