For the next two weeks, students on campus have the opportunity to find out about the candidates campaigning in this year’s student body elections.
This year, three candidates are in the running to become one of the most influential students on campus: Brandi Arnold from the College of Business, Jean Cocco from the College of Arts and Sciences and Danish Hasan from the College of Arts and Sciences.
As student body president, the candidate voted into office will have oversight of the more than $14 million budget of student Activity and Service fees, direct communication with university administrators, a potential seat on the USF Board of Trustees and will represent students at the university at local and state levels.
Some of the other powers of the student body president include nominating, with the approval of the Student Government Senate, Supreme Court justices, directors and employees of the executive branch.
Student body elections will take place Feb. 24 through Feb.27.
Brandi Arnold, a junior majoring in business management and communications with a minor in leadership, said she wants to see USF “soar.”
Arnold, currently the executive director for the Campus Traditions Board in the Center for Student Involvement, Student Government (SG) associate director of programming and traditions, a USF Ambassador for the USF Alumni Association and a member of the USF chapter of the Chi Omega women’s fraternity, is campaigning with vice-presidential candidate Shaheen Nouri, a junior majoring in political science and philosophy.
Together, they are running on a campaign titled “SOAR,” or Safety, Opportunity, Advocacy and Ready.
“Ready means we’re ready to do this… We know what it’s going to take,” Nouri said. “We’re not going to take it lightly. We know exactly what it’s going to entail.”
Nouri is SG’s solicitor general, vice president of the USF Pre-Law Society, legal liason of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity at USF, a member of the USF chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity, a member of the USF Persian American Revival Society and a student researcher at the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR).
Arnold said she hadn’t thought about running for a role like student body president months ago, but said her leadership roles at USF, working with administration and being an advocate for students in the Center for Student Involvement, prepared her to run for office.
“I never realized that everything USF has given me was leading up to this point,” she said. “…I’m not a politician, I’m a student leader who loves politics and understands it, but is just really out for the good of the students.”
In the SOAR campaign, Arnold said safety and opportunity are the most important issues for students to succeed at the university.
“Safety is No.1 in my heart. We will preach that win or lose in this election,” she said. “Opportunity is the reason I’m sitting right now talking to you. I believe students should be given more opportunities and willing to really fall in love with university.”
Arnold said the opportunity to get involved on campus is what was most important in her time at USF, previously working on USF Homecoming steering committee with university administrators and alumni and serving as vice president on the USF Panhellenic Council.
As student body president, it is opportunities such as the ones she was given that she hopes to give to students across campus, she said. To do this, she plans to making students more aware of more job opportunities on campus and create positions to help students be more involved.
“We want to have that … voice of the students who don’t have time to be in organizations because they are so focused on academics,” she said. “I want the students who are in the medical field, in the business field, who just don’t have time to join a fraternity or a society.”
Nouri said advocacy is important for Student Government when issues such as funding for the Library and other student services arise, keeping “the students’ issues at heart with every issue.”
“Students need to trust that whoever in that role will always do that,” he said.
Arnold and Nouri said they plan on putting together a taskforce for safety around campus, focusing on issues such as lighting around campus, which Arnold said she was concerned about when she participated in last year’s N.I.T.E. Walk, and road and vehicle safety, which Nouri said he has improved by doing safety studies with CUTR.
“You have to work with so many different entities, from sheriffs to campus PD to the Tampa Police Department,” Nouri said. “You have to come full circle and look at student organizations and the base level, all the way up to law enforcement. You have to have everyone involved for a good task force.”
Arnold said she also plans on improving safety by utilizing the university’s recent Medical Amnesty policy and integrating it as part of USF’s freshman orientation sessions.
Nouri said the concept of “Bulls Country” in the Bay area was a big issue at Monday night’s debate among the presidential candidates, an issue he hopes to build upon from previous student body presidents.
“I think it’s definitely dwindled,” Nouri said. “I think it’s important that we not only bring that back, but we focus it and specialize it so students know exactly what they have at their disposal.”
Arnold and Nouri said they plan on making students aware of the specific services and discounts students have in the area, and working with local businesses to make sure every shop in the community has a “USF flag or has as a USF banner.”
Another aspect of the advocacy Arnold and Nouri are running on is transparency in university funding, especially tuition and student fees.
“We need to spend some good time organizing and allocating and figuring out what we got right now before adding on new fees,” Nouri said. “… The students should not have to pay for anything that is an inherent academic responsibility of the institution.”
Jean Cocco, a senior majoring in international studies and political science with a minor in French, said he hopes to focus on what students need.
Cocco, currently serving as the University, Community and Government Affairs committee chair in the Student Government (SG) Senate, co-chair of the USF Ethics and Integrity Council, a member of the Latin American Student Association, a member of College Democrats and the USF Athletics Council, is campaigning with vice-presidential candidate Rhondel Whyte, a senior majoring in electrical engineering and Chinese.
Coccco and Whyte said their campaign, “We The Students,” focuses on student needs and the USF community.
“Being involved on campus and talking to students, and seeing what works and doesn’t work, and having the strong passion to serve that we both have to give back like people have given to us, we got together and decided that we can really do something to make a difference for Student Government and for the university,” Cocco said.
Whyte is president of the Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity, a multicultural Greek organization at USF. He is also vice president of operations for USF Ambassadors, a resident assistant in USF Housing and voted this year’s Homecoming King.
Cocco said he decided to get involved in Student Government because a long time ago, a politician in the Dominican Republic told his father that, in order to succeed, he needed to go to school, get an education and make something of himself.
“Everyone has a story and a story to leave behind in USF Bulls Country,” Cocco said. “We want to give people the opportunity to share their stories and the opportunity to improve their stories.”
One of the main issues Cocco and Whyte said they wish to accomplish is create more transparency at the university.
“Students I talk to don’t understand what they’re paying for on Oasis,” Cocco said. “We’d like to create a tuition awareness campaign… to come up with a transparent method of seeing where our money goes… A lot of students don’t know what (the tution differential) is. SG needs to do a better job of explaining those fees.”
Whyte said there are many issues around campus that can also be changed, issues he noticed while working in the residence halls.
“The dining hall kind of sucks, and everybody knows this,” he said. “This is the standard and its mediocre but we’re going to go with it because that’s the way it is. That’s kind of terrible.”
Whyte said he found it odd when he spoke with a student he met through the Ambassadors program at another university tell him that the food at another university was great.
“That’s such a weird thing to hear because I thought everyone’s dining hall food sucks, but it doesn’t have to,” he said. “It takes a bloody chicken and the media to get involved for some change to take place. Why can’t we be a proactive university instead of a reactive university? There’s so many things we can change at USF that we know are wrong but we wait until something goes wrong for us to react.”
Whyte said he and Cocco plan on working to enhance the community around USF, an issue highly discussed at Monday’s presidential debate.
“Bulls Country is an idea that we’ve been selling to students for years now and it’s not real,” Whyte said. “The most Bulls Country we are is at football games. Once we stopped winning, people stopped believing in Bulls Country and it circles around football, which is a fickle thing, and that’s a problem. Cocco and I believe through external parties with Wal-Mart or Chipotle, we can actually effectively make this Bulls Country. If you can go to Chipotle and sit on green and gold seats, that’s a beautiful thing. If you go to Wal-Mart and see a U on the front, I don’t know if that’s ambitious but these relationships can be made.”
“When students identify that this is their Wal-Mart, they start shopping there and take ownership of it,” Whyte said. “People don’t shop there now because it’s ‘sketchy’ and it doesn’t represent the ideas that USF has.”
Cocco said he and Whyte have a wide reach at the university, with Cocco’s experience in Student Government and Whyte’s work in many student organizations.
However, Cocco said he and Whyte plan on reaching out to many students in various groups on campus reaching out to Greek Village, where he said parking is a problem for weekly chapter meetings, as well as focusing more on academics in every college.
“USF is such a great university but it has untapped potential,” he said. “There’s too many people on the sidelines. It starts at the SG level, but then goes on to everyone else… the ones that will be running the country in 20 or 30 years.”
Danish Hasan, a freshman majoring in biomedical science, said he’s had an interest in politics since high school, where he worked for his Student Government speaking with local officials from Hernando County.
“Being a minority, it was always a goal to represent those who are underrepresented,” he said.
Hasan, who is running with Harsh Patil, also a freshman majoring in biomedical science, said the two initially didn’t intend to run for office so early in their collegiate careers. But after encountering things that didn’t make sense to them, Hasan said he thought they had a “fresh agenda” that could make things work better.
“Being a freshman, it’s a very farfetched goal,” Hasan said. “Then we came across things that didn’t quite make sense to us, such as the library closing down. At the same time Student Government (SG) is proposing massive increases in the budget going to the Spring Homecoming and USF Week. We feel that there could be a better-balanced budget. Things like that are quite possible because they are the responsibility of student government … we have a different perspective than the current student government and candidates who are all seniors.”
But Patil said as he and Hasan have gone around speaking to students trying to educate themselves about the issues, they have found that many people don’t know much about SG.
Hasan said he hopes to create a greater sense of engagement with students who are currently underrepresented. He wants to create a committee of graduate students, who he said currently feel detached from the university because of time of events not catered to their interests.
He also said he wanted to create committees with representation from each undergraduate class of students in order to get a better gauge of what the student body needs,
“We don’t have any big ideas like building a football stadium, what we want are
fundamental changes that will cater better to the needs of USF students,” he said. “We want more accountability and transparency. Currently a football stadium is quite expensive. We have a lot of budget issues like keeping the Library running, we don’t have too many printers for example. We’re a university first and our education is our primary interest.”
Achieving a balanced budget, he said, is a goal that can be reached within a few years of proper leadership.
Patil said improving safety off-campus is also a priority for their campaign. The two hope to extend blue-light emergency call centers to housing areas off-campus and increase the presence of Bullrunner bus shuttles there during peak hours.
“Safety on 42nd and safety on 50th are big items that need to be taken care of,” Patil said. “Especially considering the fact that problems there are problems happening on almost a monthly basis. They’re on the news whether it be regarding a break in or a sexual assault. Even though they are not a technical part of USF Housing, they’re still the students that come to our school that pay the tuition and are still under the student body. We should be protecting them.”
Additionally, Hasan said,transparency would be key to their platform, and they intended to use social media to communicate with students more.
“We want the budget to be displayed,” he said. “We want anyone to have easy access through social media to see their tuition money is going.”
Senate bills and proposed action, he said, such as what to do when the Library briefly stopped offering 24/5 hours after a budget cut, should be something that could have been discussed more through such platforms, he said.
“These issues were not publically talked about from the student government,” Hasan said. “There was a communication gap. These issues are affecting thousands of students at the school. So prior to being voted in the senate, these bills should be displayed publically maybe two weeks in advance before voting.”
Priorities for where money is allocated, Hasan said, should be re-evaluated based on student input.
Hasan said he and Patil did not know what USF Week was, but planned on attending, because “pride is extremely important.”
“It’s great to give students a break from studying,” Hasan said. “What I’m saying is the money going toward that could be better utilized. … Things are unclear as to where the money is being divided. From that standpoint, I’m saying the budget increase was unnecessarily. But perhaps I may be wrong if I can actually seeing where the money is being spent. Why it was necessary to a spend $160,000 increase (to USF Week)?”
Ultimately, Hasan said he hopes his campaign can help students feel like their voices are being heard in Student Government.
“It’s important for students to realize the amount of power SG actually has,” he said. “And for elected officials to understand the responsibility they have, because at the end of the day the students that elected them are the ones that they have to go back to. The students are trusting them to make the university better.”