NBN sat down with SESP junior Christina Cilento and McCormick junior Macs Vinson, candidates for ASG president and executive vice president, to ask them about their platform. Cilento served as the the vice president for sustainability and Vinson is the current vice president for student activities for ASG.
Check out our Q&A with Joji Syed, the opposing ASG candidate, here.
Q: You’ve focused your campaign on amplifying the voices of marginalized students. What role has ASG played and what role should ASG be playing?
Christina: ASG should be at the forefront. Given recent events like the Alice Millar Chapel hate speech and conversations surrounding the Black House, it’s really important that ASG recognizes that this is something campus cares about right now, it’s something Northwestern needs and it’s something that will strengthen the entire Northwestern community. A lot of what ASG does is create resources that would serve the “average” student. We want to problematize that notion that there is an average student. We want to look at students that have been underserved and provide resources that will benefit all students, but that will mostly benefit marginalized students.
Q: What do you mean by problematize that notion that there is an average student?
Christina: I have never met a student at NU that identifies as average. There are so many drastically different experiences; if you’re in Bienen versus McCormick, if you’re from low socioeconomic background versus a high socioeconomic background. It does a disservice to all students to suggest that there is an average student.
Macs: Often this discourse around an “average” student is discourse to further marginalize students who are already underrepresented within ASG. This is a way of saying “sure, Black students may have this problem or LGBTQ students may have this problem on campus, but we need to focus on the average student.”
Q: Your slogan is “Don’t Settle.” What are you trying to get from that?
Christina: First, students shouldn’t settle for an ASG that doesn’t adequately represent them or they're not sure what it’s doing for them. I think they shouldn’t settle for candidate that won’t serve the students that are historically underserved, especially marginalized students. Shouldn’t settle for an ASG that doesn't value their full identity. Also, Macs and I don’t settle in our work on campus. We want to focus on the big issues that make students unhappy and feel like this is an unsafe environment. In creating our platform, we didn’t settle for things we thought were easy or can get done in one term. We’re going to try to aim high and work for the issues we think are most pressing.
Macs: It’s this idea of “we should be respectful with the administration and reserve our power,” but what is the worth of our power if we never use it? Put pressure on administrators to serve us and do things in a timely fashion. Don’t settle for someone who cares more about their relationship with an administrator than actually getting something done.
Q: Noah Star and Christina Kim also emphasized making sure they were doing diligence and working with community members before trying to speak on behalf of others. How does your platform differentiate?
Christina: We heard from student groups that they didn’t deliver on that. They didn’t continually check back in on them and make sure that students were continually part of the conversation. In our platform we have a feedback form. We really want feedback and critiques from all students on campus and to make ASG incredibly accessible. For groups like For Members Only (FMO) that are underrepresented, that can seem like a very transactional relationship, when a candidate goes in and asks for an endorsement, leaves without doing anything for the Black community. We really want to make sure that we're being accountable to students and being transparent so we can continually build relationships over the course of our term.
Q: You talk a lot about accountability and making the minutes of ASG public. Why’s that important?
Macs: We want to hold ourselves accountable, so we tell students we really hope that they're calling us out if we don’t go back to them, if we’re not having conversations, if we’re not bringing students into meetings with us.
Q: You have an explainer on marginalized students. Where do you see that conversation on campus and in ASG? Do you feel students understand the issue?
Christina: I don’t think most students understand this issue. We wanted to make a pretty conscious effort to teach students so students can understand this is an issue that affects, if not them, their friends or people in their classroom. I think the current conversation has opened up a little bit. It’s something that people on campus care about right now and it’s something ASG should be at the forefront of, as sort of the premier campus organization.
Macs: While that conversation [about marginalized students] is going in the Accessibility and Inclusion Committee, we want to make sure that’s going on in all parts of ASG so that we're always asking, “Who’s not at the table?”
Q: Who’s not at the table? How do we get them there?
Macs: A lot of people are not being supported by this university. One of the things unique to our platform is that we talk about undocumented students. We want to make sure we have a university that is trying to follow these things, is trying to understand how best to understand and how to best discuss these things with these students.
Christina: ASG needs to do a better job getting students who are not from dominant backgrounds and who aren’t on ASG because it looks good on a resume. We need to do a better job for students that feel NU is an unsafe environment. ASG should be working on including students of all backgrounds to create a stronger, more diverse organization.
Q: Is this by getting students elected or reaching out to, say FMO, when talking with the administration?
Christina: We have to both change the composition of ASG, as well as change the way we interact with the students that our work affects. We won't go into meetings alone. We’ll bring students with us, especially students from marginalized backgrounds, if that's the issue we’re working on. Even though their voice is all the more important because they have these experiences that make them think NU is a hostile environment and they can do incredible work around that, they don’t feel that ASG is a safe space. So, as an organization we need to provide inroads for them and show their voice matters.
Q: The divest movements and Sodexo. In your view, are these just ethical issues, or do they also affect students on campus?
Christina: Sodexo workers on campus are marginalized as well. We need to recognize that our experience as students would not be the same if they were not on campus. We would not be fed. Our bathrooms would not be clean. To not put that on our platform would be to only look at the student experience in a very one-dimensional way. So, as students, it’s our job to support people who serve us and are there for us all the time. There is also a very tangible impact of what NU is invested in. Students knowing that NU is invested in companies that profit off their erasure and incarceration is incredibly harming for students. We need to understand that there are tangible impacts on the mental health of students from what we are invested in.
Q: Students have been advocating for a lot of the issues you talked about for months or years, and many of them – particularly the divest movements and financial aid – have had ASG resolutions behind them. What can you do to change that?
Christina: We don’t settle. There's a reason these conversations have been happening for a while; ASG has not been pushing hard enough on them, or administrators have been dragging their feet. These issues are important to the student body, and they should be pursued with as much vigor and energy as possible.
Macs: I think we bring different experiences in that we have radical perspectives that bring about change in different ways. If we feel we like we need to do grassroots organizing to create pressure and make our voices known when the administration is not listening to us, then that’s something we’re willing to do.
Q: What should ASG look like a year from now?
Christina: Macs and I want to spend the entire year doing connective outreach to students, including them in conversations and making sure that students who want to have a voice in ASG can do that. I hope students will see ASG as a platform that exists to serve them and really cares about that and does proactive outreach to include them.
Macs: It’s important that ASG is viewed as a resource and not a burden so that we’re not this oppressive structure that erases voices of student that is hostile to students. We’re prepared for someone to negate our experiences. To them that's just a difference of opinion but for us it invalidates all the trauma we’ve experienced as students on this campus. At the end of the day, we’re trying to do something monumental. It may not happen in a year, but at least we’re making steps towards something that's important.
Christina: We want students to bring their whole selves to ASG, and we want to recognize students’ whole selves in the work that we do.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.