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Candidates for Student Council debate accessibility, diversity and compensation for student leaders

Voting will open Wednesday at 10 a.m. and close Friday at 4 p.m.

Candidates for Student Council president — fourth-year College student Ceci Cain and third-year College student David Alari — participated in a debate hosted by The Cavalier Daily on Zoom Monday at 8 p.m. Candidates discussed plans to compensate student leaders, support marginalized students and lower tuition, among other topics.

Cain is the current Student Council vice president for administration and was previously chair of Student Council’s Financial Accessibility Committee. Alari has been involved with Third Year Class Council, University Programs Council and the Lighting of the Lawn Committee. The candidates for vice president for administration and vice president for organizations are third-year College students Jaden Evans and Riley Reynolds, respectively — the two are running on a ticket alongside Cain. 

The debate was hosted in coordination with The Cavalier Daily and University Board of Elections, and was livestreamed on The Cavalier Daily’s Facebook page. 

The moderators, Emma Gallagher, news editor and third-year Commerce student, and John Bedell,  first-year College student and news writer, explained the format of the debate to participants, and began with opening statements by the candidate for vice president for organizations and the candidate for vice president for administration. 

Reynolds, who is running uncontested for the VPO position, began her opening statement by explaining her involvement within the University, particularly as director of the Textbook Access Office, which allows students to borrow textbooks for free from the Student Council’s inventory.

Reynolds said she would like to see greater support from the University for student leaders and will work to bridge gaps between administration student groups to ensure student leaders are fairly compensated.

“I have witnessed a lack of institutional support offered to student leaders, especially during the pandemic,” Reynolds said. “I want to bridge [the gap between students and administration] so that student self-governance is not a burden to students.”

Bedell first asked Reynolds for more specifics regarding her goal to compensate low-income student leaders, including how she plans to finance and distribute this funding, as well as why this is a priority. Reynolds explained that providing compensation for student leaders will make student self-governance more accessible to many who cannot afford to give their time to hold positions due to part-time jobs they are using to supplement the costs of being a student.

“It takes a lot of groundwork to get something like this off the ground,” Reynolds said. “Whether that’s fundraising from external resources, building it into campaigns and making sure that we are coordinating with admin in any way that we can is kind of what makes sure that we are working towards it.”

The sole candidate for VPA, Evans — who is also the current director of finance for Student Council — then gave his opening statement, explaining that he hopes to improve recruitment and retention of minority students in Student Council positions and increase financial support for students. 

Citing the VPA position’s responsibility to manage Student Council’s internal operations, Gallagher asked Evans how he plans to reach out to and support marginalized students in order to ensure Student Council is actively recruiting and supporting a diverse leadership team. 

Evans addressed Student Council’s “bureaucratic messaging,” saying he intends to coordinate with organizations on Grounds to support marginalized students’ goals and connect them with institutional resources, which, he said, would help establish trust between organizations and Student Council.

“Building this relationship begins with trust,” Evans said. “Trust is essential when it comes to coalition building.” 

The group then moved into opening statements for the Student Council presidential candidates.

Cain spoke first, explaining her experience firsthand with the obstacles that she and other Black and low-income students face — these include finding insurance, mental health support and the struggles associated with being a working student who must also pay tuition.

“I’ve never felt seen in the average U.Va. student or [had] people in the positions of power here understand the intricacies of the issues that I and so many other students here face,” Cain said.

Among her achievements as vice president for administration, Cain said she allocated over $50,000 for cultural organizations through diversity grants, as well as met students’ basic needs through the Student Council’s Support and Access Services branch. Support and Access Services was created in March of 2021. Directed by third-year College student Adrian Mamaril, the branch includes seven different programs — the Community Food Pantry, Accommodations Access Fund, U.Va. Mutual Aid, Aetna Insurance Support Fund, Next Steps Fund, Student Legal Services and the Textbook Access Office. The current Student Council administration intends to establish a long-term source of funding for the branch through its Capital Campaign.

“In my last year, I’ve seen this philosophy for policy work play out in huge wins,” Cain said. “We won a $4 million insurance grant program after years of advocacy work by PLUMAS.”

Cain further added that she intends to fully eliminate funding disparities among organizations for marginalized students and secure scholarships for descendants of enslaved laborers in Virginia.

Alari gave his opening statement next, outlining his involvement as a member of the Third Year Class Council, University Programs Council and the 2021 Lighting of the Lawn Committee. Alari said that he primarily intends to unite students, should he be elected. 

As a transfer student, Alari has not held a previous position on Student Council — he believes that student leadership positions should be accessible and available to all types of students. 

“I believe every student has the ability to be a president,” Alari said.

Alari added that he wants to improve mental health and wellbeing at the University, as well as encourage innovation and small business efforts among the student body. He also cited his intention to increase the amount of international students, transfer students and non-traditional students.

“I [have] never heard Student Council talking about non-traditional students,” Alari said.

Alari ended his opening statement by adding that he wants the general student body to better understand the functions of the Student Council. He then answered the first question from the moderators, which asked both candidates to identify three priorities from their platform that are most important to them. Alari highlighted mental health, innovation, supporting students and improving student self-expression as most integral to his platform.

“Students knowing there are resources to tap into when they are feeling down is really important,” Alari said.

In response to the same question, Cain explained her primary initiative is compensating low-income student leaders. 

Currently, student leaders at the University are not paid for their work, unlike leaders at many other public universities. Hours that student leaders work can approach a full time job at 40 hours of volunteer work a week, which can deter many — particularly those who already work part-time jobs in addition to being a full-time student — from seeking a position. 

Through Student Council funding and with the Office of Advancement, Cain and her executive board implement a join capital campaign fundraiser which would institutionalize a payment plan for student leaders as well as continuing to offer Support and Access Services for unmet student needs.

“Having student leaders be unpaid is an equity issue,” Cain said.

She continued that she intends to continue the work of the Textbook Access Office, U.Va. Mutual Aid and other services that fall under Support and Access Services. Finally, Cain said she hopes to secure a vote for students on the Board of Visitors, as well as create graduate and community member positions on the Board of Visitors. The Board of Visitors is the highest governing body at the University, responsible for long-term planning and advising for the University, as well as approving all major decisions — the student member of the Board may provide insight and advice into the student body, but does not actually get a vote in any proceedings that the Board votes on. 

The moderators then asked how the candidates intend to make their efforts as president permanent on Grounds.

Cain explained she feels working with external organizations and establishing beneficial relationships is integral to creating permanence.

“Working with external organizations also holds us accountable to these things being long-lasting,” Cain said.

Alari said that he wants members of Student Council and students to come together and decide what works for them, but did not explain what these conversations might look like. 

The moderators then posed their final question, inquiring as to how the candidates intend to create tangible change despite the limitations of the Student Council. 

In response, Alari said that he would collaborate with students and administration — to which Cain agreed, adding Student Council must act as a spokesperson for student organizations to administration to promote and support student campaigning efforts.

The debate then moved to audience questions. The first question was how the candidates — both Black students — intend to support and empower Black students on Grounds.

Cain explained her previous efforts to support Black students — Cain has been involved in organizing and discussions as a member of U.Va. Beyond Policing, has worked with Student Council to secure insurance grants for low-income students, many of whom are Black, as well as helping allocate funding to multicultural student groups as part of Student Council’s spring budget. 

“I began the historical recontextualization of Student Council’s past policy work, I practiced anti-co-opting, I became the first Black woman to be VPA,” Cain said.

She added she intends to divest the University from prison labor, lobby for Black faculty and students and secure scholarships for descendants of enslaved laborers in Virginia.

Alari explained his efforts on Third-Year Student Council to support Black-led student businesses.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we can bring Black students and see how their businesses can be well promoted,” Alari said.

The second audience question was about concerns of rising anti-Semitism and how the candidates intend to support Jewish students on Grounds.

Alari explained that he intended to have a sit down with Jewish students to determine how he can best serve them. Cain responded that she has previously worked with Jewish organizations, including placing Jewish organizations on the Student Council Dining Services Board and working with them to create more Kosher food options for Jewish students.

The third question concerned crime and violence on Grounds, and student concerns about perceived increased rates in violence — on Monday, the area and buildings near the Alderman Library construction zone were placed under lockdown after reports of a potential armed robbery. While crime levels actually decreased between 2018 and 2020, students and community members expressed a sense of fear following a number of shots fired reports on Grounds, including an incident in which a bystander was struck by a bullet in the Boylan Heights restaurant.

Cain listed a variety of plans, including current efforts as part of the University Networks of Care pilot program to remove police from mental health crisis response systems as well as increasing lighting on Grounds, establishing a buddy program and decoupling the vice president for safety and security and the chief of police positions. 

Alari additionally emphasized the importance of safety on Grounds and agreed that lighting is crucial to safety at night — he also mentioned the University’s SafeRide program and making it free to students. The program, which provides on-demand rides to students, is already offered free of charge, though students have expressed complaints with long wait times. 

The final audience question concerned the candidates’ plans to advocate for a decrease in tuition and fees. 

For first, second and fourth-year students in the College of Arts and Sciences, the current cost of undergraduate tuition for fall 2021 is $14,188 for in-state students and $48,036 for out-of-state students. The cost is $16,888 for in-state third years and $50,736 for out-of-state third years because of a tuition increase plan that the Board approved in 2019. The Board of Visitors approved an undergraduate tuition increase of 4.7 percent for the 2022-23 school year and an additional 3.7 percent for 2023-24 in December.

Alari acknowledged the burden that tuition poses on many students at the University, explaining that he would like to meet with students who are unable to pay fees and University leaders to determine how they can make the University affordable for more students, as well as keep tuition costs steady.

Cain said lowering tuition and fees is integral to her plan for integrating Black and Brown students into the University. 

“Financial accessibility to the University is also a roadblock for so many students of color, so it ties in to so much of what I want to do in terms of getting more Black and brown students to be able to enroll in the University in the first place,” Cain said.

Cain acknowledged the additional costs that many aspects of student life pose on students, and explained that she intends to continue offering stipends for low-income students for dining and laundry services, as well as improving textbook accessibility for low-income students.

In her closing remarks, Cain explained that she wants to improve support for minority and non-traditional students at the University.

“First and foremost, students need to be setting and driving the policy agenda for Student Council,” Cain said.

In his closing statements, Alari thanked the University community for allowing him to run and explained his gratitude for how campaigning and talking to students has helped him grow as a person. 

“I believe I am going to be a better president because I am willing to talk with anybody, regardless of their ideology,” Alari said.

Candidate endorsements can be accessed here.

Voting opens Wednesday, March 2 at 10 a.m. and will close Friday, March 4 at 4 p.m. Students will receive an email with a personalized voting link Wednesday or can click on the orange “Vote” button on the University Board of Elections’ website