On Tuesday, March 14, the Technique hosted and moderated the annual Student Government Association (SGA) executive ticket debate. Due to the nature of the single-ticket ballot up for election for the positions of Student Body President and Executive Vice President, the debate served more as a form of dialogue between the Technique representing the voice of the student body and the executive candidates Aanjan Sikal, third-year ISYE, and Harrison Baro, second-year ENVE. Additionally, Hunter Richardson, second-year CS, stood in as Sikal’s in-person representative, with Sikal joining through the online meeting. The Q&A was moderated by Tehreem Hussain, third-year NEUR, and Technique’s News Editor.
The meeting started off with Sikal presenting an opening statement, outlining first the guiding principles of his and Baro’s campaign and the corresponding initiatives. Sikal also described the prior experience he and Baro had within SGA, particularly their heavy involvement within SGA for the past two years and how the positions they have held influenced their decision to run for the executive ticket. Sikal emphasized his experience as the former Vice President of Academic Affairs, saying that through the position he has created working relationships by leveraging advocacy efforts through committees, along with gaining experience advocating for student wants. He also cited Baro’s experience as the Student Needs chair and the Speaker of the House in the Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR), which has allowed Baro to make critical contributions to students such as STAR crisis housing and bringing Title IX seminars to UHR meetings. Sikal added that Baro’s experience would lead to mending the fractured relationship between the different branches of SGA and to create a unified leadership.
Furthermore, the Technique prompted Sikal and Baro to reiterate their guiding principles and selection criteria for forming those principles. Additionally, the Technique specifically asked about which focus groups or departments were consulted when devising campaign plans centered around those principles. The three guiding principles founding Sikal and Baro’s campaign are as follows: academics, student needs, and campus resources. As for academics, Sikal and Baro said they wanted to focus on academic rigor staying inside the classroom; they plan to accomplish this by making sure registration can keep up with the growth of the Institute and by advocating for institute-wide re-evaluation of course availability. Baro cited his personal experience with registration issues, having left his Familiarization and Adaptation to the Surroundings and Environs at Tech (FASET) orientation in his first year with only five registered credit hours. “Every year we see that registration is an issue,” Baro said.
He went on to emphasize the importance of equipping students with success. However, as to how registration would go on to be improved was not specified. For student needs, Baro identified the need to advocate preemptively and recognized that many of the presented issues are not on their own actionable, so Sikal and Baro plan to consult “diverse and dedicated experts” on those issues. Baro cited the Pride Alliance as being one of the primary student groups consulted for student needs, as some of the members have been through crisis housing and have noted the failures within the system, allowing the current administration to improve STAR crisis housing based on their feedback.
Additionally, Sikal and Baro seek to urge Tech Dining to open a late-night dining option that is on campus, saying that “if the library is open 24/7, students should also have dining options for if they’re up late studying all night.”
Lastly, in regard to campus resources, Sikal and Baro plan on a revamp of sustainability measures and mental health awareness on campus through community events. Specifically, Sikal and Baro cited the Wi-Fi outages as the number one issue they want to highlight through their “campus resources’’ guiding principle. An SGA tabling event for receiving student criticism revealed Wi-Fi to be one of the biggest student concerns, pushing it to the forefront of Sikal and Baro’s campaign. However, Baro did explain that the Wi-Fi cannot just be fixed by SGA, and the actionable subsection of their platform will entail repeatedly meeting with the Office of Information Technology (OIT).
The Technique posed questions reflecting student criticism and concerns of Sikal and Baro’s campaign. One criticism posed was that many of the guiding principles presented in the campaign lacked nuance and detail. “The points under your principles seem very preliminary,” Hussain said.
Baro answered to the concern by apologizing for the lack of detail in the campaign document. He said that they had been meeting with student organizations such as the Pride Alliance and Black Student Organizations (BSOs) on campus. Specifically, Baro recognized that many student issues can be unactionable, but said he wanted to “stress that a majority of this platform is based on student needs.” Baro answered that the guiding framework will lead the cabinet to enact change, with Sikal and Baro planning on selecting a diverse cabinet as well as expert advisors. While the student issues were well addressed by the guiding principles, the solution plans were attributed to the future cabinet and as being subsequent to the guiding principles rather than being proactive or antecedent.
However, when Hussain brought up the concern for possible bureaucratic issues impeding campaign promises that do not seem proactive, Baro said that the bureaucratic issues should not be too prominent because they already have a framework and are working on the transition between cabinet members. They also plan to improve relations between UHR and cabinet, which the UHR has emphasized as a priority — Baro insisted that there will be little to no downtime during the leadership transition because these bureaucratic issues will be worked out over the summer transition period.
Baro and Sikal also said that they plan on working with cultural groups on campus, with one of their plans being to hold open practice nights where people can come and watch cultural dance or performance organizations. To this, Hussain asked about how Sikal and Baro plan on working with student groups rather than overstepping their boundaries. Baro responded saying that the “biggest thing is [we] don’t want SGA to be perceived as entity that intrudes and ‘bulldozes initiatives and takes credit.’”
Similarly, the Technique posited on how Sikal and Baro plan on increasing general student engagement with SGA in congruence with their projected work with campus cultural groups.
Richardson stated that in the past, SGA’s reputation has not always been the best, which is not something they are proud of. In order to mend the disconnect between SGA and the student body, Sikal and Baro said they are going to all organizations that SGA would normally go to, proposing who they are and introducing themselves, then engaging with them and asking those student organizations how to best serve them.
Specific actions that Sikal and Baro plan to take include “[making] sure that every major representative can get in contact with their school chair, meet with them, and plan some sort of event for their own school.” Additionally, Baro talked about the importance of student body representatives actively participating in outreach, saying that tabling will increase SGA’s reputation because students will better understand what is going on. Baro also mentioned more specific events that they plan to bring back, like the UHR-funded Blue Donkey truck which gave out free cups of coffee and created a space for students to talk to SGA representatives. Overall, Sikal and Baro emphasized dialogue between SGA and students as the main form of outreach they will pursue, in turn increasing student involvement into SGA voting processes and in open forums.
A point of concern for many students regarding the Sikal-Baro campaign is that both the President and Vice President candidates are from the same fraternity: Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji). This was also the same Greek organization that former SGA President Sam Ellis was a part of. Ellis’s administration came to an abrupt end after allegations of sexual assault and misconduct resulted in the resignation of the entire cabinet and the Executive Vice President, Ajanta Choudhury.
Addressing these concerns, Baro acknowledged that while Sikal and him are both in the same Greek organization and therefore have a limited scope of experiences, they plan to “[surround themselves] by a group of diverse people who can advocate best alongside [them] to … make sure that we’re aware of issues on campus.” However, actionable steps to ensure cabinet diversity were not clear, with Baro saying that they are going to “encourage people from diverse backgrounds and qualified people to apply,” adding that there is a current bill under consideration by UHR which could allow the standing committee in House to review all appointed officer positions in the House.
An addition Richardson made during the open Q&A was that they do not currently have a recruitment policy due to current practices and tradition, but that “there’s always got to be a first” regarding implementing recruitment in the future, which may require even more outreach techniques. Congruently, Baro said “[we] want to make sure that we keep open channels of communication with most, if not all, student leaders on campus,” referencing the dialogue between the Technique and SGA, recognizing that student organizations and their leaders on campus are instrumental to outreach and student relations, and therefore increasing student engagement within SGA.
Richardson added that anyone in Greek life can attest that even within the same organization “there’s a wide variety of beliefs and ideals and priorities.” He said that “[Sikal and Baro] have already got a difference of interest and won’t be serving on any committees together … [essentially they] won’t be serving as one person with double the power.”
Baro also said that they have had conversations with people that share these concerns, and responded that they started out in different spheres: Baro started in the legislative branch, while Sikal was in educational enhancement dealing more with administration and academics. Thus, Baro said they aim to “represent all students by consistently and firmly advocating for student needs whatever they are.” Similarly, they “acknowledge[d] that there is technically not a competition right now, but there is a competition within [themselves]” that will push their campaign forward without complacency.
The last subset of questions was opened up to the audience. A student posed a question regarding Ellis, the last SGA president that came out of Fiji, and the sexual assault allegations that ensued. The student asked if there have been any policy changes in the organizations since. Baro responded that they initially had a policy that would automatically suspend a brother if a Title IX case was brought forward, and since the incident with Ellis, many brothers have become VOICE peer educators. Fiji has also had a sexual violence policy approved by JSVAC and VOICE, saying that “[as a] part of [the] org, we will continue to advocate for sexual violence prevention.”
They also stated that they are open to pursuing the creation of an internal affairs role or an ethics policy as per the student’s suggestion, saying that they also seek to make sure that all members of cabinet are Title IX bystander trained in order to catch and address these issues proactively. Baro stated that “[there is] not a lot student government can do to write something into bylaws because it would be retaliation,” adding that they want to focus on education and advocating for students to be equipped with “solutions and [a] support system” when faced with sexual violence.
A few more questions were posed about the technical aspect of the campaign. One student asked about how student finances are going to be addressed, as it was not clear in the campaign statement. To this, Sikal and Baro cited the current administration’s efforts to better allocate the student activity fee, and said that because they plan to focus so much on cabinet transition, these efforts will carry over to their own administration, especially with the transition for the JVP of Finance position.
They said that they will “make sure that orgs are getting the funding they need” because they are so integral to improving the student experience, and that they aim to “increase funding ability without necessarily increasing financial burden on students.”
The debate closed out with discussion about the last time a ticket ran unopposed, which was in 2015. Sikal added further context that those candidates in 2015 were also in the same fraternity together, which draws an interesting parallel to themselves.
“Once the election on Friday goes through, [reaching out to them] will be the first order of business for us,” Sikal said.
SGA voting opened on Monday, March 13 at 12 a.m. and will close on Friday, March 17 at 5 p.m. Votes this year are cast on the Engage platform: gatech.campuslabs.com/engage/.