The 2020 Student Senate election ballot has four candidates and two contested elections.
Junior Senators Kaitlyn Steinhiser and Isis Zaki are both contesting for the Presidency while Sophomore Senator Ben Jacobs and junior Senator Hannah Imel race for Vice President.
All four candidates have been heavily involved in Student Senate and campus activities since their freshman years.
With the election just days away, the Torch spoke with all four candidates to hear their platforms and reasons for their candidacy.
Kaitlyn Steinhiser - Presidential Candidate
Throughout her time on Student Senate, Senator Steinhiser has been a leader on multiple committees including the Committee on Media and written many resolutions, most recently the housing refund resolution which passed unanimously.
Outside of Senate, she has been a leader in multiple student organizations and served as a Resident Assistant.
For Steinhiser, the President’s main role is to represent students.
“The student body president sits on committees with faculty and staff and they're meant to voice the unfiltered concerns of students,” Steinhiser said.
Steinhiser described the values of accessibility and inclusion as the foundation for her policies. Senator Steinhiser’s core policies are accessibility to the president, fighting to get students on committees of the Board of Directors, and transparency.
“[As the] student body president you represent everyone on campus. So if you don't make yourself accessible, and if you don't include as many people as possible in the decision-making process, you're really not representing everybody,” Steinhiser said.
If elected, Steinhiser plans to make her calendar available to everyone, post updates after every meeting, and hold those meetings in accessible places.
Steinhiser also wants students to be directly involved with the Board of Directors. The current system involves the Student Body President writing a quarterly report and giving it to the President of the University who serves as an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors. The President of the University then presents the report to the Board.
“Not only do I want the student body president to be an ex officio member of the board, but I want students to be voting members of the committee's that are on the board of directors. So, like any committee on Student Affairs educational policy, students who are actively at the university should be on those committees making decisions,” Steinhiser said.
Steinhiser also wants to boost transparency between Student Senate and the student body. This includes updating Senate’s technology and having Student Senate engage more with the student body in a more accessible manner.
“All meetings will be live-streamed and posted online, whether that's through view TV or through other means. And I also want to start a digital forum of concern,” Steinhiser said. “So as we're live streaming Student Senate...if someone has something they would like to share in the form of concerns the Public Relations Coordinator can share that at the meeting so people can be engaged without having to show up at meetings at 8 p.m., every Monday.”
Additionally, Steinhiser plans to use the Town and Gown Committee as a vehicle to engage the university with the City of Valparaiso. This committee includes the Student Body President, the Mayor of Valparaiso, the President of the University, three students, and the Chief of Staff of the University.
“We need to discuss affordable housing with the mayor because students want to live off-campus after three years and you need affordable housing for them. I also want to expand internships with city offices,” Steinhiser said.
Steinhiser also elaborated that these internships are not just for political science students. The internships would benefit civil engineers, criminology majors and many others who are either interested in government or want the experience.
Senator Steinhiser has more campaign information on her social media pages. These include Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Isis Zaki - Presidential Candidate
Since her freshman year, Senator Zaki has not only been involved with Student Senate but also many other student organizations and served as a Resident Assistant. As an underclassman, she watched the then student leaders in her organizations in order to learn from them with the intention of bettering her own leadership style.
Zaki believes through her involvement on campus she has cultivated a deep understanding of the Valpo community’s character which will help her lead campus as president.
“I really, over the last few years, feel confident in the vision of Valpo’s campus that I have and the understanding of what the student body looks like, what we care about,” Zaki said. “I think I am privileged with the opportunity to have a good pulse on student opinion based off of all the different involvements I have on campus.”
As a senator, Zaki recognized different issues
For Zaki, the President is the leader of the Student Senate and the student body and the person who sets the tone for the university that year.
“I think the President's role is to set to create a vision, like a shared vision that everyone can identify with everyone can get behind and then enable other people to get engaged in that vision,” said Zaki.
Zaki is campaigning on three main principles: Transparency, advocacy, and equity.
“Transparency is the first, and in my mind, the biggest one. Because I think a lot of students, myself included, feel very frustrated that decisions are made behind a lot of closed doors, and there's a lot of red tape that separates students, student concerns to an opinion, and the decisions that are made,” Zaki said. “So because the president sits in between students and an administration like you're supposed to be the student that represents student concerns to different administrators to different boards and different committees. I want to increase the flow of information.”
She also plans to make structural changes to enable students to be involved in administrative changes. While the logistics are not yet known, Zaki resolved she would converse with the Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs to create a plan of action to realize this goal.
For Zaki, advocacy is a personal issue.
“In times of like, you know, crisis like what we're in now, or when there's a huge issue that is plaguing our students like what happened with our recent presidential search, and when a candidate came up that concerned a lot of students, You do need someone to take the stand, take the lead and speak on behalf of students,” Zaki said. “And in order to do that, well, I think you have to have a pulse on what students are thinking; what students care about.”
The past few years, student equality has been an issue on campus. Many students and different organizations have found difficulty having their voices heard and problems addressed.
“And the last thing is equity. I think it's really important and not often talked about how unequal information is shared on campus,” Zaki said. “I think we just need to be open and honest and say that not everyone is always given a seat at the table, not every student is given the same opportunity so I really want to emphasize equity within Student Senate, and then also on campus, that way students from different areas of campus are given opportunities to input their thoughts and input their experience.”
Zaki acknowledged the Student President may only be in office for one year, but the tone set by that president influences the attitudes of future presidents.
She has been campaigning on her social media pages on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Ben Jacobs - Vice Presidential Candidate
Senator Jacobs is currently a sophomore running for Vice President on four core issues: Transparency, accountability and accessibility, participation and cooperation, and progression. He has served on Student Senate since his freshman year and been heavily involved on campus and in the City of Valparaiso.
“So with transparency, I just want to focus on Student Senate being more available to students,” Jacobs said. “A lot of students aren't sure of what Student Senate is until their later years on campus so junior and senior year. So I want to bring Student Senate more to the freshmen and sophomores so that they understand what Student Senate is all about and how they represent students on campus
Jacobs wants to work to create a mandatory Senate information session for freshmen during Welcome Week so that they are aware of the functions of the student senate and are more confident in using Student Senate as a resource to voice concerns.
“With accessibility and accountability. I just kind of want to create an environment for students to be able to speak to the administration,” Jacobs said. “And the accessibility is just having an environment to where administration actually listens to us and brings us in on the conversation instead of making the decision and then asking us later.”
Senator Jacobs also wants to continue the good practices other senators have put in place this year.
“This past year, our public relations coordinator Chris Griffey has done an excellent job of going on social media and getting information out to the student body about what Student Senate does. And I'd like to continue that role,” Jacobs said
Jacobs also highlighted the first senate forum in 25 years held this past semester regarding visitation policy as a practice he’d like to continue every year.
“I think that is an accomplishment that should be continued through years I think we should have a student senate forum, every semester at least every year. Not just every 25 years when an issue comes up,” Jacobs said.
Senator Jacobs has more campaign information on Instagram and Twitter.
Hannah Imel - Vice Presidential Candidate
Senator Imel has not only been actively involved on campus but has also volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol, an organization through the US Air Force, for the past 10 years.
“Its primary focus is leadership, and you have to study different aspects of leadership and do different activities that involve this whole study of leadership,” Imel said. “I think what I've learned is how to use all the different leadership styles because they're all super effective in different situations and it just depends on the moment that you're in which leadership styles are most effective at that certain time”
Senator Imel wants to work to improve the cooperation between the President and Vice President.
“I think it's super important for the president and vice president to discuss, alone, their ideas, and like talk about their differences and not necessarily always come to a compromise that come to an understanding of different points of view because campus isn't always going to have the same points of view,” Imel said. “But I also think that the role of the Vice President is to engage the students because like at the senate meetings.”
Imel’s main platform revolves around inclusion.
“Inclusion goes into accessibility. And that's something that I'm super strong advocate for,” said Imel.
Over the past few years, Imel has been losing her hearing which has lead her to become more involved with the deaf community. Through this she has come to notice how accessible or inaccessible campus really is to people who experience a variety of disabilities.
“Two years ago, they started discussing how the senate room is not accessible to everyone because of the stairs and there’s no other way to get around unless you use the back door,” Imel said. “But nobody wants to have to go through the back entrance when everyone else is going through the front.”
Imel also addressed the commuter student issues which were also brought up in a recent debate moderated by The Torch.
“We're not including them and everything, especially when we have activities so late,” Imel said. “So if Senate doesn't start till eight and it's a budget meeting, sometimes we don't get done till, say 10, then an hour home is 11.”
The Student Senate elections will be held online on April 17 from 8 a.m to 5 p.m Central Standard Time for the Student Body President and Vice President.