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Interview with SGA candidates Richard Elliott and Maheen Haq

What would be your first priority, if elected?

Richard: I think the first thing we want to do is go to the Shriver Center and talk to them about opening up more internship opportunities, more service learning opportunities, because we can connect them with nonprofits and other organizations that work in Baltimore City and the surrounding community. I think that’s the first thing we do, because that’s [mine] and Maheen’s passion.

Neither of you have extensive SGA experience. Do you think that will play in favor or against your ticket?

Richard: I believe Bentley was able to do it just fine, so I think we shouldn’t have an issue.

How do you think that affects your knowledge of the inner processes of the SGA?

Richard: Well, I believe we’ll have to learn on the job, unfortunately. But there are people who are working with us who have been in the SGA in the past, and we’ve been told that with the current department system, we don’t have to necessarily use that system. We could try and change it, so we can have like a working rotation of different activities that are on our platform. But I think if Bentley was able to do it, if Jeffrey Kee was able to do it in the past, I don’t think it’s like an impossibility. And I think for the people in the debate, if that had been asked, it would have to be a dichotomy of “Do you think Bentley was qualified? Either yes, he’s done the job fine, or no, he’s failed,” and I don’t think anybody would say that he’s failed.

In the SGA, what would you most like to change, from the previous administration to yours?

Richard: I think that one thing I would definitely like to change is the election process. With the election process, I think on the eve of it, the information should be sent out to every student, so that people could see the platforms, people could hear the names, I think that would do a lot to cut down on the popularity contest image that the SGA has.

What was the most valuable lesson you have learned in your previous experiences, and how can you apply it to your administration?

Richard: I was just going to say learning how to like… having the confidence in those around you that you are willing to delegate leadership roles to other people. Because when I made UMBC Progressives, it was more or less just me doing it, and then when it became an official student org, recently, now we have tons of people. We have a vice-president, we have a treasurer, we have Chairs of Social Development, we have people who work in the State House, people who want to make progress within their party. So if can get the [comfortability] within your staff that you don’t mind delegating tasks, I think that’s a pivotal step that a lot of leaders don’t know how to make.

What would be the biggest challenges you would face in SGA? How would you handle them, specifically?

Richard: What I believe would be the biggest issue? I think the biggest issue, at least at present, would be like hostility towards our message. I think that the other people who are running for SGA have an idea of “SGA at UMBC is only intended to serve the needs of the students at UMBC and nobody else”, and I don’t agree with that message. I agree with Maheen that harnessing the energy and the intellectual vigor of this school to assist others in the outside community is really a loftier goal and a goal that I think is more important.

Maheen: But additionally, we also care about the student body, and we will continue to work very hard to make all of these goals happen, which… And a lot of these came from the student body coming up to us and being like “these are our concerns.” We have mental health, we have sexual assault, environmentalism as part of our platform, and we will work vigorously to ensure that that happens.

Richard, some debate observers thought you came off as arrogant and a bit rude. What do you have to say to that?

Richard: If they think that indicating or trying to show that I care about the community, trying to ask questions about… For instance, they asked a question about the stipend, I assume under the pretense that I wouldn’t know about the stipend, but my question regarding that was, is there a problem with the SGA if one third of members have to have their stipends cut? I was like very fiery in the debate, I will agree with that. But to say arrogant, I think that questions regarding our qualifications are arrogant for people to ask. For people who’ve been at this university, for people who’ve met me and Maheen, I think they would know, just from interacting with us, that we are qualified for these positions.

Sustainability seems to be a central part of your platform. Why?

Richard: We believe that… we can help form people’s minds that sustainability is more than just an idea, it should be an ingrained part of the culture at UMBC.

Are there any other “green” measures you want to implement during your administration? How would you do it?

Richard: We’d like to plant more trees on the campus, because I think that around the rim, for instance, of Erickson field, I think that if we put trees there, it’ll help beautify and oxygenate the campus. Getting UMBC to be 50% carbon neutral is a goal of Samina Musa’s, and anything we can do to help her with that goal would be nice. I will agree, for that point at least, I don’t know what she wants us to do, but whatever steps the environmental orgs recommend for us, we can take those steps by moving them forward and by funding them and helping promote them.

Richard, you have described the SGA, and the SGA culture as ‘toxic’. Why?

Richard: I’ve been here for four years, and in that four years, I’ve seen very little action put forth. The thing I’ve personally seen as a student, not to say that they haven’t been done, but things that have been presented to me as a member of the student body. Collin’s been in the SGA for a year, and the thing he touted was Election Night Extravaganza. Election Night Extravaganza is nice, but that’s more or less just a viewing party. I don’t think that creates social change. When I was a freshman, Jeffrey Kee was president. I believe in that time he got the RAC renovated. And then Anthony Jankoski was president and didn’t get anything done, and this year and under Ganesh as well, I didn’t see anything in particular get done. That, along with like the election process and how it’s been fraught with trouble year in and year out, including this year, has led me to believe that a lot of students believe SGA has a toxic culture. In fact, I’ve heard it from SGA members myself.

What specific steps would you take in order to combat this toxicity?

Richard: I think that having an election process where the information is sent to the entire undergraduate body, to fight like, the popularity contest stigma, that would be positive.

Maheen: That’s what it is now. It is a popularity contest.

Maheen, you have said that one of your goals is to connect students to social justice movements in Baltimore. Why Baltimore? Why not start on-campus, since that is where you operate?

Maheen: So, as someone who comes from a very racist town, and a very conservative town, I think I know what discrimination looks like, and to be completely honest with you, though UMBC may have its share of troubles, I feel as if those in Baltimore City are more… what’s the word… concerning. Justice movements at UMBC, personally I feel like they’re organically already being taken care of.

You have both mentioned increased resources for WMBC and The Retriever. Why?

Richard: In my experience, I’ve worked with WMBC and The Retriever, and I think that they are potentially great places for students who want to creatively express themselves. Secondly, to hone skills for potential future careers. Third, they’re great sources of student news. For instance, on our post, Feyi Ojo said that The Retriever doesn’t need more funding. Increased resources doesn’t necessarily mean more funding. If we can set up a mailing list for you all, to the entire undergraduate body, that people can opt-out of if they don’t want, your news can reach more people and be more useful. If your news is only reaching 20 people on campus, what’s the point? So, if we can give you the means to better serve your news to the student body or to give your airwaves to the student body, we think you guys should have that.

Richard, you are the founder of UMBC Progressives. Will you take a step back from its management and its activities if you are elected? If not, how do you think that might affect your administration, and how students (particularly those of more conservative ideologies) might perceive you?

Richard: If I’m elected, I will definitely take a step back and delegate more responsibilities to those below me, so that I have the free time to do SGA President stuff, but I definitely want to have as active of a role in the progressive movement as possible henceforth.

What specific tactics would you use in order to increase student involvement with the SGA?

Richard: We believe in events where people can come and meet the student body. And again, we’d better utilize the email system that has literally everybody tapped in. If you can do workshops, no pressure, people don’t feel like they’re being put in some weird political scheme, as they have felt in the past, it can foster beautiful, beautiful movement henceforth, and especially in a time like right now, when I think more people want to get involved in things than ever before.

You pointed out you would like to streamline funding for student organizations. How exactly would you do that?

Richard: We think that like, organizations should get a certain amount of funding mandated at the beginning of the year. Again, we have not said the amount, this is subject to debate, whether it’s $25 or $100, because we think that orgs that would ever have to go to this SGA and ask them for $25 or so, that is such a small amount of money, the time they end up waiting to get the money would really be a deterrent for asking for money in the first place.

Wouldn’t giving all organizations a minimum fund bring on allocation problems? What if some organizations don’t need funding?

Richard: They can opt out. Anyone who says they don’t want money, they can just opt out of it.

Maheen: And then we’ll take it back and reallocate it.

Are you aware of the Stipend Review Committee? What do you think of the measure and its purpose? Would you do anything to change it?

Richard: Yes. It’s effective in letting me know, as an outsider of the SGA — as I have been so characterized — that almost one third of SGA members have had their stipends halved. So it’s been effective in communicating to me and to a lot of the student body who read The Retriever that a lot of the SGA is getting paid for work they have been elected and employed to do on behalf of the student body. If one third of the SGA is having their stipends cut, there clearly is a problem of either A: people are maintaining the Jankoski rule of bringing their friends on board, or B: people are being appointed and not held accountable. During the debate, I applauded Collin Sullivan for helping to create the SRC, I think it was honestly a great thing to incorporate, and we think that the one fix that could be incorporated, is perhaps having a discussion, among members of the student body, about what they think the SRC “savings” should go to. For instance, Collin wants to do a student spaces on campus thing. The money that is being taken from these people who apparently aren’t doing their jobs to satisfaction could dedicated to my idea, doing a mural on campus. Or to like, putting a fountain on campus, or to otherwise beautify our campus. I think the issue with the SRC is not that it makes things ineffective, it shows the ineffectiveness of things, but leaves the question of what’s going to happen with this remaining funding? We think that we can use that, maybe put it up to the student body, put it up for a vote for all I care.

How prepared are you to deal with students who may be having issues with our nation’s current political climate? What specific strategies do you have in mind in order to address their concerns?

Maheen: Specific strategies? I would say promoting spaces where students can come in and have those conversations, right? So interfaith dialogue, inter-religious communication. Creating and promoting those spaces through the Interfaith Center, the Mosaic Center, and promoting those dialogues.