The State Press hosted a Q&A session on Monday with the Graduate and Professional Student Association executive tickets, where they focused on graduate student engagement and full transparency with students for the next year.
Rio de Leon, an urban planning graduate student, and Michelle Sullivan Govani, a biology Ph.D student, are running for GPSA president.
What makes your ticket unique?
De Leon: My campaign focuses itself on campuses that have traditionally been neglected. I have a high amount of passion for bringing people to campuses from underrepresented communities. I want to make a difference in how GPSA operates and how it is perceived by students.
Govani: My ticket is unique for two reasons. First my experience lends itself to a different approach. It gives me the tools that I need to make the changes that GPSA need – for example, improving transparency. I also want to focus on GPSA as a governing unit and how we can engage and empower graduate students to articulate what they want from their government
What made you join student government as a graduate student?
Govani: When I was studying and ready to go into policy, I began to read a lot about philosophy, politics and government, and one thing that stuck with me from an article was: nobody in the world has a coherent vision of what’s going on in a complicated issue, but everybody is obligated to share what their vision and perspective is. So I decided that I have a voice, and I have a capability, so I’m obligated to stick up for my community.
What are the main student issues you feel need to be addressed?
De Leon: Issues surrounding graduate student labor (need to be addressed). For a lot of students, they have to either take a low paying internship or a TA (teaching assistant) job that asks for more than what’s in their contracts, and I feel the GPSA is the place to address those issues.
Govani: Last year, there was a proposed tuition tax, and we fought that battle by visiting senators and representatives and putting together policy briefings and an impact statement, but the fight is not over. We are still working on bills surrounding the affordability and accessibility of graduate school.
What is one issue you feel students misunderstand or are largely unaware of?
De Leon: Knowing the resources GPSA has available to them is really critical – knowing we offer awards for leadership, research and for teaching assistants. If we communicate to students that we have these opportunities and awards for them, then it could increase student involvement.
Govani: There’s a mysticism around how we a make graduate school affordable. Students don’t know where a lot of these fees come from, such as the athletics fee, and where their money is going, so this goes back to my platform of transparency and making students understand that these fees are involved in negotiations that help make tuition affordable.
Recently the Council of Presidents received a complaint for not posting their minutes. How are you planning on addressing this issue as well as the issue of communication and transparency?
De Leon: As an elected official, the first thing we should be doing is communicating with our constituents. And I want to be clear that, no matter what, I’m going to follow the constitution, and I want my constituents to tell me if I deviate from that. So absolutely the minutes will be posted.
Govani: I’m spending my time on a legislative fix. If we don’t have it in the legislation, then new presidents coming in can do whatever they want. Something like this would’ve never happened if there were some legislative oversight, so we’re currently working on a bill in GPSA.
How do you want to educate students on certain things that are happening down at the Capitol, and how do you want to bridge that gap between students and the legislature?
De Leon: We are working tirelessly to understand the effects state and federal legislature has on graduate students. So all three state universities need to partner together (and) get on the same page to organize and focus on protecting graduate students. An example we had this year of that was with the tax cuts and jobs act, where the federal government tried to tax tuition waivers. The National Association then leaped into action to see that tax brackets didn’t rise. So that’s my history with legislative action, and I hope to continue with that.
How will you address the challenges facing ASU DACA students?
De Leon: At the federal level, we’re not seeing enough movement, so what I want to see is that we become more ingrained in what they need from ASU. For me, that means communicating directly with the (Crow) administration about what resources they need.
Govani: We have partnered with the ASU government affairs office to send DACA students to the District and Capitol Hill offices of our representatives, and we all have been collaborating with President Crow's office on getting legal advice to DACA students. We are also constantly advocating, submitting policy briefs and talking to district offices.
What motivated you to run for student government?
De Leon: One choice in a democracy is essentially no choice at all. It really comes down to that I feel it is my responsibility to make sure this isn’t an uncontested race. At the end of the day, I want students to know that they have a selective representative body, and they can be engaged.
Govani: I was just speechless about the tax bill. I met a lot of students who had never been involved with politics, and suddenly all of these graduate students felt like they had a voice, and they had a place to use that voice by calling their representatives and telling them their concerns about the tax bill. And seeing that happen really inspired me and made me see this doesn’t have to stop in my department. We can expand this mobilization and apply it more broadly across GPSA.
Is there anything else you want to add about your campaign?
De Leon: Well other than that, voting starts tomorrow. I’m really excited and hopeful that students will turn out and vote. Even if you have to get blind folded and point at the screen to determine who you’re voting for, it’s better than not voting at all.
Govani: I really encourage graduate students to vote. And one of my goals is to make voter turnout increase because it can be a way to mobilize meaningful action.
Editors note: The photo has been changed to include both candidates running for GPSA president. The original photo only included Rio de Leon.