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As the weather on campus is warming, Student Government Association (SGA) elections are heating up.
This week, the Middlebury student body will elect a new SGA president for the 2019-2020 academic year. The position involves directly overseeing the SGA Cabinet and Senate and supporting the work of 11 Cabinet committees and five Senate committees. The President is viewed as the de facto leader of the entire student body.
Three candidates are running for the position this election cycle, and The Campus spoke with each of them to get a sense of their qualifications, priorities and visions for the SGA.
John Gosselin ’20
Winchester, MA native Gosselin has served in several leadership roles on campus throughout his time at Middlebury, including SGA Atwater senator. He is currently treasurer of the Tavern social house and Community Council co-chair. His campaign website can be accessed at go/voteforjohn.
“I feel as though I’m an effective administrator who doesn’t respond with strong emotions,” Gosselin told The Campus. “This calm temperament will help with any possible hostilities that may arise next year.”
While serving with the Community Council, Gosselin was the leading student voice on the steering committee for the Residential Life Report and has been involved in the process for over two years. As SGA president, Gosselin hopes to implement the first steps of the report, and believes that having a president who understands its importance is critical as the steering committee begins to tackle long term projects like renovating Battell and building a new student center.
Gosselin also wants to improve social life and late-night non-alcoholic programming. To this end, he plans to work with different organizations on campus to provide higher quality non-alcoholic programming and work with the Vermont Department of Liquor Control and the college’s general counsel to “relax policies which currently restrict many events with alcohol.”
On Community Council, Gosselin strove to support students of color and worked to approve PALANA as a new social house. He said the group has and will continue to do “a phenomenal job at providing a diversity-oriented space on campus.”
Gosselin also wants to find more ways to support students over breaks. He feels the lack of resources provided to students, especially in the dining halls, prevent students from “having a full and equal Middlebury experience.” He says that he expects the SGA to either work with administration or prioritize the support of such efforts with SGA funds.
Varsha Vijayakumar ’20
Vijayakumar, from Harrington Park, New Jersey, is a current junior senator with the SGA. She sees SGA president as a role that supports students who are already passionate about particular causes around campus. Vijayakumar made it clear that her platform does not only belong to her, but to the numerous students from whom she’s received input and support. Her experience with the Institutional Diversity Committee and the Senate have shown her the immense power the SGA can have for students. “I want to harness the passion of students,” she said. “Their power is unstoppable.”
Vijayakumar’s leadership on campus is not limited to the SGA. She serves as the president of Midd Masti, has led a MALT trip to Miami about sex trafficking and hasserved as a JusTalks facilitator. Vijayakumar feels deeply connected with many communities and spaces around campus through her extracurricular involvement and hopes to bring these connections to her role as president. Her experience with Midd Masti, for instance, allowed her to “fall in love with her culture in a way that’s loving and affirming” and hopes that the SGAcan empower groups to provide those and other opportunities to even more students.
Her campaign website, go/varsha, represents a platform created by students and for students. She stresses that her goal is not to push a certain agenda but to support the work and goals of student-centered causes. She hopes to work with groups on campus to tackle issues within health and wellness, social spaces and social life, inclusivity, access to resources, and financial aid and employment. She has identified these areas as key prioritiesfor an SGA under her leadership and is excited by the upward trend in student involvement with the SGA in recent years. She pointed to divestment and to-go boxes as examples of encouraging signs of progress. Vijayakumar hopes to find ways to streamline the SGA to be more representative and more efficient. “Student engagementwith SGA is the equivalent to our success,” she said.
Joel Machado ’22
Machado, a Posse Scholar from New York City, is encouraged by what underclassmen can bring tothe SGA. Machado noted that first-years “are generally the most engaged and most involved on campus, and generally have the most turnout in elections.” Machado, who is involved with First@Midd and Distinguished Men of Color (DMC), pointed to his lack of experience with SGA as “not the end all be all.”
“I want to bring new energy to the SGA, whereas the other two candidates lack the lens of being on the outside looking in,” he said. He hopes that he can bring his leadership skills to the role by using first-year enthusiasm to represent the entire student body.
After identifying several institutional issues at Middlebury, such as rape culture and new Title IX policies, Machado first decided to speak out through the Spencer Prize, a first-year speaking competition. Machado then submitted his speech to The Campus as an opinion piece, noting that “it wasn’t worth it to wait” to act. “I wanted to vocalize problems I saw even in my first semester here on campus," Machado said. He tried to use these moments as a form of protest and hopes his candidacy can shed more light on the issues he hopes to focus on while in office.
Machado’s platform, which can be found on his website at go/ourSGA, attempts to answer four questions. First, who gets to be a Midd Kid? Here, Machado wants to focus on issues surrounding diversity and creating opportunities for marginalized groups on campus in and out of the classroom. Second, how can we improve life at Middlebury? He hopes to enact change in such areas as registration, opening up study abroad opportunities in winter term and funding individual students to host their own parties and events on campus. Third, how should the SGA operate? Machado feels as though the SGA has too much bureaucracy and hopes to simplify the body to make it more efficient. He feels it should have “less of an organized structure and be more informal and conversational.” Fourth, what can we do for our future? Machado looks to work on long term efforts like enforcing Energy2028, eliminating rape culture on campus and collaborating on a new commons system.
Community Council Co-Chair
The race for co-chair of Community Council, a position shared with Dean of Students Baishkahi Taylor tasked with leading discussions and action on all non-academic issues on campus, will be uncontested this year. The Campus spoke with the sole candidate.
Roni Lezama ’22
Lezama, a Posse Scholar from New York City, feels that the Community Council is a unique body that brings together students, faculty, and staff for important discussions about life at Middlebury. Lezama, who currently serves on the SGA’s Institutional Diversity Committee and recently won the Spencer Prize in Oratory, wants to embrace the power of the community and empower others to voice their opinions in an open, respectful forum of ideas.
“I want to work towards a Middlebury that’s for the community and empowers community members and especially those of marginalized identities to speak up and voice their opinions,” he said.
Lezama doesn’t want to set an agenda because Community Council is the “most important time to hear what other people have to say.” However, he wants to hear from the community on additional programs beyond Green Dot to fight back against sexual assault as well as focusing on issues like accessibility to a Community Council that should be “a place of openness.” In general, Lezama wants to focus on issues that affect all facets of the community. He gave registration as an example of an issue that gives headaches to everyone involved. He hopes that Community Council discussions and respectful debates can bring progress and meaningful solutions to problems like these in the next year.
Porter Bowman ’21.5 is the Senior Opinions Editor.
He previously served as the Correspondent to the Student Government Association (SGA) and a Staff Writer for the News and Local sections.
Bowman is pursuing an International Politics and Economics major and a History minor.
During the summer of 2020, Bowman started a podcast called “Why Not U.S.?” where he interviewed young people in their 20s serving in political office across the country.
He also worked as a producer and researcher for “Trickeration,” an investigative sports podcast from iHeartMedia hosted by Campus alum Matt Waxman ’01.5.
When not watching the West Wing or finishing crossword puzzles, Bowman plays on the Middlebury varsity golf team alongside basketball, club tennis, and intramural volleyball.
He lost on Teen Jeopardy! in November 2016.