Opinion editorial

Fiona Chen and Yara Komaiha stand out as strongest ticket in this time of uncertainty

Ticket’s well-rounded experience, detailed plans, and thorough understanding of institutional history position them as the best choice

Following two uncontested elections, the 2020 UA presidential and vice presidential elections come at a time when strong student leadership is most necessary, with the COVID-19 pandemic uprooting a typical undergraduate experience and conflicts with administration fresh on students’ minds. These conflicts have been underscored most recently by the construction of New Vassar, the renovation of Burton Conner, the rising costs of the meal plan, and changes made to East Campus security. 

Moreover, protests and statements regarding MIT’s reception of funds from Jeffrey Epstein, Saudi Arabia, David Koch, and others have shown that students care not only about issues traditionally related to student life, but also about the Institute’s ethical standing. 

The ongoing pandemic and the transition to remote learning have highlighted the vulnerability of our most disadvantaged communities. The stories of undergraduates forced off campus with widely varying home lives have shown us that concerns about diversity and inclusion must be on our minds now more than ever.

This year, three tickets announced their candidacy for UA president and vice president. Luis Becerra Solis ’22 and Karyn Nakamura ’23, Danielle Geathers ’22 and Yu Jing Chen ’22, and Fiona Chen ’21 and Yara Komaiha ’21 all show a commitment to supporting students and ensuring that their voices are heard.

The three platforms converged on two main priorities: transparency and diversity/inclusion. All three tickets planned to revive The Byte (UA’s weekly newsletter), improve communications between administrators and students, and increase resources and opportunities for first-generation, low-income, and minority students.

Although Luis and Karyn’s ticket dropped out of the election prior to the presidential debate, we would like to commend the pair for their cognizance of the breakdown of communications between students and administrators, as well as their understanding of how COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequities faced by students.

We appreciated the ambition of their plans, such as introducing more student communal spaces, hiring more staff for mental health and S3, increasing support for underrepresented minority, first-generation, and low-come students, and developing departmental committees with student representation — even as given MIT’s hiring freeze and shrinking endowment, many of these ideas are not feasible for the near-future.

While it is unfortunate that Luis and Karyn are no longer running, we hope that the remaining candidates seriously consider many of the intentions and values of their platform.

Danielle and Yu Jing have significant experience working on the UA and in student leadership. Both have pioneered diversity initiatives, with Danielle chairing the UA Community and Diversity committee and Yu Jing founding the MIT Asian American Initiative. Additionally, both have experience engaging with administration: Danielle has served on the Committee for Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, and Yu Jing has served on the First Generation and/or Low Income Institute Working Group.

Furthermore, Danielle and Yu Jing displayed a thorough understanding of campus climate issues, pointing to the difficulty for fraternities to receive sexual misconduct awareness training despite their requests, as well as the understaffing of VPR.

They have proposed clear-cut and achievable proposals such as free menstrual products, the creation of a Diversity Council, and the development of the Diversity Ambassador Program, which would help provide equal footing and representation for minority students. 

Of Danielle and Yu Jing’s proposals, we most appreciate their proposal to develop a better leadership pipeline in the UA through their Freshman Committee Program. Such a pipeline would ensure that students remained involved and would cultivate better leaders; and, along with their proposed annual end-of-year report, would help retain institutional knowledge within the UA.

Unfortunately, Danielle and Yu Jing gave us the impression that they lack a critical enough view of previous instances where administration has failed to heed student concerns. During the debate, Danielle did speak about concerns over EC’s recent security issue and conversations Yu Jing had with administration about BC’s renewal.

However, in our interview, Danielle and Yu Jing framed administrators’ shortcomings as an inability to reach students despite considering student feedback, leaving us to believe that they may have a naive view of administrators’ incentives and constraints. We prefer a ticket that clearly and unwaveringly displays that they are not only able to collaborate with administration but also understands that it is sometimes necessary to oppose them and how to do so. 

While we commend Danielle and Yu Jing’s ticket for its high priority on diversity, inclusion, and communication, we feel that they lack a well-rounded understanding of how best to utilize multiple channels to persuade administrators on student interests and a vision for how their work will affect structural change that can be built on in future terms. Moreover, at the time of our interview, Danielle and Yu Jing did not have many specific policy initiatives, although they did increasingly refine and specify their platform over the course of the campaigning period.

Thus, based on the candidates’ online platforms, our interviews with them, and their performance at the UA presidential debate, our endorsement for UA president and vice president goes to Fiona and Yara’s ticket.

Fiona and Yara’s plan for increasing transparency goes beyond simply improving communication between administration and students. Their platform includes specific — albeit some overly-ambitious — proposals that would hold administrators more accountable to students. These include regular town halls akin to the ones held in connection with MIT’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein and with respect to the COVID-19 epidemic, as well as releasing survey data collected by the Institute. 

Some of their plans are poised to meet strong resistance from MIT’s senior leadership, such as granting students power to make binding decisions, or changing the processes for selecting the members of various Institute-wide committees. However, in our interview, they did show a strong understanding of these difficulties and that they would be laying the groundwork for longer-term realizations of these plans. 

Fiona and Yara form the most well-rounded ticket on the slate. Together, they have experience in working through both traditional governing channels like the UA and DormCon, as well as through channels like opinion articles in The Tech, mass mobilization through student protests, and leadership in student groups like MIT Students Against War and the Arab Student Association. These experiences feed into their platform, which emphasizes student involvement at all levels, from the aforementioned town halls to developing better office hours in which the UA can help student leaders plan effective meetings with administrators. 

Additionally, from the start, Fiona and Yara presented the most detailed and structured platform, tackling issues from democratizing governance to equity to mental health to economic insecurity in detailed point-by-point plans. We were impressed that their plans are layered in achievability and provide options under various fall semester scenarios. For example, in the case that MIT relieves its hiring freeze, MIT Mental Health would hire new counselors; in the case that this were not possible, MIT Mental Health’s feedback and review process could still be improved and opportunities for group counseling increased.

Overall, we appreciate that the tickets each emphasized increasing dialogue between students and administration, supporting undergraduates — especially those that are minorities, first generation, or low income — and a commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are certain that whichever ticket is elected will make these important aspects of the student experience a priority.

Yet, we are disappointed that the tickets did not more strongly emphasize the MIT Corporation and faculty as important channels for advocating for students. Ultimately, the MIT Corporation holds the purse strings, and thus much of the final decision-making power over the Institute. Additionally, faculty input has been shown to be extremely valuable, such as recently when faculty advocated for MIT to better handle exemptions for removing students from campus. We hope that the elected ticket will take these concerns into consideration.

Despite the virtualization of the debate and elections, the candidates have continued promoting their campaigns online through their websites and social media platforms. We hope that you, the undergraduates, also participate in the electoral process by voting. The elected candidates will play an important role in representing students and advocating for their needs, with respect to financial and academic support, residential life, and campus climate. In addition to reading this endorsement, we encourage you to visit the candidates’ websites and platforms, review the presidential debate, and be educated about your campus so that your voice can be reflected best in your vote.

Disclosure: Fiona Chen was previously an opinion editor at The Tech. She no longer has authority over the content printed in the newspaper.

Editorials are the official opinion of The Tech. They are written by the Editorial Board, which consists of Publisher Nathan Liang, Editor in Chief Kristina Chen, Managing Editor Ivana Alardín, Executive Editor Áron Ricardo Perez-Lopez, and Opinion Editor Jen Fox. Contributing Editor Whitney Zhang also contributed to this editorial.