Despite the seemingly low profile Fordham’s United Student Government (USG) has maintained this year, students will soon know well the names of Nevin Kulangara, GSB ’15, and Tochi Mgbenwelu, FCRH ’15, as they seek club endorsements and tour residence halls in hot pursuit of Rose Hill’s top student leader post.
But, in the midst of what is projected to be a highly competitive race, the impact of the vice presidential candidates, a quieter, behind-the-scenes job that consists of serving as chief advisor and emotional counterbalance to the larger face of the ticket, will become increasingly crucial
Even if such a candidate is, say, currently living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“The hardest thing for me is the six-hour time difference,” Sarah Skrobala, FCRH ’15, and Kulangara’s running mate, said this week via email. “Nevin has been keeping me updated on what has been happening within USG and on campus, and I also have friends who are very involved so I am able to stay informed through them.”
Skrobala is studying abroad in Seville, Spain until May, and conceded that while her absence from campus has put a strain on the process, she does not believe it will hinder Kulangara’s chances of becoming president.
“While I may not physically be on campus this semester, I am still able to have a presence and I think that is what is most important for us to have a successful campaign,” she said.
Kulangara has maintained an optimistic outlook when it comes to the issue of Skrobala’s absence from campus, saying recently: “I think we’ve developed a good system where we communicate effectively and split our tasks intelligently.”
In fact, this is not the first time Rose Hill has seen a top USG candidate campaign from a far-flung locale.
In 2012, Stephen Erdman, FCRH ’13, was elected president of USG after campaigning via Skype and email while taking classes in the Dominican Republic. His running mate at the time, Aileen Reynolds, FCRH ’14, currently serves as president.
Kulangara and Skrobala developed a strong relationship while working on USG last year and decided the match of their skill strengths and administrative connections would make for a strong presidential bid, Skrobala said. “We share the same values in terms of what direction we would like to see USG and Fordham as a whole take,” she said. “It made sense for us to want to run together.”
Meanwhile, Anisah Assim, FCRH ’16, has helped her running mate, Mgbenwelu, collect nearly 500 signatures of support from students on campus, far exceeding the 300 that are required by campaign regulation. (Kulangara said his camp has gathered roughly 370 similar signatures.)
Both Skrobala and Assim have held USG posts since the start of their freshman years, meaning they have spent more time in student government meetings than their respective running mates. Kulangara has been involved in USG since his sophomore year, and Mgbenwelu has never occupied a USG post.
Assim has become known for her work on boosting campus sustainability by installing plastic bag recycling bins in residence halls and urging Panda Express to use biodegradable take-out containers. Skrobala has spent time researching handicap accessibility at Rose Hill. She has also devoted time to boosting the Fordham Friendly program, which allows students to gain a discount a local businesses.
When confronted with a question about Mgbenwelu’s lack of USG involvement, Assim answered, “I bring enough USG experience where I understand how things function within USG itself,” she said. “What [Mgbenwelu] brings is a strong understanding of how clubs function, and she brings a strong understanding of the student body and their concerns.”
Unlike the formation of the Kulangara and Skrobala partnership, the Mgbenwelu and Assim partnership seems to have been a strategic move on the part of “a handful” of current USG staffers who brought the two together and encouraged them to run on the executive ticket, Assim said. Mgbenwelu and Assim had only met once during a budget meeting last fall before they were urged to contact each other.
In fact, Assim said she was toying with the idea of running for president last fall, but ultimately decided to take a backseat role this year. She will leave the door open for a presidential bid next year.
Ultimately, Assim said that her partnership with Mgbenwelu combines the perspectives of someone with student government experience and someone with club leadership familiarity. “We can get both those perspectives in everything we do, as opposed to only having the inside perspective of USG,” Assim said.
“Experience is very important, but so is sharing the vision of what you want to achieve,” she said of what she defines as a successful bid. She declined to provide specifics of that vision, citing campaign rules that prevent candidates from sharing platform details until Wednesday night.