USG presidential candidates speak on platforms, administrative pushback, Oliver Effron and Zachary Shevin | Dec 2, 2018
The Daily Princetonian sat down with Undergraduate Student Government (USG) presidential candidates Zarnab Virk ’20, Electra Frelinghuysen ’20, and Nate Lambert ’20, who answered questions about themselves, their platforms, and their plans for the University.
Polling opens on Monday, Dec. 3 at noon in Helios and closes at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Though most of the elected positions are uncontested, elections for USG President, Social Chairperson, Class of 2021 Senator, and Class of 2022 Senator are contested.
The Daily Princetonian: Tell us about yourself. (Where are you from, what do you like to do in your free time, etc.)
Nate Lambert: “I’m a junior in the Woodrow Wilson School pursuing a certificate in the Gender and Sexuality Studies program. My main extracurricular at Princeton has been working on the USG Senate since freshman year. I started as a Class of 2020 Senator and then this past year served as Vice President.”
Zarnab Virk: “I was born in Pakistan. That’s where my whole family is from. I moved to Canada when I was really young, and that’s where I grew up. I moved in Michigan for high school, and that’s where I currently live. I am a psychology major. I came in as pre-med, and now I’m thinking of going into business development, and [I have] a certificate in neuroscience, since I’m really interested in that stuff. Some of my hobbies include playing tennis — I was on the tennis team in high school — and I’m really interested in photography.”
Electra Frelinghuysen: “I’m from New York. What do I like to do in my free time? Recently I’ve been interested in getting re-into knitting. I used to knit a lot in middle school and have lost it so I need to find a local place that sells knitting needles. But more practically, I play soccer and tennis, and I’m also involved in model congress on campus which is fun.”
DP: Why did you decide to run for USG President?
NL: “Working with [USG President] Rachel [Yee ’19] the past year was a really character-building and fun experience on USG, and I felt like I have a lot of energy left to give and really care about the issues we’ve been working on. Also, a lot of the projects we’ve worked on this year we’ve made progress on, but they’re the kind of projects that take more than one year to work on, and I feel like I’m in a good position to kind of continue working on those projects with everyone and hopefully get some strong deliverables next year.”
ZV: “I decided to run for USG president because, coming into junior year, I noticed that there was a really big divide between students who were in an eating club and students who were not in an eating club. Not being one in myself, this was really strange for me. I was used to being with my friends all the time and doing everything together. Suddenly, I felt like, ‘What happened?’ I don’t think there’s enough to address that on campus, and I think it’s still relevant to people who are in eating clubs because a lot of the times friend groups get split up over the different clubs.”
EF: “It originally stemmed this fall from a realization that Career Services was more geared towards jobs in finance and consulting and a realization that, if I wanted to change it, I should actually get involved and do something. I also, just in general this year, feel a lot more connected with Princeton because I know professors better and go to more office hours. Even talking to precepters more, I just feel like there are so many things that I didn’t take advantage of my freshman and sophomore year, and now understanding that I only have a year and a half here left and the desire, basically, to help other people have that experience starting freshman year instead of starting junior year like I did. It would be so cool if you had lunch once a month with a professor — that’s something that I never did, and I did it for the first time this fall. Overall, it was a desire to get more engaged with the community in Princeton and to help everybody get more engaged with the community and the professors, and then my specific complaint was [about] Career Services.”
DP: What key on-campus issue is most important to you, and what plans do you have in respect to that issue?
NL: “I have three priority issues: combating sexual assault, decreasing isolation on campus, and the menstrual products implementation. If I were to just choose combating sexual misconduct, some things I’d like to do are really getting USG engaged more with student groups already addressing this issue or students groups that would be interesting to have conversations with on this issue — SHARE, Princeton Students for Gender Equality, Maverick, etc. I also want to create a program that’s a bit more specialized to really look at the ‘We Speak’ survey data results and see which groups are mostly affected, because often USG’s approach to combating sexual misconduct tends to be a little bit more broad, and I think that since we have that data it’s good to look at specifics, so specifically looking at why underclassmen are most affected, why LGBT students are most affected, things like that. We’re also creating a new position on the USLC, which is the Student Live Committee on USG, that will be on the Student-Faculty Sexual Misconduct Committee [sic], so I would be excited to work with them to kind of garner what insights we get from working with student groups and using that position to help influence campus policy.”
ZV: “One way that [the eating club] issue can be solved is by making more inclusive spaces on campus. One of the things I proposed is making student-run cafes in residential colleges or maybe even Campus Club. I know the Coffee Club has been talking about this also for some time, so maybe partnering with them, we could make this a possibility — a place where people can hang out unaffiliated … One of the things I would like to address also was … transportation. I do think it’s really hard for people to get off campus. It’s especially important for independent students who need to leave campus the most because there’s nowhere to get groceries on campus. If they are not in eating clubs, I don’t think they want to spend money on eating out everyday on Nassau. Transportation to be able to access more grocery stores. One of the ways I propose to [solve] this is by adding TigerTransit stops on north campus. It’s too expensive to expand their [TigerTransit] hours because I don’t know how high the demand there will be at each time. I don’t want empty buses to be running and the school’s paying for that. Another way is to have a business partnership with either Uber or Lyft to give free credits to students.”
EF: “With USG, what I’m most excited about is Career Services because it seems like the place where I can make the most change, at least initially. There are so many resources that Princeton has through its students and through the alumni, so with Career Services, it’s just a question of organizing those resources into usable things for students. I know there are alumni who work in all different career fields, so it’s an opportunity for Career Services to improve their website, what kind of advice they offer, and stuff like that. Also as someone who has no USG experience, something that is very fun for me is that I get to learn a lot about what people on campus want and what other issues I can approach. I have a very open-minded approach to that which is exciting. Even when I was walking around and getting signatures to be on the ballot, it was so exciting to hear from people that I had never met or would never have met had I not been doing this, about what their concerns were. Career Services is an easy place for me to start, but I have a lot of openness to other ideas which is exciting.”
DP: What sets you apart from the other two candidates?
NL: “I really admire the initiative and insight that the other two candidates have brought to their campaigns. I think that I’m the most experienced candidate, and I think that the kind of institutional knowledge that I bring to the table is really valuable. When you’re in charge of ‘fifty-some’ people, there’s a lot of institutional knowledge that’s good to know.”
ZV: “One thing that I think is important is that I feel like I have a wider variety of campus experiences, just because I had an eating club experience … I have the co-op experience now, all my friends are independent, I also live in a residential college right now so I get to see what that’s like. I think that I do have a wide perspective. I know what it’s like to be in each of these situations, what the pros and cons are, and what needs to be addressed in each situation.”
EF: “In a large part, it’s that I don’t have USG experience so that I am much more open to kind of doing what the people who we’re supposed to represent desire. I am just truly excited to get to know the role of USG as it connects to the students and know how best USG can act to improve life across the board in whatever ways people bring up. I think that genuine enthusiasm for this new world that I’m getting to peak into is something that’s different.”
DP: In your mind, what is the worst part about Princeton? How will you make it better?
NL: “The worst part about Princeton? Well, I guess one of the broadest things I’ve heard about has been feelings of isolation or exclusion. I think it’s a pretty universally felt experience at some point in every person’s Princeton experience. I’m currently serving on a design-thinking task force with Rachel and the incoming Vice President Chitra Parikh [’21], where we’ve collected interviews from students, looking at when they felt excluded or isolated, and we’re currently looking through the design-thinking methodology to kind of brainstorm ideas about how to address that in the future on USG. Although we have yet to concretely set out what our recommendations would be, that’s an area I’m interested in addressing because I think it's great that in the past year we’ve been able to expand mental health resources on campus, but I think that kind of universally experienced feelings of exclusion around times of bicker, around times of student group auditions, around times of breaks, when a lot of people get to go home to their families and some don’t. I think that that’s an issue that I would like to see USG tackle next year.”
ZV: “The worst part about Princeton is that how stressful it can sometimes get with academics. We’re all here to learn, but on top of that, you add other social problems and feelings of isolation that we could work on fixing.”
EF: “For me, the saddest part is that I haven’t used all of the resources the Princeton has. It’s kind of dumb to say that there’s an overwhelming amount of resources, but over the summer, I would always talk about it to my family like, ‘Oh! Princeton can fund me to travel over here and do research about this,’ but I haven’t actually ever followed through on getting Princeton to do that. So I think that the saddest part is that I haven’t connected with enough of the resources that Princeton offers.”
DP: How do you plan on making sure underrepresented groups on campus have a voice?
NL: “One of the ways in which I’d actually be interested in increasing the role that the Diversity and Equity Committee on USG plays. This is a relatively new committee, [which] would be looking into the possibility of making the Chair of Diversity and Equity an elected position, making it one of the Core Committees. For one, it would allow the Diversity and Equity Chair to be a voting member, which I think, on various USG issues, would be a welcome addition, and I think it would be a good way of increasing the presence of that committee on USG, integrating its work with the other committees on USG that currently have more of a presence and a history.”
ZV: “I myself am a minority student, and I’m also from a low-income family. I’m a child of immigrants, so I do think that I represent a lot of different minority groups. In that way, I do understand their struggles as well. A lot of the challenges here are amplified when you do come from a minority group or a low-income background, and I think that does affect the way that certain groups experience their years here at Princeton.”
EF: “A main part of my potential involvement in USG would be listening to as many people as possible because I don’t have the answers to all these questions. I don’t know what the solution to the many problems that are on this campus so I think that something which would be really important is to have a constant, I called it a virtual suggestion box in the debate, but either on the website or at the weekly meetings where people could come and bring up complaints or issues that they have. I’m very aware of my limitations that I don’t know all the answers, so one of the most important things is listening to what people want and listening to those voices that are underrepresented on campus.”
DP: How are you going to deal with administrative pushback? How would you have dealt with the administrative pushback during last year’s Honor Code referendum?
NL: “Since I actually started my term as Vice President with that dilemma, I’d say that, in dealing with administrative pushback, I think it really depends on the issue at hand. In talking with the administration last January, we kind of realized that the administration has an understanding that the Honor Code is a student-faculty contract, and USG believed that it was solely the students. So, currently that process is still being deliberated in a committee, so in some ways we’ve had to just wait and see what those findings are before proceeding, because we don’t know what they’re going to say. I think it’s important to convey and be honest about how students are feeling about issues and about what issues are important to students. At the same time, I think that it’s important to maintain a strong working relationship with the administration, because there are so many issues on which we need to work with them.”
ZV: “The most important thing is to be completely transparent with the students because they’re the ones who voted me on, so they’re the ones who have the right to know what’s going on. Secondly, I would make sure that we have a way so that the administration knows that this is a huge issue on campus. Signing more petitions, having people address emails to the administration so that they get the constant flow so that they know that this is something that people care about and not just like, ‘Nobody cares about this, and it’s not really important.’ I feel like making sure that the students take part in that is important.”
EF: “One important part to dealing with administrative pushback is consolidating real data from the students. If this many students demand this, that has a meaningful [impact]. I see the [USG] president’s role as just communicating what the student body wants. I think that [an effective method to deal with pushback is] going back to the student body and saying ‘Can we express that this is something that we want?’ and then bringing that to the administration. Rachel Yee, when I’ve talked to her about this role, has told me that it’s important to establish personal connections with these administrators through casual meetings with them, it’s a real connection and that’s an important way to have administrators take you and the demands of USG seriously through keeping up your relationship.”