Below are excerpts from interviews The Cavalier Daily conducted with this year’s Student Council presidential candidates — third-year College student Ellie Brassachio and first-year Curry student Arabella Lee. The excerpts in this compilation have been edited for length and clarity.
The Cavalier Daily held with the candidates Monday evening from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Wilson Hall. Students were able to submit questions for the candidates during the debate, which was also live-streamed on The Cavalier Daily's
1. Why do you want to be Student Council President?
Ellie Brassachio: I want to be Student Council president so I can make this University more accessible for every student. When I came to U.Va. my first year, I quickly realized how the chips were stacked against marginalized communities at U.Va., especially first generation and low income students, which is a community that I belong to. I found my place in Student Council my first year advocating for these issues, especially for low income, first generation students. I think as Student Council president, I can help bring those issues to the forefront. I think Student Government is at its best when it's helping people that need it the most, and I think the Student Council president can take these issues of marginalized communities and first generation, low income students to the highest level the University administration.
Arabella Lee: I want to be Student Council president because I feel like it is the time for us to move in...the direction of cultural unity. It's been a little bit more...than a year since the events of 8/11 and 8/12... I read an article where there were events leading up to those two days as well and I feel like I know that different organizations have been working to combat racism, and I know The [Cavalier] Daily has written a lot of articles about it, but I feel like there are not enough...actions, direct, definite actions taken towards racism in general to combat it. I feel like it's just words, comforting words, and very promising attention nationally... but nothing's changing, nothing's moving … I feel like this now is the time to have someone stand up, bring the students toward the direction of cultural unity.
2. What experiences at U.Va. have informed your decision to run for president, and how have these experiences prepared you to lead Student Council?
Brassachio: In my first year, I remember feeling a lot different than my peers because I was a low income, first generation student. I remember being in Elzinga's ECON 2010 class and him saying 'I probably taught a lot of your parents,' and knowing he didn't teach mine because my parents didn't go to college. I remember watching sorority rush my first year and not being able to participate because I couldn't pay for dues. From then on, I knew that I wanted to make a difference at U.Va. I didn't exactly know the best way to do that, so I started with just getting involved in Student Council. My first year, I was elected as representative for the College of Arts and Sciences, and then I started to find my place in my second year when I was in a focus group of first generation students … My second year I ran for Treasurer representing the body which position that I hold right now … I've been involved in various important decisions on the Student Council executive board and I feel that has given me leadership skills and the information of Student Council as it works internally and externally to be able to run it efficiently.
Lee: The first event I heard of since coming to Grounds was when we were having a dorm meeting with my RA...and one of my dormmates...spoke up and said that she was approached by a group of guys and she was asked how much would it cost to have sex with her — and she's a Latina, so I found that very, very strange … U.Va. has this pristine image … unless you are an insider, so you know more of what's going on. After that, there was an incident where the RA found a bad message written on the wall. After that would be the Beta Bridge … I’m a more of an action-oriented person … Every time I've noticed that it's only emails comforting and saying, ‘we won't tolerate this, we won't tolerate that, we will condemn racism, hateful messages and stuff.’ I feel like it's not enough. It's not enough to take actions. I have a course of action that I will take if I'm elected. There is a plan that I have set in place for me to implement immediately once I get elected.
3. What makes your platform unique from years prior?
Brassachio: I think what makes my platform unique is it has a renewed focus and financial accessibility, so on the presidential cabinet portion of the platform, it has a new committee focused on financial accessibility. That includes things like discounted meal plans for the low-income students free menstrual hygiene, free open textbooks and things like that. I think I have a different perspective on things than [Student Council President] Alex [Cintron] does, and I think that another thing is that I can build upon the really good things that Alex has done, specifically with working to make the American Studies program a department and all the free menstrual hygiene initiatives. I think in years prior, we built a really good platform for the next University leaders or Student Council leaders to build upon those things.
Lee: My platform being unique from years prior is that it's based on the timing and the cause — the cause is cultural unity — that's my motivation for running for Student Council president, and I wanted to be in a position where I can take action because I have actions that I want to take. I can't really follow through with those actions in any other positions, and I really feel like now is a perfect time. We're at the end of the healing period after those events, and it's where someone has to take charge and direct students towards one cause — one very direct established cause, and that's for cultural unity — like actually speak out and not just speak out with empty words. Implement actions as well plans.
4. If elected, what will be the first goal you hope to achieve as Student Council president?
Brassachio: The first goal that I would like to achieve is to have all of the representative positions filled. In my time as Chair of the representative body I found that it is very difficult to get a lot of positions filled — specifically for graduate students because a lot of their elections are different. But I think in order to be a very representative student government, we need to make sure that we have representatives from all different schools across U.Va. I think as Student Council president, it will be a lot easier for me to facilitate relationships with different presidents from graduate schools so that we can make sure that not only we're filling those positions now, but in the future we can consistently begin to fill those positions.
Lee: First goal would be implementing my agenda. I have a course of action I want to take, that is including working together with organizations as well to bring a project — a very big project you guys — I don't want to give up that much, but I have it all written down, drawn out, planned, looked at it from very all, all perspectives. All it takes is just establishing communication, seeing what the other organizations think about it and then working together to implement it by the end of summer. It's going to last throughout the whole school year, so it's something very big. We have to get through all the planning with the organizations by the end of summer and then that project is going to be implemented throughout the year and it's a lot about putting...the spotlight, putting the groups into the spotlight individually, but within a good amount of time.