By Olivia Arnold, news correspondent
Elliot Horen, a third-year information science and business administration combined major, and Suchira Sharma, a sophomore international business major, are running unopposed for Northeastern University’s Student Government Association (SGA) president and vice president, respectively.
Horen and Sharma are campaigning on the ChangeNU slate – a platform that addresses hot-button issues including sexual assault prevention, LGBTQA+ rights and mental health care reform.
“We will engage on everything from the price of textbooks to Greek life on this campus and intend to be really active in all elements of the student experience,” Horen said.
Horen and Sharma are running unopposed, but they still need to receive 20 percent of the vote, roughly 3,600 undergraduate students, in order to win. Voting began online on myNEU on March 24 and will be open until April 1.
The Huntington News sat down with Horen and Sharma to talk about their vision for both student government and the university.
The Huntington News: What experience do you have in SGA that you believe would be relevant to your respective roles as president and executive vice president?
Suchira Sharma: I joined SGA in the spring of 2015 to represent my sorority [Tri Sigma] […] I took over as chief of staff this year […] I handle aspects of membership development as well as internal finance for the organization.
Elliot Horen: I joined [SGA] in September of 2014 […] I have served as chief of staff […] and did the kind of organizational and administrative roles to keep the association running […] This spring, I was elected chair of the student services committee, and that is SGA’s largest committee.
HN: What personal accomplishment in SGA are you most proud of?
EH: I’m most proud of our effort to reform sexual assault policy […] We made Northeastern explicitly an affirmative consent school [based on a proposed California bill that would require students to attain explicit consent before proceeding with a sexual encounter,] which was not the case before. We added penalties and a description of sexual harassment to the code of conduct […] We expanded the definition of sexual assault to include attempted assault and the taking of a video or images without someone’s consent.
SS: My, I think, biggest accomplishment so far […] has been increasing the senate membership by 20 percent this year. We pride ourselves right now on our current structure of retaining senate membership and having that open door policy.
HN: In the 2014 SGA elections, 75 percent of respondents voted in favor of a referendum to divest Northeastern endowments from fossil fuel industries. What would you do to address divestment?
EH: We support the voices of students and an overwhelming result calling for divestment to us is an indication that that’s something we should advocate for. So we believe in that movement, but I think even more so we want to work on tangible projects that have a sustainable impact on campus in the interim […] and reduce waste anywhere else we can.
HN: Northeastern is one of more than 100 universities and colleges under investigation for Title IX violations for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases. What will you do to aid sexual assault prevention and improve resources for survivors?
SS: We want to work with administration to make sure that the existing resources […] are effectively running to help students that want to and can utilize them. The second aspect is the student conduct board. There’s a Department of Education report that mentioned that for sexual assault cases, having students on that board is highly detrimental to not only the victim, but as well as to the students who are tasked with the huge obligation of determining whether or not a victim is rightfully charging an assailant in terms of their sexual assault concern. That is a gross indication that Northeastern should be changing that policy, and that’s something that we both stand firmly behind.
EH: We don’t think that there should be no students on the panel, but we think that there should be a mix of heavily-trained and qualified administrators, staff and students to make sure that there’s no difficulty in a student explaining what happened to him or her.
HN: What will you do to address the needs of the LGBTQA+ students on our campus?
EH: I authored and passed the first LGBTQ-related legislation that student government had debated for 20 years. And that called for the creation of a safe space in student government offices. It called for the redesignation of Northeastern Pride Week […] and called upon President [Joseph E.] Aoun and senior members of the administration to attend Pride in an official capacity to support Northeastern students in the LGBTQA+ community […] Going forward, we want to work to support the efforts of the LGBTQA+ resource center and members of NU Pride to increase visibility of their efforts and to provide really whatever support is desired from here on out.
HN: Another contentious issue on campus is the allegedly inadequate mental health services provided by the University of Health and Counseling Services (UHCS). What would you do to improve access and quality of mental health services for our students?
EH: We’re committed to pushing for an increased number of mental health providers and clinicians on campus […] We’re committed to ensuring that there are adequate student support groups for a variety of mental health concerns. We believe that mental health care outcomes should be tracked so we know what the quality of care is. This is a major priority for us, and I have too many friends that have had really negative experiences with mental health care at UHCS to turn a blind eye to this.
HN: What is one thing, your top priority, that you want to work on as soon as you get into office and that you definitely want to achieve?
EH: For me, it’s the sexual assault policy reform […] We can change the makeup of the board, I believe that.
SS: For me […] it’s leveraging student advocacy groups to a point of constructive communication not only with student government, but with the administration.
HN: Why do you believe that you are the best fit to represent Northeastern’s student body in the role that you are running for?
SS: I’m a highly involved student on campus, I love working with people and my favorite thing is when someone comes up to me with a concern […] and I can point them in the direction that they need to go to get that concern addressed. And I think that ability will really help me in this role in the coming year if elected, and that’s why I do think I’m qualified and I’m excited to lead that change.
EH: I have extensive experience working with administrators to produce tangible changes on campus and that’s what I think positions me in a unique space to lead the charge on a lot of major issues facing students today. We have a vision for a different kind of student government at Northeastern, one that engages on every single student issue that affects Northeastern community members today, and I think we have the drive and experience to get it done.
Photo courtesy Elliot Horen