Opinion editorial

In a reasonably strong field, Melvin and Martin pull ahead of opponents

These past few weeks, MIT has become a campaign ground for the 2017 UA presidential and vice presidential elections. The faces and names of Sarah Melvin ’18 and Alexa Martin ’19, Daysi Gomez ’18 and Liz Cox ’18, and Malte Ahrens ’18 and Áron Ricardo Perez-Lopez ’20 decorate our walls, tables, and even the ground we walk on. Are these candidates worth the trees sacrificed in service of their agendas?

In short, yes. We are fortunate that all three tickets this year are enthusiastic and experienced choices. All candidates have put many hours of work into their platforms and campaigns, and all care deeply about serving their fellow students. However, we believe Melvin and Martin have a combination of breadth of experience and policy vision that makes them the best choice to lead the UA next year.

Melvin and Martin’s collective experience will make them effective advocates for student involvement in decision-making at MIT. Melvin, serving as president of Senior House during the freshman ban, has valuable experience negotiating with administrators during difficult times. She has nuanced views on how to bring students’ and administrators’ priorities into alignment. Administrators and students both “want MIT students to be successful and happy,” she said, but they don’t necessarily have the same perspective on how to achieve this. “The key is to understand how to reframe what we want to make it appealing to administrators.”

Martin, having served as secretary of the UA for the past year, is familiar with the internal workings of the UA and has displayed a thorough understanding of the complexities behind issues such as the breakdown of the student life fee. This will hopefully ease the learning curve for the ticket and allow the candidates to jump right into implementing their policy proposals if elected.

One concern we have with the ticket is that Martin was tasked to send the Byte, a weekly newsletter intended to keep undergraduates informed about the UA’s activities, but she stopped sending it last November and did not promptly enact a replacement medium for communication. This casts some doubt on Martin’s ability to carry out her duties if elected vice president.

The Ahrens and Perez-Lopez ticket is a close second, putting forward a coherent platform based on five priorities. This structure differentiated them from the other campaigns’ laundry list of ideas on their websites and highlighted their ability as relative outsiders to UA Exec and UA Council to frame recurring problems in a different way.

For example, in their first priority, “No student should go hungry or face hardship,” they pointed to a recent study that showed that 10 percent of MIT students have faced food insecurity. This is a convincing way to frame the dining issue when approaching administration with students’ needs.

In addition, the pair believes that committee chairs should have a greater public presence so that students can directly reach out to the UA members in charge of a specific project. This may be attractive to students but potentially burdensome to the committee chairs.

Unfortunately, the Ahrens ticket does not have the same experience that the Melvin ticket does. Ahrens was chair of the UA Innovation Committee the year before last. He also highlighted his role in helping former UA president Matthew Davis ’16 push for the changes to the Good Samaritan drug and alcohol policy, but this seems to have been mostly Davis’ initiative, not Ahrens’, so we are not sure that it should be emphasized.

Furthermore, Ahrens has been on leave for a year working for international agencies, and he just returned two months ago. It’s not clear to us whether he is in touch with the past year’s happenings on campus, which is a negative for his possible presidency.

Perez-Lopez is a freshman and has not served in any UA or DormCon leadership positions. He served on the UA’s Student-Administration Collaboration Committee, but our sources say he did not have a large role in organizing this committee’s initiatives.

The Gomez/Cox ticket, though it has good intentions, comes in third place for us due to a lack of a coherent message. They repeatedly emphasized that they believe “people make MIT,” and they pointed to their desire to improve communication between the UA and students.

Beyond these platitudes, it’s not clear to us what the UA would look like under their leadership. Quite simply, they lack the vision of the other two tickets. In their interview with the editorial board, they noted that their highest-priority policy initiatives focus on communication and diversity, both of which are big buzzwords that do not carry much weight. These are necessary but not sufficient components to any successful UA administration, not tenets to build a platform on.

Gomez has been in the office of vice president for a year now, and the new SafeRide system seems to be her only major public-facing accomplishment. She claims she has focused on internal UA administration, such as working with committee chairs, but she did not articulate her accomplishments in this regard very well in our interview with her.

However, of all the candidates, Gomez and Cox presented the most developed proposal for changing the advising system, including a system to match students to faculty advisors based on preferences for degree of personal interaction.

All the candidates are enthusiastic about improving transparency and student investment in the UA, and we hope that whoever is elected can leverage this to help carry out common goals.

Lastly, we encourage all undergraduates to vote. Turnout has historically hovered around 40 percent. Whoever is elected will have an important role in advocating for students on dining, housing, advising, and student support. These are issues that affect all undergraduates, so we urge everyone to educate themselves and make their voices heard.

Disclosure: Áron Ricardo Perez-Lopez is a production editor at The Tech. In this role, he does not have authority over the content printed in the newspaper.