Excerpts from interviews with the Student Council Vice President for Administration candidates

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Student Council vice president for administration candidates (from left): Al Ahmed, Sydney Bradley.

Courtesy Al Ahmed and Ty Zirkle

Below are excerpts from interviews The Cavalier Daily conducted with this year’s Student Council Vice President for Administration candidates — third-year Curry student Al Ahmed and third-year College student Sydney Bradley. You can find their full interviews below. The excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

Ahmed is running on a ticket with third-year College student Eddie Lin, a candidate for Student Council President. 

Bradley is on a ticket with third-year College students Alex Cintron and Ty Zirkle, who are running for the positions of Student Council President and Vice President for Organizations, respectively. 

First-year College student Jalon Daniels is also running for Student Council president. 

Interview with Al Ahmed available here 

Interview with Sydney Bradley available here 

Voting begins Feb. 21 and will end Feb. 23. Students can vote at www.uvavote.com.

1. Why do you want to be Vice President for Administration?

Al Ahmed: I guess, just looking back at my three years here at U.Va., my experience has been reaching out to different organizations … As the outreach chair for four different organizations —  the Muslim Students Association, Third Year Council, Committee on Multiculturalism for Housing and Residence Life and the outreach chair for the Kinesiology Club. And I guess, through these experiences, I really got a chance to not only work within those representative groups but also partner with other groups and underrepresented communities. This experience has really allowed me to build those relationships with different organizations and different student groups and [to hear] the concerns of different students around Grounds ... It’s really opened my eyes and made me more informed about student issues around Grounds and really given me a chance to give those voices a platform. And, I’m coming up on my fourth year ... It’s a time now for me to be able to give that voice to all students, [to] have that platform as VPA to be a voice for all students, whether that be international students, whether that be student-athletes, whether that be transfer students, [or] graduate students. They’re often underrepresented communities that are often forgotten and not given the necessary resources, and I’ll look to build on those connections I’ve had in the outside experiences.

Sydney Bradley: The VPA role is inherently operating on internal affairs and having been on Student Council since my first year and a committee member and a committee chair as well as a College of Arts and Sciences representative, through which I chaired two ad hoc committees, I have seen the ins and outs of the operations of Student Council and how there’s been a lack of communication, coordination and community within Student Council. Also, seeing how we have failed to properly reach out to students across the University especially some of the communities that feel that we do not represent them and that they can’t be part of Student Council, whether that be through memberships or working with our policies. To be VPA means to understand Student Council but also to have an understanding of it and make sure it is working properly and doing its best. I have an ardent care for Student Council, but it is not blind love. I have been critical of it in the past. There is an inherent care that I have developed that I want to do it right and do it for the students.

2. What experiences at U.Va. have informed your decision to run for Vice President for Administration?

Ahmed: So, it’s just those little things that I do in my different organizations that I’m involved with that really push me, and I think I’ve gained the experience through Student Council — I’ve been a member of Student Council for three years now on their Legislative Affairs Committee. I’ve had experience working with legislators, working in lobbying in Richmond with the delegates and senators and representatives here at U.Va., and that directly affects our legislation here. One example of this is HB 1410, which was last year actually, where Del. David Albo proposed a bill which would cut Access U.Va., which is a financial plan that a lot of students here depend on ... When we first discovered this, the people I was working with, we were really struck by it because we knew this would affect so many students. And so, I kind of took the initiative to tell my chair at the time, “Let’s reach out to these different organizations that I have been working with,” whether it be as a board member for the Minority Rights Coalition, whether it be with Muslim Students Association and UFUSED ... These different organizations that I knew would be affected by this bill. It was that effort that ultimately led to our collective effort, Student Council’s effort, and these different organizations coming together which led the bill to fail. 

Bradley: This past year I have been committee chair of the Academic Affairs Committee and through that we have been doing some really excellent work. We established the first academic research fair. Its goal is to increase visibility and accessibility for academic resources to new students including transfers, and making sure that is hosted each semester. We launched it last semester but have been working to reform our performance as it is our pilot. Through that leadership and working on a team, but also working with the presidential cabinet allowed me to see in a way that we lacked a cohesive identity as Student Council this past year. With that, especially [in] our Representative Body, we were butting heads between cabinets. Seeing that tension and being in several positions with past experience, I understand the perspectives of each area and I want to make sure that we actually are working together and being active instead of doing what we do on our own. I am close friends with Alex Cintron who is VPA now, and I have been acquainted with the job and its requirements, as well as what it can be.

3. How do you see yourself working with the President and Vice President for Organizations?

Ahmed: At the end of the day, it is students who will elect, and there could be numerous combinations. I’m willing to work with anyone. I preferably would like to work with Eddie Lin, and we’re running together, just because I believe — we believe in the same vision and goal for Student Council … At the end of the day, no matter who it is, I want the best for Student Council, and I think the student body speaks for that, and that’s why we have that vote — to see who do we want in office and who would best represent us. And at the end of the day, I want what’s best for Student Council, and if the students think that’s me and my opponent, or my running mate, that’s their voice and that’s their right to vote us in … We have to do our best, and after that, whoever wins — whether it’s me or my opponent — I’d support whatever happens … If I’m there, great, I’ll do what I have been doing in trying to voice all students. If not, I’ll look in other ways I can help … Still be a part of that ongoing vision, making a difference and giving all students a voice. 

Bradley: I think the most important part of this is that we have been friends since first year and that respect between us three allows up to criticize each other very openly and we understand the mission and commitment to Student Council and the student body. We have had varying experiences and have developed a true care for improving Student Council. A funny example is recently Alex and me were thinking about the best way to organize general body meetings. Even the way the chairs are aligned makes a difference. We want them to be open and also productive. Supporting him in his policies but also supporting the cabinet. 

4. If elected, what is your top priority and how would you specifically and realistically go about addressing it? 

Ahmed: So, I guess specifically what I want to do and how I want to accomplish that would be really being at the forefront. So, I think an example of that could be looking at what happened August 12. I think that was a chance for Student Council to not just be reactive but be proactive, and I think that’s where the problem was. I think Student Council should have been at the forefront, and you know, providing a support. Ultimately, they did, and they made their statements — but I think we have to be at the forefront, and I think there’s this misconception that Student Council cannot be action-based, but I think it can be because at the end of the day, we’re supposed to represent all students … When it comes to significant events that affect a huge part of our community, Student Council has to take that role of leadership and come up immediately and say, “Hey, we realize that a lot of students were affected, a lot of students were here, even a lot of students were injured and even there was a loss of life”… [Another] big issue now is DACA being repealed and working with those undocumented students. And what about looking at ways in which we can still have undocumented students — is there a way to get undocumented students to continue to come or students who were on DACA and now expired. 

Bradley: I want to see action. In the past year, Student Council has been given a unique position in responding to so many events that our student body and community, and our nation were affected by. Through that I think we have been trying to balance our role as an institution. Do we echo the administration of the University or do we say no, we need to advocate for students? And I think that we have tried to juggle those spheres of influence and through that let a lot of students down. Our job is to advocate for students, not to so easily echo the administration. Through that, action is going to be bringing students into meetings not as props but as people who belong in that room equally as I do. I am a student leader, but what does that mean? That doesn’t make me inherently more deserving to be heard. That is the first step to openness and being responsive to statements. Making sure we are working with students in organizations that can support us and we can support them to reform and make policy chains. 

5. If elected, you would be succeeding Alex Cintron as VPA. Are there specific initiatives from his term that you would continue, and are there specific things that you would change? 

Ahmed: I have a lot of respect for Alex [Cintron]. I work with him. Actually, we were on the same committee our first year on Legislative Affairs, and I have nothing but respect for him. But again — My vision for Student Council is again, being a voice to all students. I think one thing that he’s done well is he’s been very structured. He’s had a very good organization because the VPA’s role is to control the internal structure of Student Council, and I think he’s done a good job of that. But at the same time, the problem with that is that even though he has structure and things are getting done and it’s efficient, I think what the complaint is ... That is in talking to committee chairs and different committee members of Student Council is that sometimes, students within Student Council don’t know their role. They might feel limited in what they can do, and they don’t want to overstep their boundaries. They don’t want to go behind the VPA’s back or maybe make the VPA upset because that’s not within their role. My vision in improving that is … Really empowering everyone within Student Council, whether that be the committee chairs, whether that be committee members, whether that be the representatives. 

Bradley: One thing he has been great at is establishing a strong relationship with U.Va. dining. He created the [Student Dining Advisory Board] and continuing those conversations between students and dining … Making sure the politics between U.Va. dining and what they are serving, how they are treating their workers, that we are hearing them but also making sure that U.Va. dining is reflecting what students want: healthy foods but also foods that taste good. An example is the Pav; what’s in it is really unhealthy, but is there a way to make sure they are suiting the needs of student affordability? Five Guys, for example, has an average meal price of $11, $10? That is not accessible or nutritious and the economics of time for that as well. It is our job as a committee to question what is best for that. Another thing Alex has been starting up is the community food bank. That is actually what I’ve been researching in one of my classes right now — food security and food deficits in Charlottesville. It is a located food pantry in Newcomb that is in the works that will house dry foods and necessities. The essence of food security is having access to meat and products that would otherwise expire. To answer to the needs of students I want to expand the food bank to include resources from the Charlottesville community using the Local Food Hub, which supports our local farmers and would be healthy options. I would also expand the location to be possibly closer to the Madison House area. With Madison House we could answer the needs of students and the community only a University transit ride away.

6. The Vice President for Administration oversees the council’s management and operations including finances, property, information technology, communications, publicity and services. How do you plan to organize these responsibilities? What are some of your specific plans for the position if elected?

Ahmed: It’s a time for all students and really giving a voice to all students and empowering not only students outside of Student Council but also within Student Council and I guess the structure that we really want is being able to empower our committee chairs, our representatives and seeing what they want — what do they think about a certain structure or really hearing their concerns and kind of seeing what they think is the best for Student Council … We should be working with each other — committee chairs, reps, committee members — they should be working together. I think the current administration has made an attempt at that with the All Hands Meetings, but they haven’t been as effective as they can be. So ultimately, when it comes to structure, I really want to ensure that I’m hearing all voices, but at the end of the day, making those decisions that best represent what everyone else — like the committee chairs, reps — really think would be the best interest of Student Council. 

Bradley: For membership, we have a membership chair that has their own cohort of people who work with them. But another thing we are trying to add is a recruitment chair to be involved temporarily and work on recruitment … and make sure we have people beyond dorms and dorm talks, but also going into organizations like the Transfer Advisory Board to make sure we are getting transfer students involved because their voices are really not heard enough. Going to minority organizations and CIOs and saying that in the past we have not been, but are going to be there and get them more involved. For budgeting, we have [the] CFO. My work will be changing and a little different from Alex’s because I see myself the stresses of the budget and working with committee chairs to develop those budgets and the broader picture of Student Council, because once we get into the budget process, that’s when it all gets messy. There have been extremely unexpected arguments about small, minute details on a budget. So making sure that chairs and reps are communicating and running properly. For technology right now we are using Slack, and Slack is actually really neat. You can build a community within that and add people to it easily. It is creative, colorful and little details exist that we don’t even know how to use. Going forward we will be training chairs and members more. We can make polls and we want to develop better usage of the technology so we are more responsive and communicative and redevelop the website, linking out to proper resources.

7. With regards to publicity and communications, how do you hope to expand PR efforts of Student Council and engage with the University community including students, faculty and alumni?

Ahmed: One of the things I see, just in going around collecting signatures to get on the ballot and just engaging with and asking those students first of all, do they know Student Council? What Student Council does? And a lot of them don’t. They’re confusing Class Council with Student Council. They’re not really sure, and I think that’s kind of on us, on Student Council as a whole, not reaching out enough and not really reaching out to the community. I think that’s where my experience comes in … One thing I definitely want to restart again is going around and asking first-year students — they had no idea what Student Council was, and that’s really for us to kind of make that effort to at least do what we can to kind of engage. So, whether that be with HRL and seeing what means we can expand our name or get first-year students engaged in Student Council, whether that be during orientation week when RAs have their opening hall meetings, can we get a couple Student Council reps to just go out there and say what we’re about and encourage them to apply and to really, you know, represent their voices in their community… One thing I’m trying to do is really working with these different organizations like HRL, like Honor and UJC, because I’m sure they have similar concerns in getting their message out. So, if we all work together and create those relationships with different student organizations and multicultural organizations, I think we’d be able to be an effective leadership and team this year to kind of get our message out. 

Bradley: The Director of University Relations is actually under my control as well, and so is marketing and communications. I want that to evolve — we have a brilliant graphic designer on the communications team so to expand that, reaching out to more students to be on that committee. For the social media part of PR, I do want to be more active and do things right away, like posting the BOV applications. We posted them the night before they were due this year, I believe, and so making sure when there are opportunities for students we are sharing them immediately — to get rid of any barriers for all students. I currently am on a faculty senate committee so I have developed relationships with administrative officers, but also just faculty members. I’m not sure how we can improve PR among them but I think one thing is making sure we are in those meetings and actively communicating with them. Most radical change happens when faculty and students are aligned and furthermore when faculty and administration are aligned. With alumni we can go far. For alumni, I think The Cavalier Daily actually has a lot of recent alumni, but seeing that there is a consistent relationship with U.Va. media to reach out and inform them. We could increase our Alumni Association communication and there are foundations like the College Foundation and McIntire Foundation with alumni who actively engage in policies, so reaching out to them and maybe presenting to them.

8. Do you believe Student Council had an effective response to the events of Aug. 11 and 12?

Ahmed: Yes and no. I guess, kind of what I was talking about earlier — I feel like they were reactive. I mean this with the utmost respect for the current administration. It’s not easy to handle that kind of situation. But again, I think they could have handled it better … At the Town Hall, when the ‘March to Reclaim Our Grounds’ demands were up for debate — that could have been handled a lot better. Obviously, you have two different ideologies — you have the conservative ideology and you have the more liberal ideology. You have two representative voices. Obviously there’s going to be conflict. But, what I think it was Student Council’s duty to step up and share, “Hey, we realize you guys have dissenting opinions, and we know it will cause emotional responses” or a similar sentiment … I think Student Council could have done a better job of enforcing that and saying, “Hey, if you go against these rules, or if you speak out of turn or stuff like that, you have to leave the room” and establish more of a security because I actually talked to some of the conservative voices afterwards and they felt like, threatened. 

I think that Student Council should have been at the forefront … Really following up with the ‘March to Reclaim our Grounds Demands’ because I think a couple of them were passed, and I think the groundwork was done by the student BOV member. She was really the one advocating with the BOV to get these demands met and remove the Confederate plaque and all that but after that, I feel like a lot of them haven’t been fulfilled and there’s been a lack of follow-up and that’s been Student Council’s duty — you know, we pass a legislation, and we said that we would look into feasible ways to look at how we can look at these demands and practically apply it. 

Bradley: I don’t think Student Council prepared for this, no one prepared for this. No one expected it, except that the historical context of Charlottesville might show that we should have. That being said, we should have signed onto the demands immediately. Although the Executive Board may have questioned their position in representing all students, I personally do think that when we were given the task to support the communities that were affected by the white supremacists marching on the Lawn and we didn’t immediately, that wasn’t okay. We hosted a general body meeting in which the BSA presented the demands and talked about them, and students shared concerns and feelings, and it got wild. There were hurtful things said, blatantly racist things said. At times the issue of free speech was questioned. When students in the room are hurt directly you have to shut it down, is my personal belief. As a student elected by the full student body, I can not stand for that. I think that ... we had failed in that one particular moment in letting all students speak but that crossed a line. We need to be more responsive and listen going forward, but what do we need to do now? There are a lot of demands still not addressed, like No. 5 with the curriculum and [No. 9 about] faculty diversity. We need to do more. 

9. How do you plan to use information technology or expand on existing platforms?

Ahmed: That’s actually something I’m not as experienced in, just because I don’t have background in that. But again, if elected, I’d look to the past administrations and see who’s — I think it would be the publicity officer, I’m not sure who’s in charge of that — but that’s something I’d have to do my research on and do my homework and look in to see options, like who served in that position and what their experience has been, has it been effective, and looking at ways at which we could improve it. And, if it’s been effective, still looking at ways we can — if it’s a good platform, that’s great — but looking at ways we could improve it and ultimately make it more efficient. 

Bradley:I think an interesting way to go about this would be to have chairs share what they are doing, whether on social media or on the website. Listing their policies or working on initiatives. I love when concerns come up like that. To promote what committees are doing but also bring it to students whether they are on the Council or not. There is also Speak Up U.Va. It could be a unique way through the internet to have concerns submitted. The way we used that when it first came out was that chairs would go through at each meeting and bring up the concern, a direct way to make sure they saw what students were worried about. I actually submitted several myself throughout my time at U.Va. — even as chair. 

10. What is one Council expenditure you think is important and what is one that concerns you?

Ahmed :I guess it’s really going to be following up with the committee chairs from this year and seeing, “Why did you not spend all of your budget?” or “How come you ran over your budget?” … Seeing ways in distributing the funds better to ensure that money, at the end of the day, isn’t being wasted. Because again, the Student Activities Fund pays for a lot of it, and ultimately we’re serving the student body, so we want to ensure that we’re representing all the students and really making the most out of our funds and using it effectively ... And really looking at, “Okay, where was our budget most effective?” “Where are we using our money to better serve the student body and really reach out to the most students?” And, “Where were we wasting money” or “Where were we lacking money?” Stuff like that. So again, it’s not a clear-cut process. I think it’s really analyzing and looking at — again, it’s really empowering our members and committee chairs and looking at what’s the most effective use of our budget. And, I think I’d be working closely with the VPO and appropriations on that as well. 

Bradley: The way that the budget process works right now is that chairs design the budget and what is important and what they need. They are the experts in their field ideally and know what they need to properly execute their project initiatives. In the past there have been initiatives that the Representative Body has cut and that committee chairs then felt that they couldn’t advocate for their own policies in that moment of the legislative session. Making sure that one way to reform that would be developing better communication between chairs and reps and especially an example is the student arts community has a grant program that brings money in to students working on art projects and related to arts in general. A lot of time doing projects is completely inaccessible to low income students. Art supplies are ridiculously expensive and there is no rental system at U.Va. currently … Basically committee issues may cost a lot of money but in the long haul they do support students. That is an adequate but reasonable and also a great way to use the student activities fee to give back to students. Not spending it for our own committees but for the good of students. We can support them in excelling and that is one of the best ways of giving back. They can explore interests and delve into projects they want to achieve. We have these leadership binders. Do we need to spend a couple hundred dollars, maybe more, on printing out these? No, we do not. I understand the appeal of having paper in front of you but that was unsustainable. We have a sustainability committee and they opposed that. But also I did not agree with the printing of packets. I like the longevity of the physical object, but it was superfluous and didn’t really do our job in making sure it was benefitting all students. It can just be a PDF.

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