By Grace McFadden
The Undergraduate Student Government at the University of Connecticut held elections from noon on September 29 to noon today, October 1.
This election, there are 61 open seats in USG Senate. This includes 10 Academic Seats, 2 Multicultural & Diversity Seats and 49 Residential Seats.
However, unlike most USG fall elections, both the president and vice president position are also being contested as the former president and former vice president voted upon in the spring 2020 USG election resigned in July 2020. The two tickets for president and vice president are Michael Hernández and Guilmar Valle; and Jase Rafael Valle and Guymara Manigat, respectively.
Besides this being a special election, those running for office also have to contend with the restrictions placed on the elections process due to the pandemic. Michael Cerulli is a third-semester political science major and the elections oversight commissioner for USG. He spoke to the difficulties of running an election under these circumstances.
“Last year when I started in USG there were recruitment events at the involvement fair, and at freshman events like their orientation week and a little bit after that,” Cerulli said. “Those in person events are usually used to draw people into the organization. In the absence of those, we’ve had to rely on social media and just basic word of mouth, which has been difficult.”
Cerulli also spoke to the difficulties candidates face in trying to campaign in this election.
“We have two presidential tickets who, under normal circumstances, would be able to hang up posters around school, would be able to go to different dorms and canvas, would be able the Student Union on Fairfield Way or go to dining halls, but that’s not allowed this year,” Cerulli said. “Both on my end and on their end, we’ve had to come up with creative new ways to reach folks, mainly through social media.”
Sam Zelin is a third-semester history major who is running for a position in the USG senate for the first time. He spoke to this process of applying to run for senate.
“The process this year is very simple,” Zelin said. “They took away a lot of steps to make it more simple, really I think to get more people on the ballot because there are 27 seats for off-campus.”
This is another quirk of this election: commuter and off-campus students, who in the past have held only a handful of seats, will now be the largest single contingency in the senate by far. They make up almost half of the open seats in this election.
Cerulli said that this is because USG reevaluates how seats are distributed each year.
“Obviously our largest constituency, as you might imagine, this year is commuters. We update every year based on the number of students who live in each constituency, the proportion of representation they get, and this year we had to adjust it pretty heavily in favor of commuter seats,” said Cerulli.
Zelin, who is currently taking all online classes from home, is one of the students running for an off-campus seat. To him, that makes the race all the more important.
“We’re in a really weird position where there’s two different types of students: there’s the kids on campus and there’s the kids off-campus,” Zelin said. “It’s really important for people who are sharing in that off-campus experience to have people to go to who have a foot in the door to talk about policy, and hopefully give all the people who are off campus and can’t be there a voice.”
More off-campus seats aren’t the only new addition in this election. Damani Douglas, a fifth-semester political science and communication major, will be running unopposed to be the first ever chief diversity officer.
“[The position] is about institutionally centering diversity in our initiatives and our practices. That is everything from the way we hire to the legislation that we write and the way we engage with administrators, to bring diversity and inclusion to be more central in the thinking and operations of USG,” Douglas said.
According to Douglas, the position was created after some students spoke up about bias within USG. USG then formed the Diversity and Outreach committee, of which the chief diversity officer is the chair.
After that, Douglas and the other USG members tried to quantitatively evaluate bias in USG by looking at statistics around who was writing and passing legislation. They conducted an internal USG census to get a better understanding of the demographics of the organization and looked at USG’s hiring practices.
“We can be doing a better job making sure that the voices of our members from marginalized backgrounds are being heard. That’s where it came from,” Douglas explained. “We decided we needed to centralize our thinking on what does diversity mean and how can we bring diversity and inclusion into all corners of our organization.”
The former president and former vice president who resigned over the summer both listed a need for more diverse voices in USG as a contributing factor to their stepping down.