Voting for the Student Senate president, secretary and two junior senator positions ends today at 11:59 p.m. The ballot can be found here.
Seniors Sam Cohen and Irene Stephenson are both running for president. Senior Rafael Cho and junior Eliza Dehlin are running for the secretary position.
Cohen is currently serving as the treasurer of Senate, and this is his third year on the executive committee, having previously served as treasurer and vice president.
“I’ve been on Senate the longest. I know how Student Senate works,” he told TKS. “I know how Senate interacts with the student body and with the administration, and I’ve dealt with most levels that Senate actually addresses.”
He also cited the wisdom he’s taken from all the previous Senate presidents, watching where they struggled and succeeded, which would help inform him in his own decisions.
In his ballot statement, Cohen wrote, “Currently, Senate is struggling. What was once an active institution on campus, calling out injustice and crafting school policies, has been relegated to being a bank.”
His other biggest concerns for Senate are what he deems “Senate culture,” which includes senators joining to pad resumes, but not to actually do their work.
“I’m not saying that’s all of Senate, because I’ve seen a few senators who have taken on strong projects … I just want to encourage those senators who want to be there who might not feel comfortable taking on projects on their own, help them take the next step to start doing what they want to do,” he said.
In the past term, Cohen helped work on the non-discrimination policy proposed by two executive members of Common Ground. He hopes that other students can see that as an example of coming to Senate in hopes of making a change, and working together to make it happen.
Stephenson is currently serving as the Vice President of Senate and has previously served as Chairperson of Dining Services. In her ballot statement, she writes, “My previous years on Senate give me the knowledge to run an effective meeting. My connections across campus, as a student athlete and double major, allow me to connect with people and hear their concerns.”
Her main concerns, however, are internal issues and conflicts of communications, which she said came into play at the end of last term. She believes she is an impartial candidate without allegiances on Senate, which she believes is important for a president to be.
“I do feel like I am the best person for the job, and I would be able to help … stop some of the conflict. I’m one of the only people in Senate Exec who hasn’t been involved in the conflict, and I think the president needs to be that person who’s not getting in fights with other people, and I know that everyone else has.”
Stephenson was originally appointed president by resigning president and senior Leonard Monterey, before the bylaws were checked and an election was planned.
“I was excited to be president and take on the role as this person who would be able to bring people together,” she said.
In the past term, Stephenson has worked on projects regarding fixing housing conflicts between students with animal allergies and students living with emotional support animals (ESA’s) in the dorms. She is also currently working on a project that would assign student senators to faculty committees long before the school year starts, in order for them to be able to meet and get started on work earlier.
Both of the candidates acknowledged this conflict in the Senate, stemming mainly from communication issues and internal conflict between the executive members. They both pointed to this as one of the main issues they would like to address in the upcoming two terms. At the beginning of the term, the executive committee met with their adviser Vice President of Student Development Anne Ehrlich to discuss how to better communicate with one another going forward. Cohen said that the first general assembly and executive meetings have both gone well.
“There were disagreements on discussion of expectations [last term], so a lot of work either wasn’t getting done or was being done poorly,” Cohen said. “So there was a lot of tension in exec because people had different expectations, and in the end Leo found it too stressful.”
Stephenson echoed a similar sentiment.
“There was a lot of issues with communication, people not communicating directly with each other, instead of saying how you’re feeling to someone, telling another person, or having private meetings with just some people, and not talking to Leo and I, and people not in that position doing it,” Stephenson said.
Monterey resigned from his post as Student Senate president on December 20, 2018, in an email sent to the Senate members.
“Frankly, I want to be true to myself and don’t want to be a part of an organization that I don’t think fits my core values,” Monterey told TKS in an interview. “And I decided it would be best for both my mental health and my wellbeing, as well of the organization’s success for us to separate, and for me to move on.”
He also cited errors in communication and internal conflict as the main stressors.
“It’s hard to work under the conditions where your exec committee is not united, and that there are a lot of motions at play. It really makes your work difficult, and when I know there are issues coming up … they’ll come up in Senate.”
Monterey also said that he had difficulty falling into a rhythm of communication with Vice President Stephenson at the beginning of the term, but that they both learned how to set clear expectations of the other before the term was over.
The communication issues seemed to come to a head at the end of the term during the proposal of the non-discrimination policy by members of Common Ground.
“With communications errors and not divvying up the work, and not having the right people, things like that, it’s hard to know your role, what you’re supposed to do, where you stand with these things,” Monterey said.
Monterey said that it was difficult to know when things were happening and at which meetings by the end of the term. Cohen also spoke on the matter, as one of the people most involved with the non-discrimination policy.
“[Communication] kind of fell apart at the end of last term as people clashed. I know I clashed because I was very passionate about getting the non-discrimination discussion started last term, because I’ve seen how long big discussions like this take and I knew that if we started it this term, we would not be at the point [we are at now],” Cohen said. “So I know I can be passionate when there’s something that I care about that needs to get done … so there was a lot of tension at the end of last term.””
Stephenson pointed to this issue as something she was impartial on, one of her main campaign points.
“I was able to maintain positive relationships with people on both sides of the conflict,” Stephenson said. “And I do feel like that’s an important asset as president.”
Monterey and Cohen both discussed a lack of training and difficult turnover between this year’s executive committee and last year’s. Monterey said that he felt the wealth of knowledge on how Senate is run was not passed down because of the difficulties with the transition. Cohen said that more training and preparation is necessary for next year’s executive committee.
“So I would like to make next year’s senate better than this year’s senate,” he said.
Regardless of which way the presidential election goes, there will have to be another election to fill the empty space left by either Cohen or Stephenson, treasurer or vice president, respectively. After those elections happen, the elections for executive committee members for the 2019-20 school year will be held at end of the term.
“We just look very disorganized, and having all these elections is only making us look worse,” Stephenson said. “Not having a clear way of dealing with resignations, and the fact that the resignations are happening in the first place. … But I do believe we can look better, and it’s also an opportunity for us to re-evaluate how we’re doing.”
Cohen agrees that the build-up of elections is not ideal, and both he and Stephenson are considering altering the bylaws of the Senate constitution so more appointments can be made instead of several special elections being held.
The winner of the election will be announced via email by the senate, as well as on our Twitter at @theknoxstudent.com.