It is Thursday, Sept. 10, and USG (Undergraduate Student Government) presidential candidate, Huntley Spencer, had a near restless night. He was up until 5 a.m. messaging student after student, asking them to vote in this year’s USG elections.
He was not worried as much about whether students would vote him into office or not, but more concerned about whether the Student Activity Fee (SAF) — which funds the budgets of student clubs and organizations — would remain mandatory for the next two years.
Spencer woke up the next morning feeling confident that enough of the student body voted for the mandatory SAF. He sat on his bed, patiently awaiting the results and refused to get up until they were released. That morning, Spencer got hit with a clean sweep — not only was the SAF staying mandatory, but he was also elected USG president with a total of 1,044 votes.
Nearly 2,000 ballots were cast in the elections this year — a 10% increase in student body votes from last year. Spencer beat the opposing party’s candidate, senior political science and economics major Justin Ullman, by 426 votes, and another candidate, senior psychology major Vincent Ferrara, by 760 votes.
Spencer is a senior double majoring in political science and sociology, on the pre-law track with a minor in international studies. He has been involved in USG since his freshman year, when he started as a freshman class senator. In his sophomore year, he was once again class senator, as well as the chair for Roth Regatta. He also ran for Vice President of Student Life in 2019 with the Phoenix Party, but lost to SB United Party member Hadi Mohammed.
Spencer first got involved with USG because of the EOP (Educational Opportunity Program). His EOP teaching assistant, Lazaro Rivera, was already devoted to the organization.
“He kind of like, took me under his wing and guided me through the freshman senator process,” Spencer said. “As soon as I got into the organization, I fell in love with it. I wanted to help in any way to kind of improve. It became like second nature to me.”
Besides being a part of USG, Spencer is an active member of the Stony Brook campus community. He serves as an EOP success coach, the New Member Educator for his fraternity, Kappa Sigma and Operations Coordinator for Student Media.
Spencer never expected he would be so involved in the Stony Brook University community. While attending Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y., he felt he was quite reserved. He would do his work and commute back to his hometown of Pelham Bay in the Bronx.
“I didn’t think that I was a person who could, really socialize to this extent and really, like, be someone who can advocate for others,” Spencer said. “But after my [EOP] Summer Academy, I realized that’s what I want to do.”
Spencer ran with The A.F.T.E.R. (Actively Furthering Talent Education and Representation) Party this year. The party won five out of seven executive board seats and 14 of 23 senate seats. Spencer said the acronym outlines all of his initiatives. The party, along with others, started to campaign in person but quickly moved online because of COVID-19.
One of the executive branch seats went to senior computer science and math major, Kevin Mahon, who went to high school with Spencer. Mahon, who is now USG Treasurer, has known Spencer as an acquaintance since their freshman year, but are now good friends. Mahon sees Spencer as a positive influence on the student body.
“He’s student-oriented,” Mahon said. “So he’s definitely going to advocate for things that are most important to students and we’ll see real change in a lot of different things.”
As part of his campaign goals, Spencer plans on advocating for the student body and promoting inclusivity among campus life. He was also grateful for what former USG President, Shaheer Khan, a senior political science major, accomplished during his term.
“I have to give a lot of props to Shaheer, because he really shifted USG from just a club-oriented aspect to more of a student-oriented aspect,” Spencer said. “With the right amount of advocacy and the right amount of support, we can actually make real change.”
Usually, there is a two-month transition period between the former Executive Board to the new one. However, because campus became mostly a ghost town in late March, Khan and the rest of the Executive Board started to train candidates over the summer to prepare for one of their inevitable election wins.
“I was meeting with Huntley, Justin and Vincent every week to sort of talk about everything USG based on the role of the presidency,” Khan said. “Not only [about] the contemporary issues where we’re sort of experiencing at the moment because of COVID-19, but also who are some important playmakers on campus that you will have to maintain communication with.”
Khan believes that because of Spencer’s heavy involvement on campus, he can relate more to the student body and apply that to his term in office.
“I think being so diverse in terms of his involvement on campus, it will make him equipped to sort of understand different students’ concerns,” Khan said. “ If you talk to students and sort of have that relationship with different communities, you’ll be able to do a better job as USG President and I think only he’ll be able to do that.”
Another major goal Spencer has is to help campus clubs and organizations as much as possible. Because of COVID-19, students have to host general body meetings and events primarily online. Spencer plans on building more repertoire with these students because he feels they view USG either as a “piggy bank” or intimidating.
“I’m primarily focused with getting to know the e-board members of hopefully every club on campus, and for them to kind of know me and my administration,” Spencer said. “They represent us in the campus community better than we can represent ourselves.”
New Executive Vice President of the O.F.F. (One Foot Forward) Party, senior biochemistry and psychology double major Asna Jamal, is also very passionate about this initiative. She plans on having senators log into club general body meetings to increase USG outreach. She believes Spencer’s determination will get her initiatives completed, even though they ran with different parties.
“He stays here until 10; it shows a lot of dedication and passion,” Jamal said. “A lot of my conversations [with Spencer] were about how I’m going to be running things, which I really appreciated. He was also giving me a lot of insight because he had experience from his freshman year that I never had.”
Jamal and the new Vice President of Communications, Jolena Podolsky, a senior double majoring in English and creative writing, were the only two Executive Board members elected from The O.F.F. Party. Podolsky also feels that Spencer is willing to support her initiatives and work with her to succeed during her term. Some of her goals include fixing the “outdated” USG website and revamping the communications office. She sees how Spencer’s personality might benefit the student body, especially during the pandemic.
“Huntley’s personality holds a lot of charisma and optimism — something that we really need this year,” Podolsky wrote in an email. “Huntley reaches out to a lot of students, in person and virtually, which will definitely benefit Stony Brook overall.”
If conditions at Stony Brook allow for in-person events next semester, Spencer plans to complete one of his personal initiatives: hosting a West meets East festival. This would be a traditional Asian festival held in the Student Activity Center plaza, where Asian clubs and organizations could showcase themselves to the student body. He is also advocating for this due to the large international student population on campus, which numbered about 4,500 students pre-pandemic.
Throughout the year, Spencer also wants to build USG’s relationship with all students and faculty. He encourages students to attend town hall meetings and bring up their concerns or feelings about what needs change. He wants to fight for what is important to not himself, but to concerned students.
“We are pretty much useless without the students,” Spencer said. “It really helps having a student body that supports and helps their organization advocate.”
Correction 9/29/20, 11:03 a.m.: An original version of this article mistakenly introduced Kevin Mahon as a USG senator. He is the USG treasurer.