News | Student Life

At GS elections debates, candidates pitch ideas for increasing student involvement

  • Stephanie Frescas for Spectator
    GENERAL DEMOCRACY | Candidates discussed the integration of GS students with the general student body, financial aid, and the appointment of positions without candidates at Monday’s debates.

Candidates for the General Studies Student Council and General Studies University Senate seats discussed the integration of GS students with the general student body, financial aid, and the appointment of positions without candidates at Monday’s debates.

[Related: GSSC elections guide 2014]

GSSC executive board

When asked about plans to help GS students integrate with the wider Columbia community, presidential candidate Peter Nason, GS ’15 and the current first-year class council president, suggested holding meetings among the GSSC executive board and their counterparts in other councils as a way to better integrate each school’s council. He also wants to hold open executive-board meetings once a month as a way to encourage student involvement in GSSC, as there are currently five open positions on the council.

“A lot of people don’t run because they don’t feel popular enough,” Nason said. “I want to reach out to groups who aren’t normally represented.”

The other presidential candidate Joshua Dominic, GS ’16 and the current four council representative, also supported opening executive-board meetings. He also proposed co-hosting events among all four undergraduate schools and creating career mentorship programs.

“I want to create a mentorship program,” Dominic said. “Work on connecting alumni with students and create a social community.”

VP of policy candidate Elizabeth Heyman, GS/JTS ’16 and current GS/JTS student representative, criticized how difficult navigating the Columbia bureaucracy can be, proposed adding an extra reading day before finals for GS students and including more detailed information about discussion sections during class registration.

“The opportunity to explore their [GS students’] passion instead of what will get them money is a wonderful idea,” Heyman said as a response to an audience question regarding potential major-specific scholarships to help supplement financial aid. “I think it will take energy, but it’s worth getting sponsors and people to donate money.”

VP of policy candidate Richard Thompson, GS ’17, discussed increasing financial aid available to GS students and listening to students’ suggestions, along with adding a major-specific scholarship.

“It’s a nice thing to do,” he said. “I think it would involve a lot of energy, and a lot of people because we would have to get the money from somewhere.”

Thompson also said that GSSC should decide how to handle the “financial allocation process” in response to a question about financial aid. However, according to the GS website, “financial aid may come from GS, federal and state governments, or private sources.”

While other candidates said that the open council positions were an opportunity to get more students involved with GSSC, Thompson said that the time spent looking for people to fill the spots could be used more productively.

“I don’t think we should necessarily be thinking how to get more students involved,” Thompson said. “The energy spent looking for other committee members, that could be spent allocating money somewhere else.”

GS University Senator

[Related: University Senate elections guide 2014]

Umar Mohammed, GS ’15, said he would hold a town hall meeting at the beginning and end of each semester to tell students what he has accomplished, and overhaul of the current leave of absence policy. 

Mohammed also said that the senate could do better in implementing policy, citing the smoking ban as an example.

“People violate it every day,” Mohammed said, referring to the smoking ban. “We put on signboards. Form another task force. Put up a poster that would make people do it happily.”

Katharine Celentano, GS ’17, said she had extensive experience enacting policy, citing her current position as student affairs representative for the Columbia University Family Support Network and former role as president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

“GS is a place that has affirmed my dignity ... Columbia University accepts people like us,” Celentano said. “What GS does is not only relevant to me, to GS students, but to students across the University”

Jin Han, GS ’16, raised the issue of the limited gym access provided to military students, and proposed that the University allow students who have military fitness requirements to use the gym at the Campbell Sports Center. He also proposed increased support and information for undocumented students.

“I would like to get support and resources for undocumented students,” Han said. “I am considered an undocumented student.”

Calvin Ching, GS ’16, also said he wants to raise the profile of underrepresented students. He brought up his experience as a legislative assistant for the current GS senator for the past two years as a qualification for senate. 

Ching also addressed the issue of senate effectiveness in the context of the smoking ban. 

“There was no enforcement mechanism,” he said. “If elected, I would speak with Justin Carter [Current GS University Senator], keep the momentum, and reach out to the student body.”

Ching did not share the enthusiasm of other candidates for financial-aid reform, saying that he didn’t consider it to be a “very feasible” project. 

GS/JTS students representative

As the only candidate, Corey Hirsch, GS/JTS ’17, focused on integrating joint General Studies-Jewish Theological Seminary students into the general GS population through events. He said he especially wanted to focus on first-year students, and that improving communication between councils and students will increase JTS attendance at events.

“JTS students need to be in the know,” Hirsch said.

Elizabeth Sedran contributed reporting.

news@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ColumbiaSpec

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Anonymous posted on

Peter Nason is not the class president, but the vice president.

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