After an insufficient number of candidates during the regular election cycle, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) has appointed three Class Senators and five U-Councilors to its voting body.
Jacob Gerrish ’21, Tom Salotti ’21, and Bradley Phelps ’22 were appointed Class Senators — Salotti after the Jan. 24 extension. Sarah Elkordy ’21, Julia Garaffa ’23, Sahil Jain ’23, Riley Martinez ’23, and Juan Nova ’23 were appointed as U-Councilors.
USG President Chitra Parikh ’21 addressed the initial low application rate in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
“Part of the reason this may have occurred is that there is a lack of clarity around the role of the class senators,” she wrote. “Another reason people may not run could be that serving on USG requires a significant time commitment. By junior year, many upperclassmen are busy with other responsibilities they have committed to, so it can be hard to join an organization mid-way through the year.”
“While apathy towards student government could certainly have contributed to this, I sincerely hope that USG can work towards encouraging more participation both internally and externally this year,” she wrote.
Appointed Senators: Gerrish, Salotti, & Phelps
Previously, Jacob Gerrish covered USG Senate meetings for the ‘Prince.’ After his semester abroad, he decided to apply to be one of the senators he used to report on.
“I’ve been at the USG meetings since my freshman fall, and after doing that for so long for basically two years, I decided that I wanted to be part of the actual meetings,” Gerrish said.
One aspect of USG Gerrish is hoping to improve is its standing with the student body.
“Not a lot of students know what USG does or what goes on with it,” Gerrish said. “Going forward, we’re going to try to reemphasize transparency and talking with the students and making sure that they’re aware with what's going on and also that they feel they have a greater voice in what USG does.”
To that end, USG has adopted a Q&A session at the beginning of every Sunday meeting. These sessions will be held from 7 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. in Lewis Library 138.
Gerrish is also interested in establishing a study abroad task force during his term.
“Coming back from study abroad, I recognize that there are some difficulties with the study abroad system,” he said. “I just want to talk with OIP (Office of International Programs) and see if we can make it an easier process for students overall.”
In response to this year’s low number of Senate applicants, Gerrish said, “If you want to better represent your fellow students and your friends and make sure everyone has the best experience they can on this campus and doesn't get left behind in any respect, you should [run].”
In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Tom Salotti wrote, “I decided to apply because I felt like I would be a good class senator — representing the interests of the Class of 2021 and working to make USG more responsive to student needs.”
“While I am eager to forge my own path in making USG more transparent, efficient, and accountable, I am excited to work with Chitra and other elected members to prioritize: mental health; Title IX reform and sexual misconduct; housing, dining, and transportation; sustainability; and accessibility of resources and information,” he wrote.
Salotti is one of two head sports editors for the ‘Prince.’
Bradley Phelps proposed the newly established Community Dining Task Force.
Phelps explained that he has developed relationships with the city council and the mayor’s office through his position as Community Engagement Director for Whig-Clio. One idea he hopes to bring to USG is a collaboration with dining services to implement a program where students can use their meal cards on Nassau Street to “make community dining more accessible and increase equity among students.”
Phelps echoed Gerrish’s recognition that the student body’s apparent apathy toward USG could stem from an ignorance of the work they actually do.
“I think USG does do a lot, and [their] biggest problem is marketing,” he said, lauding their achievement in ensuring access to menstrual products on campus. “Branding and marketing these accomplishments needs to be really front and center to USG’s mission, and making sure their work is known. I think that will increase the seriousness in which people take USG.”
U-Councilors: Elkordy, Garaffa, Jain, Martinez, & Nova
Sarah Elkordy says she was encouraged by Parikh to join USG after her involvement with Princeton Title IX reform last fall.
“From there, I decided that I also wanted to be a representative for the FLI (first generation, low-income) community because I don’t think it generally has a lot of USG representation,” she said. “They tend to fly under the radar and not really be a concern for people on campus even though they are becoming a larger and larger group, so I thought it would be a great chance to have that dual-representation.”
Elkordy plans to co-lead two task forces: the Community Dining Task Force with Phelps and the Sexual Misconduct Task Force with Parikh. Elkordy hopes her work with the Community Dining Task Force will further her goal of representing FLI students by ensuring they aren’t “alienated by their socioeconomic status” and have the freedom to eat off campus with their University meal plan.
Previously, Elkordy was not seriously involved with USG, “besides voting in elections.” She said she felt she never heard from USG, other than announcements of Garden Theater movies.
“I think that’s generally why students have a negative opinion about USG,” she said. “Part of it is administrative silence and part of it is USG just hasn’t had a good reputation of talking about all the great work they are doing and a lot of them are long term goals and projects that only see fruition four to five years down the line, so to us, currently, it seems like there is nothing being done.”
Elkordy hopes the new task forces will capture important student voices within USG.
It was because of the apparent lack of transparency between USG and students that Julia Garaffa decided to become a U-Councilor.
“I felt very disconnected from being able to impact change on campus in my first semester,” Garaffa said. “I felt like that led to a lot of apathy within me, so I encourage anyone to come to me with concerns and talk about it. I want to be as accessible as possible.”
Garaffa intends to join the Mental Health Task Force because she is interested in facilitating campus-wide discussions that could destigmatize seeking treatment for mental health problems.
She also wants to join the Transparency Task Force “to help people understand what USG does aside from movies and Lawnparties and how they can get involved with USG to voice their own opinions,” Garaffa said.
“I would like to use the connections I have with activist groups to have better dialogue between USG. I am also interested in speaking to the first-year experience and how we can work to make the transition into Princeton easier,” she added.
Sahil Jain hopes to create a centralized app or website that streamlines events that either the University or USG hosts to encourage participation and support from students.
He noted the need for more transparency between students and USG.
“Oftentimes we can get really preoccupied with our own work, and we don’t really see what’s happening behind the scenes,” he said. “USG is one of those forces which does so much more than what the student body sees, whether it’s creating policy or [managing] ReCal and Princeton Courses.”
During his term in USG, Riley Martinez aims to increase representation of FLI students and use the skills he has gained as a Fields Fellow to bolster the work he will be doing as a U-Councilor.
In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Martinez wrote, “I hope to bring these values to the table on USG by not only representing groups on campus of which I personally belong, but also being accessible and a non-intimidating medium for outreach to those who are underrepresented on campus.”
With regard to the transparency goal expressed by many others, he noted Parikh’s USG Instagram account will be a useful medium for facilitating communication with the student body. The account plans to post updates each Friday.
Throughout his term, Juan Nova intends to contribute to the Mental Health Task Force and Transparency Task Force, and he proposed the newly established Town Hall Task Force. He hopes to be a voice for FLI students through his work with USG and as a Matriculate Fellow.
Nova’s proposed Town Hall Task Force would be “a bit more formally organized” than Parikh’s Q&A sessions. The Task Force would potentially hold a monthly meeting where students can meet with a board of USG members and an administrator to present questions about proposed referenda or existing policies.
Nova has opened times for appointment on WASE and encouraged students to reach out with any questions or concerns they would like to bring to his attention.