Every year, Pipe Dream’s E-Board interviews all of the candidates running for Student Association (SA) positions. This year’s SA elections will take place on March 9.
In talking to candidates, we learned a lot about the students who are running for these government positions, as well as our campus community. Many of the answers we received were very similar, suggesting student consensus regarding some of Binghamton University’s biggest problems. One commitment nearly every candidate was sure to mention was transparency. Whether in regard to finance, legislation, policy or general updates, candidates made strong remarks on a lack of clarity in the SA office. This is reflective of a larger need for transparency among BU administrators as well. Many candidates also made advocacy a large part of their platform, highlighting a need for mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Other popular topics included BU dining halls, communication and the overall bureaucracy of the existing SA culture. Of course, we can’t forget the most notorious word of the election: “pillars.”
After having these conversations, our E-Board has decided to endorse the following candidates as the best options for their representative positions.
President: Nia Johnson
As the most contested position of this year, our endorsement for SA president was not made and should not be taken lightly. Neither should Nia Johnson. Johnson emerged as the clear option for president in her concrete policies and unwavering passion for student advocacy. Her dedication to mandatory, yearly sexual assault training, expanding cultural competency training and reinstating meaningful events for faculty and students of color truly set her aside from the other candidates. A current junior, Johnson also serves as the head office director in the vice president for multicultural affairs (VPMA) office. As such, Johnson commented on the pain several multicultural organizations feel on this campus, and held space for the many nonwhite students who feel ignored by BU administration.
Not only that, but Johnson has made clear that she will stand up in the face of BU administrators, promising to support students at all costs. In her own words, Johnson “will not let Harvey Stenger sleep at night” with how often she will communicate on behalf of our community. She also plans to put pressure on Andrew Baker, the senior compliance officer and Title IX coordinator at BU, to correctly handle sexual assault allegations and advocate on behalf of survivors. We believe Johnson when she says she refuses to let the SA presidency be nothing but a resume booster, and that her platforms come from the heart.
While Samantha Carroll was clearly the presidential candidate with the most SA experience, her policies did not echo this. Her role as the current vice president of student success (VPSS) arguably should have launched Carroll to the forefront of this race, but when asked what her biggest goal as SA president would be, Carroll struggled to deviate from her written platform. Though accessibility, student success and representation are admirable goals, we would have preferred to hear stronger, more specific plans similar to her written bill that helped create the Violence, Abuse and Rape Crisis Center (VARCC). Her run as VPSS has also been unremarkable, causing the Board to doubt Carroll’s commitments to follow through with such lofty goals.
Galileo Savage also made an honorable run, but failed to list the specific policy goals needed for a presidential run. We do, however, wish to say that Savage’s role as the first Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student ambassador is admirable. Had Savage run for a lower-ranked position like vice president of student success, his endorsement would have been all but ensured.
Lastly, Ethan Kesler, though idealistic, is wholly unqualified for the position of SA president. Still, his optimism is much appreciated. “Hug a Homie Day” was a very sweet idea.
Executive Vice President: Daniel Rocabado
Our endorsement did not come easy for this role, as both candidates had comparable platforms. Both Daniel Rocabado, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, and Jacob Singleton, a sophomore majoring in business administration, discussed the need for a clearer chartering process, mentorship for new groups and constant problems with room reservations. A focus on actively helping new student groups learn their roles and grow, as well as criticisms of the current chartering process, were strong points of emphasis for each of the two candidates. However, when it came down to comparing experience and skill sets, our E-Board decided the best fit for the role of executive vice president (EVP) is Rocabado.
After two full years of SA experience as an employee and student representative experience outside of Congress, Rocabado brings two valuable assets to the table: a strong knowledge of the SA’s day-to-day internal functions and a fresh perspective on how to listen to student needs. Rocabado’s history as an SA student employee, from minute-taker to an assistant in the vice president for finance’s (VPF) office, demonstrates a familiarity and relative expertise that is absolutely necessary to be the EVP, working with hundreds of student groups. Plus, his plans for a mentorship program through the EVP office is quite promising, and Pipe Dream would love to see a future where the EVP is more actively involved in getting student groups on their feet. Lastly, a commitment to opening the SA, which he had continually referred to as “gatekept,” to even more students for leadership and employment opportunities was a refreshing new take on the “outsider” perspective or advantage championed by many candidates. Singleton’s experience as EVP of Dickinson Town Council is certainly an admirable qualification, but his experience within the SA itself is currently too limited for us to endorse him for this position. Overall, we believe either candidate would be equipped to handle the role if elected, but we feel that Rocabado brings the most knowledge and passion for helping student groups to the table.
Vice President for Finance: Daniel Croce
Daniel Croce is the obvious choice for vice president for finance (VPF). Croce brings plenty of experience that should assure voters of his financial literacy and competency. For starters, Croce is the current VPF for the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Scholars Program, managing a budget of over $500,000. He is also the contracts assistant to the current VPF, Tara Lerman, and a member of the Finance Committee (FinCo) in SA Congress.
Beyond his hefty experience, Croce had several effective goals for the VPF office. It is no secret to treasurers at BU that the Financial Policies and Procedures (FPP) document is cumbersome. Croce seeks to combat this by adding visual aids to the document, helping treasurers visualize the more lengthy procedures the document outlines. He also plans to record simple “how-to” videos answering common questions for treasurers that could be posted on an Instagram page dedicated to the VPF office. This, along with his suggestion for weekly emails from the VPF office, would all work to increase transparency and make treasurers’ lives easier. Croce’s goals are not only effective, but they are also well within reach — a feat for many SA candidates that tend to reach for the stars and miss altogether.
Luke Savinetti, the opposing VPF candidate, was correct in his criticism on current treasurer training, but his solutions were not only lackluster — they were downright concerning. For starters, Savinetti considered getting rid of the treasurer’s exam, which is currently a Google form, in favor of mandatory in-person training. While the treasurer’s exam may not be all that difficult, or a strong indicator of understanding, requiring every president and treasurer from every SA-chartered organization to attend a lengthy lecture on the FPP is not the solution. Furthermore, Savinetti’s attempt to allow Venmo as a means of fundraising is not at all viable. Even with regulation and oversight, Savinetti should know that Venmo is all too privy to misuse. Students could easily steal money from their organization or mix up group funding with their personal balance. This is the entire reason that club presidents must also be certified treasurers — Venmo does not allow for the necessary checks and balances when it comes to group funding. Savinetti also does not bring experience equaling that of Croce. Altogether, Savinetti is unfit to manage the SA’s financial policy.
Vice President for Student Success: none
After speaking to both candidates, Pipe Dream does not feel confident endorsing anyone for the vice president for student success (VPSS).
Similar to Savinetti’s VPF platform, Anindya Debnath’s goals for VPSS are a bit worrisome. Debnath’s interview started off strong with his declaration that student success necessitates student happiness and his desire to increase funding for the Campus Citizen Review Board. However, the interview took a sharp turn when Debnath advocated for increased community policing. Debnath said he strongly believes that the Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD) should have a greater presence at this University, starting with having officers regularly walking around campus near students. While it seemed like this was an attempt for students to “get to know” UPD officers, this would solely increase biased surveillance behaviors and make for campus life even more uncomfortable for nonwhite students, who, as Debnath himself pointed out, are much more likely to get arrested by UPD officers. Debnath should know better having interned in the VPMA office.
Debnath also suggested that UPD have more frequent town halls and Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) programs. However, RAD programs are not best led by police, who are more likely to sexually assault or physically abuse women than the average male. A better suggestion would have been something like Nia Johnson’s, which advocated for the return of the student-led 20:1 program not just for freshmen orientation, but every year. He also remarked on improving SA outreach by saying the SA was full of “yes men,” and that we need to “make the SA great again.” Outside of his alarming UPD platform, Debnath had little to say in regard to actual student success, which should have been the crux of his platform. Debnath should not be serving as VPSS in the SA office.
Luca Cassidy, on the other hand, is not an offensive candidate altogether, but lacks drive. He currently serves as an SA Congress representative. Cassidy’s main goal as VPSS would be to create new Residential Life learning communities to connect students with similar interests, particularly for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). He also mentioned the possibility of more interdisciplinary courses for freshmen that weave multiple courses together into one. This would serve to help undeclared students explore educational pathways efficiently. Lastly, Cassidy also mentioned implementing early voting on campus to increase voter turnout and student participation in government. While Cassidy’s goals are all within the realm of VPSS abilities, he does not seem to have any clear paths as to how to implement these goals. Instead, he relies on student pressure to help him bring about change. The VPSS should be leading the charge rather than taking a back seat.
Vice President for Multicultural Affairs: Erica Juarez
The role of vice president for multicultural affairs (VPMA) is one that works closely with the multicultural community on the BU campus, including the multicultural student organizations, the Multicultural Greek and Fraternity Council (MGFC), the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committees. Due to the importance of this role to such a large community, the VPMA needs to be someone who is trustworthy and easy for the leaders of several organizations to approach — Juarez has the right connections for this. As a member of the BU Japanese Association (BUJA), Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program (JUMP) Nation and an intern under current VPMA Mary Hu, Juarez has the potential to be a great resource for these organizations. Juarez has striking goals for cross-cultural engagement and has experience organizing the Multicultural Festival with Hu this semester. While these values and goals are promising, Juarez still needs to flesh out her platforms more with specifics on how she will encourage engagement and support emerging groups on campus. She must also work on her relationship with the DEI, which she admitted was not very strong.
Aaron Berkowitz, while well-meaning, had a less developed platform compared to Juarez and was not aware of initiatives of DEI-related organizations, such as the MRC and Q Center. When asked how he planned on working with these organizations, Berkowitz only mentioned wanting the Q Center to hold more art-related events and suggested holding a pride parade, unaware of the fact that the Q Center had a Pride March in October. He spoke passionately about wanting to create a space for different cultures to represent themselves, which is admirable, but his platform, combined with his lack of SA experience, makes him less qualified for the role than Juarez. Berkowitz did speak on the importance of supporting religious organizations and small organizations on campus, a commendable promise, but did not name specific organizations or how he would support them.
Vice President for Programming: Jocelyn Phipps
Though she is the only candidate running for vice president for programming (VPP), Pipe Dream feels quite confident that Jocelyn Phipps is an excellent candidate. Phipps’ experience within the SA Programming Board (SAPB) dates back to her freshman year, with roles in the hospitality committee in freshman year, vice comedy chair as a sophomore and her current role as comedy chair.
Aside from her dedicated commitment to this branch of the SA and demonstrated knowledge of SAPB’s inner workings, Phipps advocates for promising new developments for the 2022-23 academic year. Similar to Rocabado’s own sentiment, Phipps wants to broaden the SAPB’s reach to even more students — beyond those who are already more familiar with the SA. A plan to advertise SAPB at prospective student tours, increase tabling initiatives and recruit new members through announcements at SAPB events are small yet well-thought-out ways of inviting new students in.
Phipps also expressed significant interest in diversifying the types of acts and performances the SAPB brings in each semester. With ideas such as adding new questions to each semesterly SAPB survey, such as those asking which performers they’d most prefer and even more opportunities to make suggestions, Phipps brings a good sense of openness to the role. Paired with an extensive knowledge of SAPB and experience with three different VPP administrations, Phipps will make a great VPP.
BU Council Representative: either
For the position of BU council representative, Pipe Dream does not feel strongly in endorsing a particular candidate — instead, this is a decision that depends on whether one is seeking a candidate with experience or a candidate with new ideas.
Jonah Thomas, though not the typical candidate for BU council representative as a sophomore, has built up an impressive resume — having served as policy strategist in the SA president’s office and chair for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee. While Thomas’s platform could use more specificity, his focus on diversity and facilitating conversation between multicultural organizations and administrators is admirable. His passion in giving a voice to underserved communities on campus seems a logical and achievable next step given his experience. However, when pressed on how he planned to implement diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) values, Thomas was unable to answer with specificity. Despite this, a new, younger face to the BU council representative position, particularly with such goals in mind, can be beneficial when serving as a liaison between students and administration.
As a senior, Avery Benzaken comes into the race with an extensive amount of relevant SA experience, as well as the obvious advantage in his ability to advocate for graduate students. Throughout Benzaken’s interview, he stressed the importance of communication, between not just administration but also the SA and individual students. It’s clear that Benzaken’s work as SA treasurer and Congress representative have provided him with important insights into the issues students face in communicating with administration. His passion for communicating with students was evident, not just through his outgoing presentation but also as he listed student groups he had been in contact with regarding their concerns. However, his policies and answers were also generally vague, and he largely did not outline ways in which he would specifically improve communication between students and administration.
Editor’s note: Jocelyn Phipps is a contributor for Pipe Dream’s photography section. This candidate was not involved in the writing of this editorial.