By The Graduate Press Editorial Board
Candidates for the Fall 2022 GISA Board Elections convened on the evening of Tuesday, October 11th, to present their platforms and answer questions at the semestrial Candidates’ Forum. The formal call for candidates was made on October 1st and students were able to self-nominate themselves via a Google form. This term, the open positions include a) Administrative Director, b) Communications Director, c) President of the Welfare Committee, and d) Vice President for PhD Programmes. Additionally, two seats (Vice President for PhD and Administrative Director) had only a single person standing for the position, which means that they will be elected ipso facto.
Furthermore, Class Representative Elections will also be held from Friday, October 14th to Sunday, October 16th – with the caveat that students were only given a 24-hour notice of the Class Representative nomination process and election period. Finally, the election for President of the Environmental Committee (EC) will take place later this semester. As a Specialised Committee, i.e. the President has a permanent seat on the GISA board, all IHEID students are technically allowed to vote for the EC President. However, it has its own unclear election procedures, which have historically been conducted in person.
The current GISA Administrative Director, Kevin Jura, opened the Forum by explaining the debate protocol – each candidate had 5 minutes to discuss their platform, followed by a Q&A with 90-second responses, and one minute for closing remarks. Read below to catch up on what you missed and need to know before submitting your e-ballot by this Sunday, October 16th.
To read the descriptions of each position, read here.
Vice President for PhD Programmes
Emanuele Zavanella, PhD – IR/PS
Emanuele outlined what he referred to as the “four pillars” of his platform. First, raising the standards of TA salaries and scholarships to be in line with Swiss standards – an issue that has received much attention from PhD students at the Institute over the past year. Second, promoting transparency between the Institute administration, GISA, and the student body. Third, eliminating biases against victims of harassment and assault in the school’s new reporting system. Lastly, a greater focus on the students; Emanuele emphasized the need to work with all students across all departments and programs in order to effectively advocate on our behalf.
Questions were raised regarding how Emanuele would work to overcome the bureaucratic barriers to raising TA salaries at the Institute. He clarified his platform, explaining he wishes to include research assistants and tech support students (TSSs) in his advocacy efforts for livable wages. Emanuele also explained that he believes the biggest obstacles to this issue are presented by the Institute administration rather than the Canton of Geneva, so he would work closely with the school to find a solution.
Wangchok Namgail, 1st Year MINT
Wangchok began by sharing how honored he is to be part of the IHEID student body, stating that this would be the driving motivator to fulfill the duties expected of this position. He emphasized the need for student-centric, inclusive, and accessible communication; this includes finding new ways to streamline GISA’s communications besides the sole use of social media and WhatsApp group messages. Wangchok also strongly suggested expanding the GISA Communications position, to a team of three or four students, in order to increase efficiency and better meet students’ needs.
Samuel Elias Smith, 1st Year MINT
Sam also emphasized the need for more streamlined forms of communication between GISA and students, noting that students are too often bombarded with emails on a daily basis that are lost in inboxes. With regard to accessibility, he expressed the belief that GISA communications need to be committed to the bilingual environment and policy of the Institute. Being a French and German speaker himself, Sam said he is dedicated to providing students with correctly translated information across emails, social media, and so on. Accessible communications, in his opinion, would also include gender-inclusive language that is often missing from GISA materials, and he would reach out for support to overcome these biases in his work.
Anne-Lise Hadzopoulos, 2nd Year MDEV
Anne expressed a concern that students are missing out on opportunities around the Institute and Geneva due to the current overflow of emails received each day. To remedy this issue, she would take advantage of informal communication channels, such as WhatsApp, to remind students of exciting activities and opportunities around the city. Anne also said that, as a Geneva local, she would ensure constant communication, even during school breaks, so students could stay up-to-date. With regard to advocacy work in this position, Anne referred to the cafeteria sit-in protests last December as an example of students needing a space to be heard – one solution is to offer an anonymous channel for students to speak up.
Key questions were raised to the candidates regarding low participation rates from students in engaging with GISA at events, board meetings, and general assemblies; specifically, the question posed was on how each candidate plans to encourage students to be more active participants in their student government. Wangchok explained that his ability to engage students would be dependent on having a Communications team. Anne noted that many students are unfamiliar with GISA’s role and its work, so she would create informal chats for specific issues (i.e., housing) to make it easier for students to engage. Sam shared his experience organizing the first apéro following the end of the intensive French courses where 150 students were in attendance and that it would inform his strategies for increasing student attendance at GISA meetings.
Puru Rohilla, 1st Year MINT
Puru began his platform by asking attendees to close their eyes and to take three deep breaths as a way to ground ourselves. He went on to explain the importance of building community within the context of this position. He wants to be a reliable person for the student body and someone whom students can turn to as an advocate for their needs when working with the Institute administration. Puru’s main proposal for the Administrative Director position was to work closely with the Welfare Committee, organizing meetings each month, to ensure that all student needs are met.
Based on Puru’s description of his platform, a question was raised regarding whether he would be better suited for a position with the Welfare Committee since the role of the Administrative Director is heavily focused on administrative tasks compared to working directly with the study body. Puru explained that he has the time in his schedule for the duties and responsibilities expected of this position, and that all GISA positions should work with students in some capacity. Attendees were also curious about how he would effectively advocate for students in conversations with the Institute. Puru said that he needs to have a better understanding of the working relationship between GISA and the school administration, and will prioritize meetings to build trust and understanding between these two groups.
President of the Welfare Committee
Areen De, 2nd Year MDEV
Areen, the current Welfare President, shared his involvement with the Committee since Fall 2021 and vaguely touched on its past controversies – particularly the removal of his predecessor, Mariana Mendez, for racist remarks and discriminatory actions. He elaborated on his work with the Committee since the spring semester, including organizing orientation sessions for first-year students and collaborating on events and activities with the University of Geneva (UNIGE). Areen’s main goal this year is to make the IHEID campus more accessible for students living with both visible and invisible disabilities.
Carmen Mane, 2nd Year International Law
Carmen served on the Welfare Committee during the Fall 2021 semester, sharing that she decided to leave due to both her own mental health and other issues within the Committee. Her platform running as President is to ensure that students’ well-being and mental health are priorities for the GISA Board. Carmen shared her own experience moving to Geneva for the first time, recognizing that this is a difficult transition for many students. She wants to create open channels for students so the Welfare Committee can act proactively when providing support. Carmen is also fluent in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Q&A session for the Welfare President candidates was quite lively. A question was raised about the Institute’s tone and attitude towards victims of harassment during the orientation session on consent and the new sexual assault/harassment reporting system – how would each candidate share students’ concerns with the administration? Areen said that, at first, he did not find anything wrong with the orientation session, but changed his opinion after speaking with other students and reading The Graduate Press’ latest piece on the matter. Carmen highlighted her work background with sexual harassment cases, saying she is dedicated to learning how Swiss law treats these cases and to building unity with the Institute so the administration can adjust their language. This question expanded into a broader discussion with the candidates about rebuilding trust both between the Welfare Committee and the Institute, but also with other student initiatives.
Audience members also asked what formal and informal channels currently exist within the Welfare Committee to support student needs. Areen explained that the only formal channel is the GISA annual survey, which suffers from low participation rates, and expressed the need for a separate Welfare channel. Carmen observed that there are issues with accessing mental sessions through the Institute, as most resources are through UNIGE and are not free to students. She expressed the necessity to build a community of in-house formal and informal support channels for IHEID students.
Overall, the evening provided a great opportunity to get to know the GISA Board candidates, and TGP looks forward to following the rest of the process. We would at the same time like to note that the Candidates’ Forum was attended by only a couple dozen people in-person, and a handful online. We hope those who did not have the chance to attend the Forum still take the time to vote for their preferred candidates, and that the low engagement at the Forum does not reflect the overall engagement with the student democracy at the Institute. It is also worth considering whether a higher number of candidates for the various positions could increase engagement, by avoiding the positions elected ipso facto. We wish all the candidates the best of luck and urge you all to get in touch with us should you wish to share any further thoughts on the GISA elections.
GISA elections will open on Saturday, October 15th @ 12:00pm CET and will close on Sunday, October 16th @ 11:59am CET. You will receive the e-ballot via your IHEID email.
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