Student set to become first female, Asian American president for RUSA
As voting opens in the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) elections for this spring, Jhanvi Virani, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, is set to become the student governing body’s next president. Majoring in computer science and mathematics, Virani is running unopposed for the position as part of the "Our Rutgers" ticket.
Her platform is based around improving the student experience at Rutgers, with priorities in advocating for mental health services on campus, alleviating the rising costs of college and addressing sexual assault culture on campus. She told The Daily Targum that her interest in running came from the “great things” she has seen come out of the student assembly over her last two years participating in it.
“When we see a major issue that the student body wants to address, we actually have the power and influence to change that,” she said. “The reason why I’m running for president is because as amazing as I think RUSA is, I think that there's a lot of room for change, and I think that I have a lot of really good ideas and a great team that is helping me address those issues.”
As part of her campaign for president, Virani spoke to students across Rutgers to try and understand their concerns. One area where she identified a need for change was mental health services at the University.
“I’ve been speaking to students and seeing what issues they see in the University, and one issue that kept coming up was mental health,” she said. “Students either didn’t know about their services that are available to them or, if they did know and they’d tried them, they weren’t fully satisfied with them.”
She also said that RUSA can do a better job in communicating information on what is available through the counseling service at Rutgers, known as Center for Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), as well as other services available in the area for students whose concerns are not addressed through CAPS.
She voiced a similar solution to addressing sexual assault on campus, highlighting services that are already available both at the University and within RUSA.
Another priority of Virani’s is addressing the rising cost of college. While she acknowledged that there are some areas, such as tuition, that RUSA cannot change, she saw potential in addressing smaller student costs.
“We are currently working on creating an iClicker bank through the University library system, where we as student government buy a bunch of iClickers and give them to the library, where students would be able to check them out for free,” she said.
She also discussed implementing an open textbook program for classes where there are large numbers of students, which would allow students to access textbooks through Sakai or Canvas, rather than purchasing them individually.
If elected, Virani would become the first female Asian American RUSA president. In speaking about diversity in student government, she told the Targum, “As a woman of color, I think it is very important that we reach out to minority groups and get them more involved in student government.”
In the past, one of the hurdles of RUSA was its lack of diversity. Though Virani said diversity has improved over the last few years, she believes there is still a long way to go in reaching out to minority groups and ensuring that their voices are at heart.
“If we don’t have a diverse student assembly, we don’t address the diverse student voice that is at this University,” she said.
What is unusual about this year’s campaign is that Virani is running unopposed. She said that this was not due to a lack of qualified candidates available or lack of interest, and that she wished there actually was more competition.
“I would’ve hoped that there would be more competition because that gives students the ability to actually make a conscious choice,” she said.
She also highlighted that not everybody on the "Our Rutgers" ticket is unopposed, with independents challenging several senator positions.
“I’m really happy that some people chose to run independently, because it shows that they are passionate about student government,” she said.
Virani also addressed RUSA’s historically low voter turnout, with last year’s turnout of 21.5 percent, the highest ever recorded. In order to promote the elections, she said social media accounts, as well as students in RUSA, were sharing links to try to encourage people to vote.
“Individuals within RUSA do a lot to try and get as many people to vote as possible, because at the end of the day it’s beneficial for students to have a say in who their representatives are, and for representatives to gain legitimacy,” she said.
She voiced concern over the idea that her lack of opposition would discourage turnout, with many students potentially feeling demotivated to vote with only one option on the ballot, and highlighted the importance of high voter turnout.
At its worst, she said student government would not impact lives, but at its best it could influence how much a student pays for college, their accessibility to mental health services, how sustainable their environment is, their rights as a protestor, administrative policy and the way classes are run.
“Yes, I am unopposed ... but at the end of the day, if you don't mind to take 2 seconds out of your day to help us amplify the student voice on a much larger scale and help us advocate for what you want from this University, I think it’s a very small price to pay for a very large, significant scope for change,” Virani said.
Voting opens on Friday, March 29 at midnight, and closes on Sunday, March 31 at noon.