This is a transcript of an interview The Cavalier Daily conducted with Al Ahmed, a third-year Curry student and candidate for Student Council vice president for administration. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Third-year College student Sydney Bradley is also running for Student Council vice president for administration. You can find her interview here. Additionally, you can look here to see their answers side-by-side to The Cavalier Daily’s questions.
The Cavalier Daily: 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.
CD: What experiences at U.Va. have informed your decision to run for Vice President for Administration?
AA: 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 , 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.
CD: How do you see yourself working with the President and Vice President for Organizations?
AA: 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.
CD: If elected, what is your top priority and how would you specifically and realistically go about addressing it?
AA: 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 — 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 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.
CD: 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?
AA: 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.
CD: 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?
AA: 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.
CD: 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?
AA: 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.
CD: Do you believe Student Council had an effective response to the events of Aug. 11 and 12?
AA: 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 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 [Bryanna Miller]. She was really the one advocating with the BOV to get these demands met and 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.
CD: How do you plan to use information technology or expand on existing platforms?
AA: 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.
CD: What is one Council expenditure you think is important and what is one that concerns you?
AA: 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.