The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) election and Student Activity Fee (SAF) referendum opened on SB Engaged on Sept. 7, and will be available until Sept. 11.
Due to the financial situation of the student body brought upon by the COVID-19 crisis, the SAF was reduced from the regular $99.50 to $40 this past year. The SAF also helps fund the budgets of student organizations. In accordance with the State University of New York’s Student Activity Fee policy, USG is giving undergraduate students the option to vote for whether the SAF should be optional or mandatory to pay. The SAF goes through a mandatory referendum vote every two years.
There are two groups of students running in the USG student representative elections this year. However, not every student who is running is part of a party. The two parties: the Actively Furthering Talent Education and Representation (A.F.T.E.R.) Party and the One Foot Forward (O.F.F.) Party, have candidates for both of USG’s branches: the Senate and Executive Council (EC).
There are currently four students running for EC and nine students running for senate with the O.F.F. Party. With the A.F.T.E.R. Party, there are seven students running for EC and 20 students running for senate. Both parties display their proposed policies and agendas through Instagram posts.
The A.F.T.E.R. Party’s candidate for USG President is Huntley Spencer, a senior political science and sociology major who served as his class’s USG Freshman and Sophomore senator. Spencer’s agenda includes advocating for the student loan crisis, pushing for better use of the Student Athletic Fee and advocating for more joint State University of New York (SUNY) campus events. He is also advocating for a West Meets East Asian Festival and other events to highlight cultural diversity.
“I know how committed I’ve been to USG and I’m the only person who can say that I’ve been involved with USG from the moment I stepped on Stony Brook’s campus, and my appreciation and commitment to the students of this university grows more and more every day,” Spencer said in an interview with The Statesman. “I feel that I am the candidate whose actions back up my words.”
A.F.T.E.R. Party’s platform includes: pushing for a 24 hour dining retail location, advocating for improvements for Title IX, pushing for improved campus bus routes, hosting sustainability fairs, working to improve mental health services for students and helping to voice student concerns about distance learning and the current state of the university.
“Our goals are to take this time of crisis and turn it into a time of preparation,” Spencer said. “We want to help our clubs feel comfortable in this little partnership we have together, because right now many clubs may see USG as just a source of their club budget, but it can be so much more with openness where club eboards know the EC of USG and feel comfortable discussing problems, concerns, brainstorming, or even just to talk.”
They are also advocating for student representation to help mold the academic curriculum.
“Our goals are to take this time of crisis and turn it into a time of preparation,” Spencer said. “We also want to allow the student voice to be heard in regards to their own education, where a student board can work with the different colleges to get classes that actually help them achieve their dreams for the future.”
The O.F.F Party’s candidate for USG President is Justin Ullman, a senior majoring in economics and political science. Ullman previously served this past year as vice president of Academic Affairs and as a USG senator. His initiatives include making USG senate meetings and votes more transparent to the student body and campus media, providing virtual resources for previously canceled events to succeed in the coming year and placing unused school supply donation boxes in residence halls.
“People who know me know that USG has been part of my identity for the last couple of years, and I’ve played a role in a lot of changes in that time,” Ullman said in an interview with The Statesman. “I know how to work with administrators, I know what issues USG faces and I know what needs to be done to take care of them.”
Ullman said that during his time as a senator in USG, he wrote vote explanations for every vote he took, got color printing to be included in the print quota and took a lead role in rewriting the USG Constitution last year.
“In a normal year without COVID, I probably wouldn’t have run for USG President, or even USG again at all,” Ullman said. “I’m here, however, to offer students the option of stability and experience as the only candidate for President who truly knows the ins and outs of USG—and especially USG since COVID.”
O.F.F. Party’s platform advocates for livestreaming virtual USG Senate meetings, school supply drives in residence halls, a PPE stock for students, continuing and increasing virtual prizes for the USG bingo initiative, installing a commuter student position in the Office of Student Life, supporting virtual advocacy like petitioning and advocating for formal recognition of campus esports teams.
“Our main goals this year are to maintain stability within USG and excel at fulfilling USG’s basic obligations to transparency and cost efficiency in a year where it will be challenging to accomplish either of those,” Ullman said. “This is the year to focus on improving the historically lacking aspects of USG like needs for quick communication, updating the website, and making USG feel accessible and relatable rather than like we’re out to get you.”
Both parties are advocating for increased communication to the student body through social media. The O.F.F Party is also proposing an ad hoc committee to meet with student media outlets.
The O.F.F. Party has also stressed that a number of their members served interim positions after the USG elections were postponed last semester by SUNY. “Ultimately, we are the party with the experience and ambition to bring you stability without the status quo,” the party said in an Instagram post.
“I believe in comparison to the O.F.F party the A.F.T.E.R Party is more prepared with a shared vision. Hence why we have an essentially full party,” Spencer said. “Each and every student in the A.F.T.E.R. party not only has their own personal initiatives but are all so committed to the initiatives of the party itself that brings us together as not just a party, but a family.”
According to the USG Elections Bylaws, $40 shall be made available to senate candidates, $65 for vice president candidates and $85 for the president and treasurer candidates to use in campaigning during elections. Both parties decided not to spend any money that they were given through allocations from the Student Activity Fee.
There is a third candidate for USG President on the ballot, Vincent Ferrara, a 37-year-old senior psychology major, who is not aligned with either party. His platform includes working with the Student African American Brotherhood to develop the Redefining Manhood Program; allowing transfer students to have access to class registration based on completed credit standings; lobbying for more state funding and allowing better communication between USG and the student body.
Ferrara said in an interview with The Statesman that he operates an eBay store, an Etsy store and is a founder of a nonprofit organization that provides necessities to people in need named World Infinity Corp.
“I have real life experience that will translate well with USG,” Ferrara said. “I’m a business owner … I’m a single father with two girls. It’s a lot more life experience.”
Polling opened on Sept. 7 and will close on Friday, Sept. 11 at 5 p.m., giving students a total of five days to cast their votes on SB Engaged. If two candidates tie, a runoff election period will run from Sept. 14 through Sept. 18.
USG will also be hosting a virtual debate on Wednesday, Sept. 9 to meet and hear from the candidates.
Correction, 9/10/2020 12:00 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said that USG is giving students the option to vote on the Student Activity Fee due to the financial situation brought upon by the COVID-19 crisis. Although the financial situation affected the Student Activity Fee, the option to vote is part of a mandatory referendum vote that occurs every two years through SUNY.