By Neva Newcombe and Anna Liz Thomas
NOTE: Candidate platforms are available for download below.
On the eve of the voting period, eleven candidates standing for various positions on the GISA Board gathered in Maison de la Paix for a debate, and a twelfth candidate joined the debate remotely. You can read the candidates platforms at the end of this article. Some observers– both students and GISA Board members– gathered in the space with the candidates, but many more joined online.
Voting is open from 12h on Friday 9/10 to 13h on Saturday 10/10. The link was sent to all eligible students’ inboxes under the subject line “Your Invitation to Vote in the Election: (COPY) GISA Board Autumn Election 2020-2021”.
This year’s field featured almost all female candidates and one candidate who is nonbinary. With the exception of one student, all of the candidates running for Administrative Director, Communications Directors, and Welfare Committee President are first years.
Outgoing Administrative Director Antonio García opened and moderated the session. García explained that each candidate would get 5 minutes to make an opening statement. After all the candidates for a given position spoke, the floor would open up for a 15 minute questioning period. After going through this process for each position, the candidates would give closing remarks for 3-5 minutes.
Amber Darwish is running unopposed for Vice President for PhD Programmes.
She emphasized her role as a student-mother, the lack of Institute provisions for a second maternity leave, and the condition of students living across the border.
Likely due to the fact that Amber is running alone, no questions were asked for this position.
Five students are running for President of the Welfare Committee. This is the first election that has included Presidents of Specialized Committees of GISA, indicating that these four committees (the Welfare Committee, the Professional Development Committee, the Environmental Committee, and GradCom) are becoming increasingly integrated into the framework of GISA. Nearly every candidate emphasized the need to make Welfare Committee resources more accessible and visible to students.
Aynur Asadli, the first candidate to speak, explained that she has had plenty of time to observe the operations of GISA and the institute in general. She is currently completing her second master’s degree at the institute; the first time around, Aynur was an MIA student, and now she is completing a degree in international economics. Aynur noted that, in her experience, “First years are the ones who need help from the Welfare Committee.”
Lisa Caberlotto wanted voters to know that she would listen to them, put their needs first, and try to organize lots of events in a large range of activities, from sporting events to meditation sessions.
Gaia Grasselli emphasized the financial aspect of student welfare, and acknowledged that for many students, it is not just a work-life balance, but a finance-life balance. They said that they think of the IHEID community as their family, and that they will always fight for the wellbeing of their family. Grasselli said that “People are struggling just to be here, [and] every struggle is made up of so many elements, big and small. [The] duty of the welfare committee is to deal with every single one of these elements”
Monideepa Mukherjee, a lawyer, noted that coming to Geneva has not been easy for anyone, especially this year. Mukherjee acknowledged that it’s difficult for people coming from other backgrounds to step forward and ask for help or mentorship, and she said that she would like to implement mentorship programs for disciplinary students as well. She proposed a one point contact for housing issues, which are almost ubiquitous among IHEID students.
Finally, Abby Naumann used her time to tell a personal story about her struggles with healthcare and relationships in Geneva. She recalled sitting in the waiting room of a hospital after receiving some troubling medical news and wondering: “Which doctor should I see? How much will my treatment cost? What are my rights in Switzerland? I don’t want anyone else to be in that position ever again. When you’re in a bad position, your job is to heal, not think about logistics. That’s the Welfare Committee’s job.” Naumann emphasized the need for clearer policy around harassment cases at the Institute.
A lively questioning session followed the statements, and one of the moments that stood out was when GISA President Alexa Rae Burk asked how each of the candidates would incorporate anti-racism into their work as Welfare Committee President. Most candidates noted the importance of listening and diversity, and several said that cases of racial discrimination or harassment need to be handled as such, rather than as interpersonal conflicts. One of the audience members noted that the Welfare Committee has “never presented any instance of racism or harassment as an interpersonal issue.”
Two students are running for the position of Communications Director, which facilitates communication channels of GISA with the students.
Raphaela Flores, who joined the debate online, said that as Director she would “make improvements to GISA’s current platforms, [and] give autonomy to the communications of each initiative.” She proposed the idea of a centralized calendar of events and different mailing lists, to cut down on the potential for spam.
Daniela Salazar Diaz wanted voters to know that she has three years of experience working for the Colombian government, and feels more than equipped for the task of Communications Director. Salazar put forward a very structured plan for her prospective tenure as Comms Director called the GISA Communications Empowerment Strategy. The details of this plan can be found in Salazar’s platform below.
Outgoing Communications Director Mukta Dhere asked if both the candidates felt comfortable communicating (or at least understanding) French, given that most of the school’s administrators feel most comfortable communicating in French. Both Flores and Salazar responded in French, saying that they do feel comfortable listening, but that their speaking may be slightly shaky.
Finally, four students stood for the role of Administrative Director, which coordinates logistics within GISA and at the Institute.
Alison Eddy spoke first, and said that she would draw on her experience as a coordinator for food distribution volunteers. She also noted that as Administrative Director, she would push the administration to take stances on the issues that are important to students. Eddy said “I believe to be non-political is apolitical stance.”
Nina Lam assured voters that she loves administrative work and student government, and she said that in her view, “Being the Administrative Director is all about support. You’re there for the board, but you’re also there for the students. I want all students to feel that they have a voice, and that they can come to me to voice their concerns.”
Mariana Mendez also emphasized her work experience with the permanent mission of Mexico. Mendez said that she has “dealt with many challenges outside of academia” and is sure that she has the administrative skills to succeed in the position.
Lastly, Devika Vohra told a story about her experience working as a volunteer coordinator at an event with over 1000 volunteers in Delhi. She noted that at the beginning of the event, she was managing 10 volunteers and buses, and by the end she had assumed responsibility for over 500 volunteers and buses. In the midst of the chaos, she also supported one attendee who suffered an asthma attack. Devika said that she felt confident in her ability to multitask and make sure things don’t fall through the cracks.
Again, the audience asked if the candidates felt comfortable communicating in French. They all said they have some grasp on the language, but no one felt absolutely confident in their French language abilities.
Photo by RawPixel.
Most of the candidates emphasized the need to make welfare resources more available and accessible – not Welfare Committee resources. It’s a subtle but important distinction. The Welfare Committee does not have any resources. There is however a broad coalition of students, which includes but is not limited to the Welfare Committee advocating to make welfare resources offered at IHEID more visible, available and accessible.
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