RUSA candidates engage in debate prior to elections
On Thursday night, those running for Senate positions in the Rutgers University Student Assembly’s (RUSA) spring elections were able to engage in debate and share their platforms before voting opened at the 2019 Senators Forum.
The event was attended by only 2 of the 12 seeking election, candidate Gavin Mayes, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year running for senator at large, and Neeharika Thuravil, a School of Arts and Sciences junior running for Livingston campus senator.
Thuravil, who is running as part of the "Our Rutgers" ticket, is seeking re-election. While Mayes, running as independent, would be a first-time senator.
The Daily Targum reported on Friday that the "Our Rutgers" ticket is led by presidential candidate Jhanvi Virani, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Senators are elected each year to represent the student body in the Rutgers University Senate, an advisory and legislative body made up of faculty, students, staff and administrators.
Discussion ranged from the candidates' current frustrations with the decision-making body of the Assembly, to their priorities for change at Rutgers and ideas to encourage an effective working relationship between students and other groups represented in the Senate.
Mayes frequently voiced his priorities around working with the Budget and Finance committee to lower University costs for students. He noted experience he gained from high school student government, as well as his involvement with his Residence Hall Association.
“If I were elected, I would really like to go through a thorough inspection and audit of the budget, trying to look for different expenditures within there that could be sliced or diced, and try to find innovative ways to do things for lesser costs,” Mayes said.
Thuravil discussed her work with the Instruction, Curricula and Advising committee, highlighting how the Senate can make a difference to students in areas concerning their academics.
“The charges we work on can seem small and insignificant, but I have seen the kind of impact they have. It’s quite amazing, and I hope to continue my service with this committee,” she said.
Also discussed was the issue of poor attendance from senators at Senate. Each candidate was asked how they think being active and in attendance has an impact on student issues.
“(The) Senate is not comprised entirely of students, we are really a very small part of this body. So if most of us are not present, our voice is automatically minimized … If we don’t have senators that show up, we don’t have votes that show up, and on charges that are particularly pertinent to the student body, it could mean the difference between getting our issue solved and passing the changes, or having them fail,” Thuravil said.
Mayes noted the importance of representation of students at Senate through attendance.
“There are hundreds of student organizations for the thousands of students at Rutgers, and each person has a unique background, different perspectives and different life experiences to bring to the table. For example, I’m in Naval ROTC and there’s only about 50 of us, so that’s a unique perspective I can bring,” he said.
Candidates were also asked about how they planned to use their voice and vote at the Senate Organizational Meeting on May 3, where both current and incoming senators will make important decisions for the year ahead, such as appointing students to the Board of Trustees.
Thuravil again cited her previous experience in the Senate, telling the audience that her knowledge of her peers and colleagues would allow her to elect the “most qualified” people.
Mayes said that he would use his vote to “bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people.”
Both candidates also stressed the importance of having a good working relationship with the staff and faculty that comprise the rest of the Senate.
“Issues in the Senate are very rarely unique to one of the bodies there, so it’s important to engage and have good, interconnected relationships with all entities involved,” Thuravil said.
Mayes agreed with this sentiment.
“I don’t think it's unreasonable to say that everyone in the Senate is working toward the same goal, which is bettering the lives of people at Rutgers,” he said.
RUSA elections usually suffer from a low voter turnout, with last year’s reaching 21.5 percent, the highest turnout in its records. When asked about how to address this, both candidates acknowledged the problem and discussed reaching out to students through a variety of channels.
“This isn’t just a student government problem, this is an overall government problem,” Thuravil said. “I believe that one of the best ways we have reached students in the past is through endorsements from student organizations. Student organizations represent an overwhelming majority of students on campus, so by interacting with them you are extending your reach not only as a candidate, but also increasing overall voter turnout.”
“I think here at Rutgers, the reason for low voter turnout is because really people don’t care. A lot of people here have different priorities. I think we should promote more that student government does affect your daily life. We pass legislation here that make changes on campus, and I believe if we promote that then we can get more students to come out and vote,” Mayes said.
Voting for the 2019 RUSA elections closed yesterday at noon. Go to ruassembly.com to find out more.
Editor's Note // A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Rutgers University Senate as "university-wide RUSA Senate". Corrections have been made.