By Jasmine Heyward, news correspondent
Alex Bender, a sophomore industrial engineering student, and Jake Grondin, a sophomore biology student, are running for Student Government Association (SGA) student body president and executive vice president, respectively. As sophomores, they are younger than the typical slate, something they think of as an advantage.
“I think that our age is a strong suit,” Grondin said. “We’re pushing for the fact that we’re going to be able to continue these projects and we have seen so much of the university in our short time.”
Their campaign, called “ReNUal,” launched Monday. Bender, SGA’s current vice president of student affairs, and Grondin, an SGA senator and Resident Student Association’s (RSA) vice president for advocacy, are one of two slates running in this election. Every March, students vote to select the candidates that will represent the student body to the university’s administration for the following academic year. Voting will take place on the myNEU portal from Thursday until March 23.
Bender and Grondin are both resident assistants (RAs) and have served as orientation leaders. Because of this, they believe they have a fundamental understanding of the university community and its main priorities. Even with that knowledge, the first thing they said they want to do if elected is conduct a “listening tour” to solicit student feedback.
“[We’d speak with] student groups, organizations and even students that aren’t as engaged, and just collect all of that anecdotal data, asking ‘What frustrates you?’” he said. “What are your pressure points? What are things that are like little rocks in your shoes as you go about your everyday life?”
From there, Bender and Grondin want to target specific policies and platforms that students find challenging.
One of the areas that their campaign team has highlighted is Northeastern’s technical infrastructure and its shortcomings. This includes the myNEU portal and NUcareers.
“There’s a lot of functionality that they’re missing,” Bender said of NUcareers. “And I think a huge reason for that is because they’re not listening – it’s not because they can’t do it.”
The team is also interested in seeing a long-term cultural shift in the university’s communities. Nathan Hostert, a freshman political science major and one of Bender’s campaign managers, and Bender both said some students feel that the university prioritizes prospective students over current Northeastern students. Bender and Grondin want to make sure the administration is aware of that and to discuss ways to help Northeastern students feel supported.
“That’s another thing we can say, that we can present: Many students feel as though you aren’t listening to them,” Bender said. “There is benefit in making your students feel valued.”
Mental health is also a priority for this campaign. Bender’s Student Affairs committee helped launch the Husky to Husky peer mentoring program this year, in collaboration with student organizations such as Active Minds. Husky to Husky trains Northeastern students to help their peers navigate mental health care while also providing a listening ear.
“Mental health on campus has been highly criticized for the lack of its resources and what it provides,” Grondin said. “Alex [Bender] starting this off is an amazing alternative to maybe just going straight at [University Health and Counseling Services] UHCS and trying to revamp them.”
Housing reform will play a huge role in the campaign because both Bender and Grondin are involved with RSA. Bender and Grondin are interested in updating the residential key system to allow students access to multiple buildings if they need to access shared common spaces, RAs and laundry facilities.
Community, both within the university and outside of it, is very important to Bender. He sits on the university’s Community Advisory Board, where Northeastern administration, local residents and students meet to discuss how Northeastern interacts with the surrounding community. The board meets in Northeastern Crossing, which faces Roxbury and has become one of Bender’s favorite spaces on campus. In participating with the board, he said he has come to a much better understanding of how SGA and the student body can proactively work with the community.
“I’ve taken things that are actionable and initiatives that students can lead,” Bender said.
Faculty members often say that the campus touches four neighborhoods – Fenway, the South End, Roxbury, Mission Hill – but Bender prefers the perspective that our campus is in four neighborhoods.
“We are not an island,” he said.
Overall, Bender and Grondin’s campaign emphasizes a focus on a more united and satisfied Northeastern community. With their experience in working with administration, they want to advocate for these changes that will make life easier for students.
“I think there’s a lot of room to work with the administration,” Bender said. “But never ever compromising what the students want.”
Photo courtesy ReNUal campaign
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated that the student group Behind the Smile collaborated with Alex Bender’s Student Affairs Committee to establish the Husky to Husky mentorship program. It has been corrected to take out that information because that the groups did not collaborate.