By Silvia Ecclesia
On Tuesday April 20th, the second round of debates among GISA candidates took place online in conclusion of the campaigns. The candidates debating this time were: Manuel Alejandro Leon Marcano and Aishwarya Tendolkar for the position of President, Lorena Villavicencio for Vice-President of Masters students, and TheHung Vu and Aayushi Rawat for GISA Treasurer. Alison Eddy, GISA’s Administrative Director, moderated the event.
The candidates for the position of GISA President were the first to debate.
Aishwarya presented her platform, setting forth from the very beginning her commitment, also as ex-journalist, to make all students’ voices heard and listen to not just their complaints but also suggestions and proposed solutions. As a consequence, regular town halls are a keystone of her campaign. Housing and the creation of a “Student Housing Grievances Redressal Committee” is another strong focus of hers, which in her vision would make GISA’s work more effective in addressing housing issues that have recently arisen. Aishwarya then went on highlighting the need for better student representation in the anti-harassment and anti-racism dialogue at the Institute, which she is committed to. Concluding, she reiterated her dedication to making GISA a more student-friendly space listening to everybody’s needs.
Taking off his mask, Manuel followed and presented his platform. Recalling his difficult path to Geneva, he explained how he saw this as an opportunity to give something back to the students that helped him get to the Institute. Creating more spaces for students’ voices to be heard and increasing transparency are two of his main missions, along with taking into account the effects that our actions will have on incoming students. Manuel stressed the importance of pressuring the administration for better communications, including in French, and of strengthening Antenna-H (the Graduate Institute’s anti-harassment unit) by supporting them in their work as an anti-harassment body. Finally, Manuel underlined the need to build bridges instead of walls and work together as a community.
The floor was then opened to the public for questions.
In answering the first question, on how they would articulate their proposals with the work of the current president, Manuel expanded on his work as class representative which familiarized him with the work of the current GISA Board; Aishwarya instead expressed her admiration for the achievements of Alexa, especially the gender neutral bathrooms, but reiterated her intention to collaborate more with QISA and improve GISA as a space for communication.
When asked why making an internal Housing Committee would be the best strategy as opposed to externalizing the process, Aishwarya explained that she sees students’ as the best advocates for housing issues, as they experience them first hand every day.
The question of how to increase participation, given that spaces for participation are tokenized and GISA often faces delegitimization, was answered by Manuel, who reiterated the need to keep students informed on all decisions and reforms taken.
If elected, Aishwarya and Manuel’s first priorities will respectively be the opening up of communications for students and creation of town halls; and the hosting of a meeting with all initiatives to hear their concerns and suggestions.
A last round of questions was gathered from the public which included concerns about advocacy against the Institute, the inclusion of QISA in the newly announced Gender, Diversity, Inclusion and Sustainability commission, and rebuilding our community after the fragmentation brought by the pandemic.
Both candidates stressed their commitment to representing the students even when it entails advocating against the Institute, and their will to push for the inclusion of QISA in the new committee. On the matter of community rebuilding, Manuel remembered how he managed to participate in the Institute’s life even from Venezuela through online events and parties; Aishwarya, on the other hand, expressed her desire, as long as it is safe, to have in-person events and slowly encourage people to participate.
Finally, Alison called for closing remarks from both candidates.
Aishwarya emphasized her desire to improve communications, to be “the flesh and the voice” of the student community and the link with the administration.
Manuel stressed his will to help the community work towards common goals. He is grateful to all those who helped him before and who encouraged him not to give up and now wants to give something back to the student community.
The debate then moved on to the Vice-president for Master position, for which Lorena is running unopposed. Despite her being the only candidate, as later stressed by the current VP Master and GISA President, it is important to vote for her to give her legitimacy in her position.
Lorena discovered her natural altruistic drive, which pushed her to listen to her colleagues’ concerns and make every effort to solve them, in fulfilling her duties as class representative for IRPS. Her multidisciplinary background makes her suitable for understanding all the different departments’ issues. Lorena’s goal is to achieve greater student agency and participation, advocate for more transparency, and improve academic curricula. Concluding, she highlighted her availability to listen to students’ problems and try to find a solution together.
In answering questions, Lorena defended how student’s concerns will be a priority for her, and that she is willing to drop everything to solve them. She also explained how keeping a collegial environment open to constructive criticism on the GISA board is key to avoid the rise of disputes. On the subject of how to solve the problems of communication between students and class representatives, the candidate explained that she values the current system set up by the current VP, Massimiliano Masini, of having regular meetings with the class reps, but she also would like to make communications with herself easier. Like she did for the IRPS cohort, she suggested creating an anonymous Google form for sending complaints or comments in a more protected way together while holding weekly office hours.
In her closing remarks, Lorena stressed the importance of giving her our vote. Even if today she didn’t have an opponent, she is full of ideas and strategies and is looking forward to finishing what Massimiliano started by finding new ways to help students.
It was then the time for candidates for the position of Treasurer to present themselves.
Aayushi set forth her long work experience in finance and accounting, and then went on explain how she would like to see initiatives engaged in more creative events and activities for the inclusion of online students. She expressed her admiration for the work of the current Treasurer, Luise, and how she will continue to follow her transparency policy. Her experience in the Welfare Committee makes her very familiar with the current processes and forms. Change for the sake of change is not always productive and understanding the problem first is the best way to find solutions.
It was then Vu’s turn to explain his platform. With the support of a colorful powerpoint presentation, he underlined his extensive work experience in finance, his numerous travels and his fun-loving nature. Vu never ran for student elections on any occasion, and he said this is a way for him to go out of his comfort zone. His priority in the short term, if elected, would be to understand the current situation and then increase financial efficiency and help initiatives to manage their funds.
On the question of how they would like to support the other GISA members outside of their position, Aayushi reiterated her involvement with the Welfare Committee as well as her interest in helping the Professional Development Committee and other members as necessary. Vu, instead, is interested in supporting the Events Coordinator in hosting more fun events, aiding the organization of fundraising events.
Vu further expanded on the fundraising events, explaining how he plans to raise money. Vu also wants to create a process to assess the risks of overspending, and support initiatives more directly to help them negotiate prices and make savings. Aayushi stressed the importance of supporting initiatives and class representatives in managing their budgets, but also highlighted how this year, because of the online format, many funds were not used and therefore her answer is contingent on what will happen in the future.
In their short closing remarks, both candidates reiterated their commitment to helping students, and gave their availability for answering further questions by text or email.
Given the spare time, one last question was addressed to the candidates for President on what system they would set forth for guaranteeing students and writers for the Graduate Press access to GISA’s information and archives, ensuring the quality of information along with the autonomy of student publications.
Manuel agreed on the need to address any misinformation problems, and he envisions doing that through better communications and engagement with the student community.
Aishwarya proposed the creation of an anonymous form for facilitating inquiries from the students. She also stressed the importance of making GISA’s archives, information, and meeting minutes accessible.
The current Gisa president Alexa concluded the debates by reminding the participants of the importance of voting to increase the legitimacy of our representatives and not expose them to questioning from the administration.
Voting opened at 12h00 today, and will close at 1h00 tomorrow. You can access the voting portal through a link sent to your institutional email.