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Interview with Alex Cintron, Student Council presidential candidate

<p>Alex Cintron is a third-year College student.</p>

Alex Cintron is a third-year College student.

This is a transcript of an interview The Cavalier Daily conducted with Alex Cintron, a third-year College student and candidate for Student Council president. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

First-year College student Jalon Daniels and third-year college student Eddie Lin are also running for Student Council president. You can find their interviews here and here, respectively. Additionally, you can look here to see their answers side-by-side to The Cavalier Daily’s questions.

The Cavalier Daily will hold a forum with the candidates Monday evening from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Nau Hall 101. Students can submit questions for the candidates via this Google Form. The event is open to students and will also be live-streamed on The Cavalier Daily’s Facebook page.

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

The Cavalier Daily: Why do you want to be Student Council president?

Alex Cintron: I've been a member of Student Council since my first semester my first year, starting off in Legislative Affairs. I've seen the organization as it is and as it has been the past two-and-a-half years, and I wanted to basically change it. I did that in some capacity as a representative and did that as chair of the Representative Body, reorganizing the Representative Body in the duration that I was chair … As Vice President for Administration, I drastically changed the administrative branch, making it more centralized and effective and efficient … I think Student Council is at a time in which it can actually pursue certain policy objectives, and I think running as president, I want to accomplish those policies. I don't want necessarily to just say "an open University" or "openness, collaboration, action" just because they're wonderful words — I actually mean it. I want to make sure Student Council is actually standing side-by-side with the organizations and the students it intends to serve. We need to work collaboratively with other student organizations because Student Council is not alone. And with good collaboration, we can pursue policies that are more open and inclusive for students.

CD: What experiences at U.Va. have informed your decision to run for president, and how have these experiences prepared you to lead Student Council? 

AC: What experiences have informed me? I think viewing the past two administrations, I've seen what works and what doesn't work, and I have an idea for how the organization should operate, and I want to actually put that operation, put that vision into practice. That is, a Student Council that is policy-specific. If you look at the platform, everything is very specific intentionally so that you know what you would be getting if you were to vote for me and our ticket … I'm running on a ticket with Sydney [Bradley] and Ty [Zirkle]. Oftentimes, we've been frustrated and dissatisfied. The question becomes, if you're so dissatisfied, why do you stay? If you didn't believe in what you're doing, if you didn't want to serve the students, if you didn't want to pursue the policies that affect students and affect you, then you wouldn't stay. But, we're here, and we want to take it to the next level. We want to spend the next year serving students, pursuing policies that are good for the general student body. Does that answer the question?

CD: Yeah, I guess so.

AC: I've been in Student Council my entire time … if we want to point specific, we can look at Aug. 11 and 12 and how [the University Police Department] has failed for the past year. Whether it was the Boylan Heights incident that happened in the past two weeks that Cav Daily, I believe, reported on, [or] whether it was when I emailed [University Police] Chief [Michael] Gibson on Aug. 11 and he gave me a dismissive response and said, 'We'll let you know if anything comes up,' and me trying to get information to disseminate to the student body, or whether it's been UPD breaking up Lawn parties of primarily minority students. These are some things that I want to see … Personally as a person of color … as someone who knows these communities, who's talked to these people, who's been directly affected, I want to make sure their voices are heard. I want to make sure they're represented in some capacity, and I want to operate as Student Council president as a way that makes it so that we're listening, and we're acting and we're working towards specific policy goals. 

CD: If elected, you would be succeeding Sarah Kenny as Student Council president. Are there specific initiatives from her term that you would continue, and are there specific things that you would change? 

AC: The certain things that I would continue that have been underneath the Sarah Kenny administration is that currently our Safety and Wellness Committee is working on the LiveSafe app, which is something that will basically mitigate any of the issues that we see with reporting as constrained by the Clery Act … The LiveSafe app we would hope to promote and continue to promote as an administration. Also, Sarah Kenny has done a great job in trying to make this [an] organization that people feel like they belong in it, at least most of the people in the Student Council, and for an in-trip as a social connection between people. 

Specifically, what are the changes? First of all — the way that our cabinet actually operates. Right now, they meet biweekly, and there are co-chairs for it. I would like to make it so that we have a single chair with vice chairs for the support system and also to meet weekly with our cabinet to ensure that, one, we have a strong and personal relationship and that we are pursuing the policy objectives week-by-week, and I'm getting updates to ensure that everything that's in my platform which are cabinet specific — all the policies are — are being accomplished throughout the week. Again, this campaign is focused on accomplishing all the policy objectives that we set for ourselves in the platform.

CD: What do you think of Student Council’s response to the white nationalist demonstrations of Aug. 11 and 12? Is there anything you would have done differently? What did you think of the University administration’s response?

AC: As the person who handles things internally, my job is again, mostly internal management — making sure that our budget is fine, press relations, communications, graphic design, technology, chair of student legal services and so forth, founding the Student Dining Advisory Board, and I'm the chair of it. I was one of the exec members here during Aug. 11, so I sent out that email to [University Police] Chief [Michael] Gibson which I got the dismissive response … I believe an independent commission or something — it escapes me — basically wrote about it, and I'm mentioned in it, talking about the poor response that City Council and [Charlottesville Police Department] and UPD had. What I would do differently is that, in the aftermath, I would've had one-on-one meetings with some advocacy and minority organizations here on Grounds and try to hear what they thought and see what we could do. I would've signed on to the March to Reclaim Our Grounds demands immediately, and I think we should have been more policy-focused on how we supported it — supported [the demands] first and then found out in what ways we could support those involved in the process.

CD: Last fall, Student Council endorsed the list of demands created by the Black Student Alliance and other student groups. Which of the BSA demands do you find has gone most unaddressed, and how would you work to address it? 

AC: There are a couple [demands] that I feel as if Student Council hasn’t necessarily addressed itself and a couple that have been long-standing demands, at least for other organizations. The March to Reclaim Our Grounds Demands … the ones that I believe in and [the ones] in the platform that we can specifically address [are], first of all, faculty hiring — the fact that there's not a diverse enough faculty. We need to have … student input in the faculty hiring process so that we can have organizations like [Black Student Alliance], [Latinx Student Alliance] and [Minority Rights Coalition] involved in the selection process, and we can see professors who look like us, who are Black or Latinx or Asian-American. And with regards to admissions, we constantly hear time and time again about the need for people of color coming into this University … one thing that we really want to do specifically is target and work with organizations in the admissions office to try to increase the amount of merit-based scholarships that are given out to students, which would positively affect low income students and people of color and give those students an extra incentive to come here . . . other universities have better packages for those students, and that's why they're not enrolling here. It's not that we're not admitting enough — and maybe we aren't — it's that they're not enrolling, and that's because we're not giving them an incentive to come here. Perhaps, increasing the amount of merit-based scholarships is something we can do to address their demands.

CD: If another event similar to the Unite the Right rally were to occur, how do you think you would prepare for and respond to it as Student Council president? 

AC: One thing that we want to do is create a student safety advisory board that will have oversight and will be able to criticize publicly and collaborate with other student organizations, particularly minority organizations and so forth and political organizations — something that will critically analyze UPD. What we want to do is demand from UPD what exactly they're going to do. What is their process for another Unite the Right rally? What are the plans? Are you going to have people there? Are you going to protect the students? Student Council will be there if they fail. We will be there helping student organizations do whatever they need to do in order to make sure their discontent is heard, and we want to provide any support we can to make sure that students feel safe during any Unite the Right rally again. We want to hold UPD accountable, and we want to make sure students are safe and that we're representing them effectively. If people are upset, and students are upset, it would be my job to make sure that those voices are heard.

CD: Obviously, you have a pretty wide-ranging platform. If elected, what would be your top priority, and how you would go about realistically addressing it?

AC: That's a difficult question to ask. My response to that kind of question is that the way I would restructure the cabinet would make it so nothing is mutually exclusive, that every cabinet position is actually pursuing their policies independently and collaboratively with me and other groups. I think some of the really big, top-ticket items that we really want to put to the forefront [are] four things, honestly. [First is] the UPD thing, making sure there is a student safety advisory board … that UPD is being held accountable in a systemic way … that we are including organizations like BSA, MRC and so forth into these conversations … Another thing we want to do is, again, increase the amount of merit-based scholarships here at this University to ensure we are a University that can at least be attractive to students of color … We want to have an aggressive lobbying effort in both Richmond and [Washington,] D.C., and an aggressive lobbying presence because we have not done that in this past year. And, I want to make sure that Student Council itself uses its weight as a political entity to advocate for students in the best and most appropriate way to ensure that students’ voices are being heard … And also  … tuition hikes and increases. As it currently stands, the way that it works is that the respective schools create the tuition proposals and then they'll invite student groups to come look at it … I would say that we want to completely flip that over and make it so that students are involved in the tuition creation proposal process … instead of seeing what the results are after the proposals have been made so there's actual student input in whether or not we see an increase in our tuition hikes. What we want to do in Richmond and in [Washington,] D.C. is to make sure tuition is not increasing. We want to stop it as much as possible because it affects students, primarily students of color, students of low socioeconomic status, students from rural communities and out-of-state students. 

CD: What do you think the relationship should look like between the Student Council president and the University’s administration? In what ways do you think the administration helps and hinders Student Council? 

AC: So, year after year, we see presidents have those standing meetings with administrators, listen to the concerns of students if they have them, go to those meetings with administrators, saying, 'Hey, these are how the students are feeling.' … I think the way that Council should approach this position is to really emphasize the 'student' in Student Council — I know that sounds cheesy — but at the end of the day, we're an advocate for students, and we should be going to administration and saying, 'I don't accept your response. I don't accept the status quo. This is how students are feeling, and this is what we need to talk about, and this is what you need to address, and students are upset.' I think we, too often, take response from administrators and stop at that, but what we need to do is actually advocating on behalf of students, and that's where the issues can come when the Student Council president forgets that at the end of the day, we are elected by students. We are held accountable by students, and we should be advocating on behalf of students. We should not be explaining to students what administration thinks. We should be explaining to administration what students think.

CD: Students will be voting on a referendum to decide whether to grant the president veto power over the Representative Body, although this veto could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the representatives. Do you support creating a presidential veto power, why or why not? What do you think the relationship should look like between the Student Council president and Representative Body? 

AC: I was not involved in the creation of this amendment and so forth … Adding a presidential veto makes sense … During the budget process, representatives have a complete ability to deny everything to the Student Council president's initiatives. So, the result is sometimes cutting spending for some things that we think would be beneficial for the student body and some things that our president will be elected to do. I think it makes sense, and I think it would actually allow for more collaboration and more competition between reps and the president because at that point, you're in the dealmaking process. You have to get to a table and talk about the issues and see what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable. And, your representatives could successfully and officially serve as the check to the executive and honestly, this organization needs checks and balances. I think a veto kind of completes it, in the sense that there are checks and balances, and the representative body would have override majority. I can't imagine things necessarily changing or things actually going through a veto, but I think it does facilitate a relationship that should exist. I think representatives should be fully empowered to actually be taken seriously and to actually advocate for things for their own budget, for their own representative committee, and I think that give-and-take process is really good for the student body because then students can actually advocate for or against what the president wants to do and for-and-against what the reps what to do. 

CD: What should the relationship look like between the Student Council president and the vice presidents for administration and organizations? 

AC: Yeah! I can speak from experience. We have executive board meetings, and those should be held every week — in fact, I have one that starts at 6 p.m. … At the end of the day, all three positions are elected independently and by the same pool of students. They're not necessarily subservient to the president, and they each run their own part of the organization. President runs — essentially, has the vision for the whole organization, but they mostly are focused on the policy. Vice President for Administration is mostly focused on internal management and the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization. And the Vice President for Organization … their job is mostly related to our agency function, and that is the distribution of the student activities fee and … they should do their job. And honestly … we should all be given the respect together to operate on equal standing basis with the president, have some sense of guidance and leadership authority and also [be] interested in that everyone is quite equal at the table.

CD: Numerous endorsing student organizations have signed on to a petition

AC: Yeah, I've signed that.

CD: For president, this amount is $250. So you are committed to ?

AC: Yes, yes, yes.

CD: And more generally, what do you think of the role that spending plays in student elections, and is there anything you think should be done by the administration, the University Board of Elections, or some other body of the University to limit the amounts spent on elections?

AC: Yeah, I think that the University and [University Board of Elections] should step in. I don't know why they haven't ... I think the endorsing organizations are incredibly, in my opinion, brave, for actually trying to take the position that they're doing and withhold their endorsement and ask candidates to pledge to it if they're running for office, and I think that's an effective way to get candidates to agree to the campaign spending rules. But, it's absolutely unacceptable that a student could drop $1,000, and I over here — who doesn't come from a wealthy background — [have] to save up to be prepared for anything that may come. If you're running for student body president, if you're running for any position in any organization, you should have the ability to get your message and platform out there on an equal standing with your peers without having to worry about the spending that may happen … Other public universities throughout the Commonwealth have spending caps, like William & Mary, so I don't see what the issue is.

CD: What is one council expenditure you think is important, and what is one that concerns you?

AC: I was the person who defended the budget from the representatives because I was overseeing the budget approval process because the CFO is underneath me. There are a few that I think are important. I think some of the things in [the] Safety and Wellness [Committee] — it was not [Student Activity Fee] I believe — such as the money allocated to have subsidized feminine hygiene in Newcomb and also subsidized STI testing. . . I think that's important. I think that's something that administration, U.Va. administration, needs to be doing themselves, but I like the fact that our Safety and Wellness Committee is being committed to create a seed project so that they can show numbers and show qualitative and quantitative data to administration … I think that's important and that Student Council is at its best when it's using its money to actually advocate on behalf of specific policy initiatives. Some things that concern me are, I mean generally, spending could be better. I think in this past budget session, the representatives — not the representatives — cabinet committee chairs, we could've had a longer process to do this, to make sure that what we asked for [what] we needed, and that we weren't overspending or over-requesting. I think we could do better on food. I think we could do more with food costs. I think we could do more with working with U.Va. Dining to have less costly things that do not directly affect students and that could be used for other initiatives that are important for Student Council's purpose. 

CD: Students have expressed concerns about safety at the University this past semester, particularly with regards to U.Va.’s community alerts system and the lack of alerts for incidents like white nationalists returning in October and a reported firearm incident at Boylan this semester. However, U.Va. seems limited in what it can do. What do you see as the role of Student Council in this conversation, and are there any specific safety-related initiatives you think Student Council should undertake?

AC: Go through the platform. We have a lot on this, and that is exactly what we have in there — the student safety advisory board that would have — or hold UPD accountable for the failures they've had this year, whether it was the Aug. 11 or 12, breaking up parties on the Lawn of mostly-minority students and also the recent Boylan Heights incident. We are also committed to promoting LiveSafe as an app and making sure that every student has the ability to know when something happens near them. The fact that — and I understand the legality and so forth, but it's just completely unacceptable to me that there was no alert whatsoever from the administration or any entity about the fact that there was an incident at Boylan that could've affected any students within the proximity. It's close to Grounds. It doesn't make sense. In our platform, we have a section about trying to hold UPD accountable, trying to make sure they are protecting the students that they're supposed to protect, that they're living up to their mandate, to their roles . . .  Student Council has every ability to speak out when people do not live up to their expectations and has every ability to support other organizations and other students that demand more from those who are there to protect them.