By Sarah Siock and Amethyst Martinez
With Rider approaching a pivotal point in its history as it faces tension between the faculty and administration, possible program cuts and potential layoffs, three students feel they are up for the task of leading the student body during this time and have launched campaigns for the Student Government Association’s (SGA) student body president.
This year’s candidates are juniors Andrew Bernstein, Grace Kohansby and Jordan Jones, and each hope to bring a unique perspective to the role. The Rider News hosted interviews with the candidates on April 4 where they were allotted 20 minutes to answer questions regarding topics such as Westminster Choir College (WCC) students’ grievances with the Lawrenceville campus, university finances and diversity at Rider. Additionally, the candidates also had the chance to speak to the student body at a debate hosted by SGA on March 31.
Role of SGA
Regarding previous leadership experience Bernstein pointed to his current position as vice president of University Affairs for SGA. He also served as chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, is a member of the Rider Democrats club and a campus tour guide.
“The role of SGA is to advocate for what students want no matter how much we agree or disagree or are a part of that organization that’s advocating for it. It’s really to enhance the student experience, and we do that by listening,” said Bernstein, a political science major.
When discussing WCC, all candidates voiced a desire to amplify the voices of Westminster students and relay their concerns to administrators. If elected Jones said he would create more roles within SGA where students could serve as ambassadors for WCC.
“I want to have everyone who possibly can and will be able to help me make sure that WCC’s comfortable,” said Jones, a computer science major.
Jones has served for SGA in the past as the sophomore class president for one semester and was on the freshmen class executive board during his first year at Rider. He is also a part of the Male Leadership Academy (MLA) on campus, where he is a student assistant and representative for the junior class. Outside of Rider, Jones is a pastor at a church in Ewing, New Jersey, where he is the head of the audio and visual ministry and a youth director.
One of Jones’ talking points was the importance of a well-balanced correspondence with the administration.
“I feel as though it should be a mirror relationship,” said Jones. “It should be equal, and that they should look at us as if we’re not just students.”
Communication with students
Jones also wants to bridge the gap between SGA and the student body to ensure all student voices are heard.
“There’s a little bit of a breakdown in communication. … I feel as though there are students who feel as though SGA aren’t living up to what they say they are, not really supporting the people, not really getting things done or putting things in the right perspective, and I want to say that, [at] SGA, we do the best we can. … But I just want the student body and the SGA to have a trust and loyalty aspect there where you can trust the SGA,” said Jones.
The candidates recognized that communicating administrative processes such as academic prioritization need to be at the forefront of their presidential terms. Kohansby, a political science major, said she would advocate for full transparency and aim to explain complex topics to students. Kohansby also said that through her leadership experience as a substitute teacher, embedded tutor and secretary of Rider’s political science club she has learned how to adapt and anticipate student needs.
“I think that having students advocate for students to administration is really important. So people who go here understand what these concerns that students bring to the table. I think that having that voice is super important, just making sure that there is a direct link between SGA and continuing a direct link between SGA and the administration,” said Kohansby.
Bernstein also spoke on the impact he hopes to leave on Rider if elected. He said his previous work through SGA, such as adding lockers to the commuter lounge and expanding free feminine hygiene projects in bathrooms, are examples of meaningful change that can occur through the student government. He added that wheelchair accessibility on campus and creating a diversity and inclusion requirement in the core curriculum would be a focus during his term.
“I want to be able to say that I left a visible impact on the student experience and that I was able to not only advocate for student needs but visibly provide for student needs,” said Bernstein.
The candidates also touched upon SGA’s responsibilities of speaking up for students when meeting with administrators. Kohansby said she would push for administrators to attend forums where WCC students could express their concerns.
“We don’t want to only hear the watered-down version of things … We need to be making sure [administrators] fully understand the urgency,” said Kohansby.
Bernstein acknowledged the importance of SGA maintaining a relationship with the administration but noted that disagreements may occur.
“We also need to be able to at the same time challenge things that we disagree with. I’m of the mindset that there’s no use in sitting in a meeting with administration, and you’re agreeing with everything they say …” said Bernstein. “We are responsible as SGA members for being polite as you might be in any other professional meeting but there does come a time where you need to push back a little bit on things that might negatively affect the student experience.”
Voting for the SGA student body president, executive board members and select finance board representatives closes on April 6. Results will be announced at SGA’s student senate meeting on April 7 at 11:30 a.m. in Sweigart 115.
See page 8 for The Rider News’ presidential endorsement.