Kulangara: ‘Students can have a lot of power’

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 11.45.39 PMFor the first time since Caitlin Meyer ran the place in 2011-12, there is good reason to be optimistic about Rose Hill’s student government and the work it can do on behalf of the campus community. 

Yeah, the year is young. But if there’s one thing that is already overwhelmingly clear it’s that Nevin Kulangara, executive president of USG, and Sarah Skrobala, executive vice president, are two of the most capable student leaders Rose Hill has seen in years. They’ve come to the party well prepared.

(But, if we’re being honest, the bar isn’t set all that high.)

Under their leadership, Fordham students might just have a student government they can be proud to call their own — and perhaps even get involved in. Crazy, I know.

More seemed to be accomplished during USG’s first meeting of the semester on Thursday than in a month’s worth of meetings held last semester. A Sexual Safety Task Force was introduced, a resolution expressing support for a New York gubernatorial debate to be held on campus was agreed upon, the Election Commission was confirmed, funding requests were discussed and voted on, USG’s constitution was amended regarding the role of liaison positions, and the list continues… 

The trick will be riding this momentum through the rest of the year. But if senators (class representatives) step up and pull their own weight, I’m confident this year’s administration will do more to help students than the last two administrations combined.

I sat down with Kulangara after Thursday’s meeting. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

Q: As we start the year with a relatively clean slate on campus, what’s your message to students?

Some students might be disillusioned with the whole Student Affairs, Student Life process…and USG — perhaps they feel like we don’t do anything. But my message is to not underestimate what we can do as students. [USG is made up of] students; we aren’t anything above them. We’re just fellow students. What we’re trying to do is reach out and, as students, we can ignite change. We don’t need to wait for administrators or faculty members to do everything. If we feel there is an issue, we can work on it. If students see something that’s happening, don’t just shrug it off — be active. Use USG as a resource, or just bring it up yourself. There’s a lot of power students can have.

Q: What’s your message to administrators?

We’re here to work with you; not against you. We’re not here with pitchforks to yell and complain. We understand that it’s so difficult running a campus. You have so many people to please and there are so many different groups within the campus. We’re here to work with administration; we’re not here to fight. That’s how we’re going to get things solved: bringing administration and the students together in one room, and saying, “These are the concerns. What are our different options? What can we do?”

Q: Last year, the student body didn’t see USG doing a lot. How confident are you that you’ll be able to make concrete changes to campus life?

I am confident. I’m not underestimating the student body. I think with the right communication, with the right messaging we can reach out. We always hear complaints, it’s just a matter of how we address them. There are many ways we could do this, but we think bringing the administration and students together is the most optimal [way] because we can have that open discussion. With the right messaging, I think we can do a lot.

Q: In general, what are your goals for the year?

A more overarching goal is expanding that channel of communication between the student body and USG. I think a new website is, of course, a great medium for that. I talked in my platform about having some sort of forum or suggestion box where you can up or down vote comments. That’s hopefully something we can implement into the website. We just want more and more to students to not just know what USG stands for, but to fully understand what we do. The better they understand, the more they can use us as a resource to submit a concern and their ideas.

Sarah [Skrobala] will be working very hard on the accessibility side. One thing we want to do is collect testimonies for Collins Hall. We think there are a lot of [handicapped] students who cannot attend the shows, there are also Jesuit priests who would like to attend the shows but cannot because they are wheelchair-bound. We think that collecting testimonies could go far in terms of giving that extra push on the facilities side. We understand this isn’t something that’s going to change overnight; it’s a huge project and very capital-intensive, but we think that if we were to collect the testimonies, it could be pushed forward in the five or 10-year plan.

The issue with the Ram Fit Center is a really great opportunity for us to connect with the student body and help them. I think having someone come to our meeting who can speak more about the issue, the reasoning behind the closing of the old fitness center and talk about the plans to alleviate the situation [would be beneficial]. Let’s bring everyone together.

Q: Do you expect the issue of free speech to be a large part of the campus dialogue this year?

I think it will definitely play a role. At USG, the environment we want to instill is that we want to be constantly monitoring the campus culture. We are the link between the administration and the students. So, we just want to be prepared for whatever may happen. We can go into the year with expectations, but, honestly, we have no clue what students will be concerned about or thinking about a month from now, two months from now.

Q: But do you plan on actively engaging in the issue?

We would like House Committee to play a more active role in whether clubs program content or postings get denied. Right now, there is sort of an informal appeals process in that you can go to the House Committee. We would like to explore making that more formalized in that if the House committee votes in favor, OSL&CD will have to [take action]. We want the students more involved in that area.

At the end of the day, I could put something offensive on a board regardless and it would stay up there until someone takes it down. I am personally more in favor of a process where a person might put something offensive on a board, and it’s flagged by other students. That seems like something that would be more effective. I want to put it more on the students to say, “Hey, that’s offensive. Let’s take it down.”

Q: What do you think of this year’s USG administration [minus the Class of 2018]?

I think everyone is still getting acclimated into the set up of the meeting. There are a lot of new faces this year. Our e-board is pretty much entirely new. There are a lot of new senators. Getting used to the Robert’s Rules [knocking on table, etc.], for example, is going to take some time. But we like how people are thinking. We like how there are new faces who are asking questions, who are raising concerns. I think that’s great. This is only our third meeting are we’re seeing some progress in how comfortable they are speaking up. The [annual USG] retreat will maker that even easier.

Q: You’re a student too. Why did you decide to take on this seemingly gigantic responsibility of being USG president?

It was definitely a question I had to ask myself before I ran for the position. This is more than just a commitment; this is really something that I needed to think about. I just saw an opportunity with me and Sarah. USG has done a great job over the past few years of becoming more and more prominent, but I really think we can get that to the next level. I saw a lot of the things we did well, and I saw a lot of things that we didn’t do so well. Sarah and I have the amount of experience [necessary], we have a lot of great people supporting us. I think we can really make a lot out of this term.

Honestly, it would have been pretty easy for me to say, “Hey, I’m just going to enjoy my senior year and go to football games.” But this is just one last year that I have and it’s a good chance to make a big impact as a student body.

Q: How personally rewarding is this job?

It’s rewarding whenever we see tangible change, when we see policies being shifted, when we see things working easier around campus. It is personally rewarding…but I don’t want to bring myself into the equation. It really is something that we do for the whole student body.

Q: You’re the first business student we have had serve as USG president in at least four years. Does that make much of a difference in terms of your leadership style?

I don’t think just being from Gabelli makes me any different. The larger goals are still the same, however there could definitely be a degree of influence there. I come from a very quantitative, accounting and finance background. I like working with the details. That definitely plays into my style of leadership, and what I like to focus on. But as far as overall goals, I don’t think there are large differences just because I’m from Gabelli.

Q: Is it on the student body or USG to make student government known?

I think it’s on us [USG] to make ourselves known. That’s what we’re elected to do, to reach out. It’s the students’ responsibility to get good grades and find a job, it’s not their responsibility to seek out what USG does. That’s on us.

Point of View is an opinion column.