The Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA) and the Westhampton College Government Association (WCGA) digitally proceeded with their student government elections despite the University of Richmond’s decision to shift to remote instruction.
Juniors AJ Polcari and Noella Park won the RCSGA and WCGA presidential elections, respectively. The election for RCSGA president occurred via OpaVote, and the WCGA presidential election took place on Presence, both from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April 6. The WCGA election included additional elections for the chair of senate and class presidents.
Candidates no longer had the option to campaign door-to-door or post physical flyers, said senior Myrsini Manou-Georgila, who is the WCGA election chair, but they were able to use texting and social media to aid their campaign.
The RCSGA presidential candidates, juniors AJ Polcari and Kevin Villagomez, and WCGA presidential candidates, juniors Grace Kiernan and Noella Park, spent the past week sharing their goals and ambitions for the student body, despite being miles away from their classmates and peers.
This shift to a remote election heavily impacted how the two RCSGA candidates could campaign, said Mike Laposata, outgoing RCSGA president.
“Normally, it’s through posters put around campus, social media, talking to people, enlisting the help of your friends,” Laposata said. “Now it basically all has to happen over social media, whether it be Instagram, Groupme, Facebook, Twitter, whatever people want to use.”
Despite this shift, the candidates were able to share their platforms with all who were willing to listen. In lieu of an in-person debate, the RCSGA and WCGA candidates were asked to record themselves answering a series of six questions and an opening statement, which were then shared on RCSGA and WCGA’s Instagram accounts, @we.are.rcsga and @wearewcga.
One question addressed the racist acts that occurred on campus this past January, asking what each candidate would do to promote an anti-racist campus. All the candidates shared a desire for a more inclusive campus.
“My main goal will be to create this idea of a new culture, and a new identity for the University of Richmond,” Villagomez said in his video. He suggested educational programs and greater support systems for people of color, he said.
Polcari said the conversation would be motivated by giving funding to the Interpoint Discussion Series, which met earlier this semester in what was supposed to be a three-part discussion series about race. “But we cannot just stop at discussions,” Polcari said, “we need targeted, precise policies that impact all of our students on campus.”
Kiernan also spoke about the Interpoint Discussion Series and the need to support student events that address race and discrimination.
“As WCGA president, I would hope to work towards a better UR by supporting and promoting events that other students or organizations put on that endeavor to have open dialogue and learning about these topics and issues, such as the Interpoint series that happened this past semester,” Kiernan said.
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Park spoke about continuing current student initiatives to proceed with conversations about inclusivity and diversity regardless of discomfort.
“This year’s [WCGA] class of 2023 president Gabriella started the '-Ism initiative,' which as WCGA I think that it would be wonderful to continue to support and go through with,” Park said.
The objective of the "-Ism initiative" is to educate students and faculty members on how to foster a culture of respect for marginalized groups on campus.
The RCSGA candidates also participated in a live debate via instagram this past Sunday, said Robert Ostram, RCSGA’s current vice president of administration.
WCGA candidates had the opportunity to reach out to Manou-Georgila if they wanted to present another idea for campaigning, according to the Creativity Clause included in WCGA’s Election Guidelines.
The WCGA election board made the decision to continue with elections remotely in order to get the new members of WCGA working as soon as possible, said senior Lindsey Paul, who is the outgoing WCGA president.
“We need to elect new candidates,” Paul said. “They need to be working over the summer, getting ready for a year when they can be prepared to serve the student body from day one.”
Paul said it would be too late to start this process in the fall.
Although emphasizing the need to act quickly, Paul also acknowledged and expressed concerns about the fairness of remote campaigns and elections in comparison to those held on campus. It is hard for all candidates to get equal exposure online, she said, because some may have more social media followers than others.
Freshman Sarah Schalkoff shared these concerns about her own campaign for Senator, for which elections will take place April 13. On UR's campus, any student could come across a candidate’s poster walking through Tyler Haynes Commons, Schalkoff said.
“I feel like it’s going to be harder to approach a bigger audience outside of everybody’s friend circles and connections,” Schalkoff said.
Manou-Georgila said she hoped people, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, were not discouraged from running by the unusual circumstances.
For more information on upcoming elections, visit wearewcga.com and richmondcollegesga.com.
Contact news writers Alan Clancy and Ellie Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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