Name: Divya Manikandan
Major: Biology, Health and Society
Platform Speech (Who are you, why are you running, and why should a person vote for you?): My name is Divya, and I’ve been a part of LSA SG since the very first month of my freshman year. I am currently the vice chair of the Subcommittee for Technology, Advising, and Academic Resources and have served as an elected representative for the past year. I’ve sat on several government committees to work on issues surrounding academic affairs, diversity and inclusion, health, and sustainability. I care deeply about the improvement of our college for its students, and hold a commitment to social change as an important part of representing constituents. I am running for this position, because there are things I believe LSA needs to improve on:
Things I want to make a reality for our students:
1. We need to make it easier for students to get medical absences excused and promote trust and self-care in our competitive academic setting.
2. We need to ensure that our differently-abled peers do not struggle to gain access to services and resources that level the playing field towards receiving a quality education.
3. We need to create better inclusion and cohesion for international, transfer, and out-of-state students that enter our campus.
These are all projects I have already begun work on:
I have taken regular meetings with UHS, the international student centre, Newnan Advising, the opportunity hub, and several other departments and institutions to prompt dialogue on these issues. Over the past year and a half, I have learned how to push student agendas among administrators and faculty, and get our voice heard at the table. My past experiences in the government have taught me resilience, patience, and the importance of teamwork to make sure that no task is unfinished and enthusiasm waned when it comes to doing what the students of LSA want. I have learned to be cognizant of different identities and situations on campus, and become a more effective communicator. I believe that these skills would allow me to best fight for you and enact the changes you want to see, to have the best experience during your time as an LSA student.
Questions and Answers:
1. Should our student government publish voting/attendance records of its members?
I believe that it is the duty of a government to be as transparent as possible withits constituents. Therefore, I do think that the attendance records of SG members should be made available to the students of LSA. With regards to attendance records, our constituents pay part of their fee to have us represent their voices and they are the people who vote us into power. I think this does give them a right to know whether their representatives are doing right by them by showing up to the table. However, I do not necessarily believe in advertising how many meetings a member has attended- merely because exams, academic conflicts, illnesses, and other extenuating circumstances do govern the ability of a student to be present at every meeting. These situations are often beyond individual control and such absences should not be vilified or penalized.
Therefore, I think the best solution to this problem would be to publish the number of “unexcused” absences a member has taken, which, in my opinion is more representative of a penalty that voters need to take into consideration.
With regards to voting records, I think that members should have a say in whether or not their exact vote is published. Oftentimes, I believe, the dissemination of this knowledge can create an atmosphere where people are less likely to debate or deviate from the expectation. It can also create targeting of individuals and act as a deterrent to true self-expression in the government. However, having said that I do think there is merit in releasing the number of YES, NO, and ABSTAIN votes so that constituents know the orientation of the general body on issues.
Furthermore, candidates are already allowed to publicly express how they feel about voter-facing concerns during events like candidates forum, campaigning, and interviews.
2. How would you bring new diverse ideas and representation of the student body into student government?
While I do believe that we need to increase representation of several groups and statuses within the government, we need to ensure that we do so without tokenizing or including them just because we are trying to look a certain way. Diversity and passion for the government should be looked at in combination and we should never compromise one for the other.
However, it is also important for us to understand that because we do have some homogeneous factors within our group, it may be disconcerting for individuals with certain identities to approach us. To combat this we need to be open to reaching out to different student orgs and groups that represent a variety of ethnicities, SESs, abilities and so on so that we can make our faces familiar, talk to them about their problems, and collaborate regarding solutions.
At general body meetings I believe we need to be more deliberate about ensuring that new members are included and brought towards the front and middle of the room rather than relegated to sitting at the back, away from the action
I have also been working with the international center to come to our weekly assembly and provide us with a cultural competency workshop so we can better learn how to deal with a vast array of problems respectfully and mindfully.
3. What are some takeaways you have in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak, and our student government’s response to it?
First off, I loved the sense of community, support, and solidarity that the government showed in the time of crisis. Everyone was quick to ensure that people were safe and able to utilize each other for help in this whirlwind time. Everyone offered resources to each other and the love shared amongst the group was heartening
In terms of the responsibility of our government, I think that although we reduced our operations, we never completely halted working as a unit, which is really important. We called special meetings, the executive board still met, several committees continued working on their projects, faculty members were reached out to, and overall I think we, as a government, have made sure that we do not let this outbreak stop the work we need to do for our constituents. This is a testament to how passionate we are towards making sure we do good in the community, and how unshakeable our spirit is as a group!
I thought it was also very important that we did release a statement urging people not to be discriminatory and racist during this time. We did our best to model good behavior and mutual respect within the college.
One thing I think we could have done better is perhaps work with housing and other administrations to have dealt with the situation surrounding moving students out of campus housing a little better. The situation was very poorly handled by the university and it is a catastrophe I think our government should have helped mitigate.
4. What are your thoughts on the student government’s role in the upcoming 2020 election, particularly in regards to how the Presidential Debate will occur on campus and navigating the feelings of political tension within the student body?
First off, we need to remain as non-partisan as ever in the coming months. We need to make sure that our government is a safe space where everyone can express their opinions without feeling like one side is favored and other sides demonized.
We need to send our representatives to sit on as many commissions and executive task forces that surround this debate and discussions about the climate it creates as possible so that we ensure that a) we are up to date on all that occurs and b) we are representing the voices of LSA
We should, as with COVID, model an atmosphere of inclusion- perhaps reaching out to different student orgs and faculty members, through resolutions, on how to cater to all ideological perspectives on campus without spreading hate.
We should also train our members on things to watch out for on campus over the next few months that could be harmful to the mental, physical, and social health of our students. We need to inform everyone in the college how to report and deal with such situations, were they to arise.