SGA leaders Sharma and Ruiz review successes


By Alyssa Lukpat, news staff

Suchira Sharma and Paulina Ruiz, the current student body president and executive vice president, said their year in office yielded successful legislative revisions but was marred by gender and racial bias.

Sharma, a fourth-year business administration major, and Ruiz, a third-year psychology major, are the first all-female of color slate in school history to lead the Student Government Association, or SGA. They said their two proudest accomplishments were increasing representation in the SGA Senate and updating the Student Bill of Rights.

“We added provisions on Title IX, access to mental and physical health care on campus and access to support for students with varying immigration statuses,” Sharma said as she sat behind her laptop in the SGA conference room. “I think that’s a document that if you did a before-and-after, there would be a stark difference, and I’m really proud about that.”

Throughout their term, Sharma and Ruiz said they faced obstacles because of their gender and race. Sharma said she met with male university administrators who didn’t make eye contact with her and tearfully recalled an incident when a female SGA member criticized her outfit and chastised her for not smiling. Ruiz said it was difficult to be the only woman or person of color in meetings.

“It felt like we never really won the election,” Ruiz said before she left to meet with the Office of Student Affairs. “And that’s kind of baffling to think about because of the margins by which we won, but it felt like we were constantly having to prove ourselves. I think we kicked [expletive] considering the odds.”

Keeping campaign promises

Ruiz said the pair divided the five pillars of their campaign platform — representation, reasonable pricing, rights, resources and relationships — among the SGA committees to ensure they addressed each one.

To better reflect the diverse student body, Ruiz said she increased SGA Senate recruitment efforts by holding more information sessions and reaching out to student organizations. Senators this semester, she said, represented more colleges and organizations than last year.

“It was previously a source of criticism for SGA that our Senate was not the most representative of the student body,” Ruiz said. “I’m proud of the growth we saw this year based on conscious efforts and recruitment.”

Sharma said she increased affordability on campus by convincing the Office of the Provost to invest around $30,000 in homework codes. The office will pay to access homework websites so students don’t have to spend money obtaining assignments. Sharma and Ruiz are still working to guarantee co-op workers are paid the same regardless of gender.

“Paulina and I are working on institutionalizing the equal pay for equal work policy in the co-op manual,” Sharma said. “When employers are brought on, they’ll know exactly what’s expected of them in terms of gender parity.”

Sharma and Ruiz said by encouraging Northeastern’s Roosevelt Institute to submit the referendum to accredit University Health and Counseling Services, which students approved in the March SGA elections, they took a big step to increase students’ resources.

To improve SGA’s campus relationships, Sharma and Ruiz met with Northeastern’s cultural centers and collaborated with the LGBTQA Resource Center to raise the rainbow pride flag on Centennial Common last October. Sharma said they closely follow Reddit and the NU Meme Collective on Facebook to learn what students are thinking.

Collin Walter, SGA’s executive director of communications, was Sharma and Ruiz’s campaign manager during the 2017 SGA elections. Walter, who ran unsuccessfully for SGA president this year, said Sharma and Ruiz connected with the student body in a way previous administrations had never done.

“Suchira and Paulina are very justice-seeking individuals and they’ve really shaped the way that SGA serves the student body with an almost activist mindset,” said Walter, a third-year biochemistry major. “As two women of color, they have connections to a lot of students who may not come from this privileged background.”

Sharma and Ruiz said several students, SGA members and administration officials criticized them for not serving student interests because they are women of color. These individuals told Sharma and Ruiz their efforts to reduce the cost of homework codes and add provisions to the Student Bill of Rights wouldn’t impact the entire student body, Sharma said.

“No matter what we do, it will always be painted as a special interest issue,” Sharma said. “I think that’s what made this year incredibly difficult.”

Looking forward

Sharma and Ruiz are proud this year’s SGA elections saw the highest voter turnout in school history. However, they are worried that 25 percent of voters expressed no confidence in either slate this year, compared to 7 percent last year. Ruiz said she hopes next year’s administration will improve SGA’s relationship with the student body.

Sharma and Ruiz conclude their terms at the end of the semester, but both said they plan to help Nathan Hostert and Dylan Balcom, SGA’s next president and executive vice president, transition.

While they are participating in the smooth transfer of power, Sharma and Ruiz are disappointed with the election results. They endorsed the losing candidates, Walter and Nina Kalantar, a third-year international affairs and political science combined major.

“We obviously felt as though there was a firm better option for the organization based on level of experience and interactions we had on our leadership team,” Sharma said. “That’s not to say we don’t absolutely wish the winning slate the best of luck.”

Sharma and Ruiz look forward to the rest of their time in office. Ruiz said they want to empower women on campus by increasing attendance at women’s sporting events. They plan to bring the Senate to the women’s track and field meet April 21.

“We’re going to be getting one of those Northeastern vans and driving out there,” Ruiz said. “We’re super excited to support our female athletes.”

Sharma is especially eager to attend the track and field meet.

“I’m driving one of the vans,” she said with a laugh.

Sharma’s eyes filled with tears as she said she was grateful to lead SGA alongside Ruiz.

“I met someone who’s going to be my best friend for the rest of my life,” Sharma said. “I don’t think we would’ve made it through the year without each other.”