Meet the Student SGA Presidential Candidates – The Rider News
By Sarah Siock and Amethyst Martinez
As Rider approaches a turning point in its history as it faces tensions between faculty and administration, possible program cuts and potential layoffs, three students feel poised to lead the student body during this time and launched campaigns for the student. Student Body President of the Government Association (SGA).
This year’s nominees are juniors Andrew Bernstein, Grace Kohansby and Jordan Jones, and each hopes to bring a unique perspective to the role. The Rider News hosted interviews with the candidates on April 4 where they were given 20 minutes to answer questions on topics including Westminster Choir College (WCC) student grievances with the Lawrenceville campus, university finances and diversity at Rider. Additionally, the candidates also had the chance to address the student body in a debate hosted by SGA on March 31.
Role of the SGA
Regarding previous leadership experience, Bernstein highlighted his current position as vice president of academic affairs for SGA. He has also served as chair of the academic affairs committee, member of the Rider Democrats club, and campus tour guide.
“The role of the SGA is to stand up for what students want, no matter how much we agree or disagree or whether we are part of the organization that stands up for it. It’s really to improve the student experience, and we do that by listening,” said Bernstein, a political science student.
During the WCC discussion, all candidates expressed a desire to amplify the voices of Westminster students and bring their concerns to the administrators. If elected, Jones said he would create more roles within the SGA where students could serve as WCC ambassadors.
“I want to have everyone who can and will help me make sure the WCC is comfortable,” said Jones, a computer science student.
Jones has served for SGA in the past as sophomore class president for one semester and served on the freshman class executive council during his freshman year at Rider. He is also part of the Male Leadership Academy (MLA) on campus, where he serves as a student assistant and junior class representative. Outside of Rider, Jones is a pastor at a church in Ewing, New Jersey, where he serves as head of audio-visual ministry and youth director.
One of Jones’ talking points was the importance of a well-rounded correspondence with the administration.
“I feel like it should be a mirror relationship,” Jones said. “It should be equal, and that they should look at us as if we weren’t just students.”
Communication with students
Jones also wants to bridge the gap between the SGA and the student body to ensure that all student voices are heard.
“There is a bit of a breakdown in communication. …I feel like there are some students who feel like SGA doesn’t respect who they say they are, don’t really support people, really get things done or put the things in the right perspective, and I mean that, [at] SGA, we do our best. … But I just want the student body and the SGA to have an aspect of trust and loyalty where you can trust the SGA,” Jones said.
Candidates have recognized that communicating administrative processes such as academic prioritization must be at the forefront of their presidential tenure. Kohansby, a political science student, said she would advocate for full transparency and aim to explain complex topics to students. Kohansby also said that through her leadership experience as a substitute teacher, embedded tutor and secretary of Rider’s political science club, she learned to adapt and anticipate student needs.
“I think it’s really important for students to defend their interests with the administration. So people who go here understand what these concerns that students bring to the table. I think it’s very important to have that voice, just to make sure there’s a direct link between SGA and to maintain a direct link between SGA and the administration,” Kohansby said.
Bernstein also spoke about the impact he hopes to leave on Rider if elected. He said his past work through SGA, such as adding lockers to the suburban lounge and expanding free feminine hygiene projects in bathrooms, are examples of the meaningful changes that can happen through the through student government. He added that wheelchair accessibility on campus and creating a requirement for diversity and inclusion in the core curriculum would be a priority during his tenure.
“I want to be able to say that I left a visible impact on the student experience and was able to not only advocate for student needs, but also visibly respond to student needs,” Bernstein said.
Candidates also spoke about SGA’s responsibilities to speak on behalf of students in meetings with administrators. Kohansby said she would push administrators to participate in forums where WCC students could voice their concerns.
“We don’t just want to hear the watered down version of things…We need to make sure [administrators] fully understand the urgency,” Kohansby said.
Bernstein acknowledged the importance for the SGA to maintain a relationship with the administration, but noted that disagreements can arise.
“We also need to be able to challenge things we don’t agree with at the same time. I’m of the opinion that there’s no point in attending a meeting with the administration, and you agree with everything they say…” Bernstein said. “As members of the SGA, we are responsible to be polite as you might be in any other professional meeting, but there comes a time when you have to push things back a bit that could negatively affect the student experience. .”
Voting for the SGA Student Body President, Executive Council members, and select Finance Council representatives closes April 6. The results will be announced at the SGA Student Senate meeting on April 7 at 11:30 a.m. at Sweigart 115.
See page 8 for The Rider News presidential endorsement.