Photos contributed by Nicholas Ciampanelli and Caroline Mello
Wondering why your Instagram feed is flooded with campaign messages and lists of promises about enacting change in Quinnipiac University’s community?
As April 13, election day, quickly approaches, many newcomers and familiar faces are in the running for a position in the Student Government Association (SGA).
President, one of the positions up for grabs, proves to be a pivotal matchup of who will embody students’ values best but most importantly give them a voice.
In a year plagued with issues affecting the campus community including LGBTQ and Asian hate, commuter backlash, economic disparity and more, this election exhibits one of high importance — Quinnipiac’s future may depend on it.
On the ballot for SGA’s highest-ranking position are Caroline Mello, who is a junior in the physician’s assistant program and Nick Ciampanelli, who is a junior economics and political science double major. Both are experienced members of student government. They have both served in the SGA through varying capacities since their first year at Quinnipiac.
Outside of student government, both are highly active and involved in the Quinnipiac community with numerous achievements.
Ciampanelli and Mello agreed to have a Q&A session. Both were given the same series of questions regarding different topics including SGA itself, commuting, diversity and inclusion, among other prominent topics.
For Mello’s full policies click here.
For Ciampanelli’s full policies click here.
Who are you as a student and candidate? Why should students vote for you?
I feel like there’s a common misconception of people in SGA, that there’s a perceived hierarchy. At the end of the day, I am still a student, I still eat the same food as you, I still walk the same campus, cheer for the same team. I share that experience, I want to perform well. I personally want to go to graduate school and get a degree in applied economics, possibly a Ph.D. While I do all of those things as a student, I still plan to advocate.
I often tell people this because more so recently in the wake of this past summer and everything that’s come with the pandemic, we as a nation are kind of having a second resurgence. I’ve kind of transitioned some light into who I am as a student leader. Not everyone feels advocated for and that’s really important and I come from a very high point of privilege,and realize that I know I’m a straight white man. It’s important to take a step back, acknowledge people that bring in different voices and give them that platform, stand alongside them, also know when to step back and give them the room, give them the floor. Those voices can often feel drowned out as the student government association we’re not advocating for one group of students and that’s important to kind of consider.
Something that’s huge right now is being able to communicate with data. I’m a data science minor, so I have a lot of experience with this. QU’s administration is very receptive to that, they work with numbers more than individual stories because, at the end of the day, it is a business, it’s a nonprofit institution. I think that’s something that definitely sets me apart from being able to create those surveys (parking and more) and try to get out to the student body and also communicate those findings to enact actual change that we see.
I really try to be incredibly involved in the classroom and also outside the classroom. Something my advisor and I always talk about is having that balance, I don’t want to just be a student at Quinnipiac but I also don’t want to just be someone who does SGA and other involvements. I like to think I’m somewhat of a balance of that. As part of vice president, I oversee everyone working on their initiatives. I think it’s transitioned into, almost like a mom role. I oversee everyone working on their initiatives and I like to think I’m someone who they can come to for help. I try to be someone that people can come talk to, and feel comfortable with.
I’ve worked side by side with (Sophia Marshall, the current SGA president) with a lot of the bigger issues that we’ve dealt with. If she needs anything she’ll come to me and be like “OK, we’re going to go in this meeting we’re going to tag-team, you take these issues I’ll take these, we will go through it.”
I understand the process of SGA. I’ve been in it for so long at this point that I can lead the organization to success and I also talked to students on campus I’ll advocate for.
I think this year in particular it’s incredibly important that we have someone in the role that’s willing to look beyond the issues that I see on campus because issues that other groups see are incredibly different and having someone who’s willing to go out and talk to people. What are you struggling with, and how can I help? I’ve done it in SGA for a path for the year with my members, and now I can do it with the entire student body if elected to this role, and I think that’ll be incredibly important.
What issues on campus are important to you and the students you interact with?
I have a lot of different points, but the two that I’m really focusing on digging down into are improving inclusivity on campus, DEI-related (diversity, equity and inclusion) issues and also school spirit. I would love to see a shift from our statement culture where we just demand statements to a campus of action. QU is very well known for being a political, apathetic campus, and we really should be shifting the needle on that. We don’t really talk about it (DEI issues), we just take to the phone like “when is your statement coming out?” That shouldn’t be the expectation, like if something has to happen, I want to see protest, I want to see activism. Now with that three-year housing requirement, we might as well make more traditions. If you want to improve the residential experience that’s one way to do it to get people actually excited. Back to the library steps, students often feel like they’re kind of a number at some point. Did this person pay their $70,000? It shouldn’t be that way. Students should feel that they are cared about a little more. It’s something I’ve started discussing with administrators and they’re on board with it like they love this.
This year, in particular, we’ve seen several issues come up, the first being bias and race-related incidents, both on campus and then within our community. Students not feeling accepted is a huge issue. We pride ourselves on having a Quinnipiac community but it’s not a community if people don’t feel safe or people don’t feel welcomed. So building that community to be stronger in those students to feel like they have a voice on this campus is my top priority and we’ve started to kind of do that this semester. I think it all comes back to building up the student voice on campus, and that can be through an associate’s voice or just uplifting other group’s voices on campus, and so the administration knows that they can’t just spring stuff on us without asking our opinion first. At the end of the day, this is our university, the university is here for us and they need to remember that. One goal is getting us back to a normal campus and that’s only going to happen if we’re vaccinated. I really want to push the administration to get on a campus vaccination site, this would allow any student who wants to get vaccinated easy and free. This isn’t actually that far-fetched either.
There are numerous positions that are running unopposed or are vacant. What does that say about SGA? What does that say about student involvement?
Looking at the turnout, contested elections are great because then you have to put in a little bit of work, trying to get out there, so if you really want the position, put the work into it. I’ll be honest it sucks that some positions are uncontested.It’s not a great look for SGA. It’s not that some students don’t want to run for SGA. We removed the signature barrier requirement and whatnot in order to advocate people running make it easier and a lighter burden. But then there’s now this notion because throughout this past year administration’s kind of brushed off student input on a lot of things which is not okay. That’s something we need to bring to administration. We should have voices at the table, where the student representatives are here to advocate on behalf of them for that feedback communication.e need to take that reflective look in the mirror to know how we can better advocate those that are served.
This is a big issue, this is something I even faced last year. We’re hoping that it will be better, this year, this semester. I think it’s twofold, the first being that some students don’t necessarily feel like they belong in SGA. A certain demographic of person, we do have similar type SGA people, and when you see a group that all looks and acts the same it’s hard to jump in. I think we can help improve that by restructuring the general body of SGA.
If they (students) see an identity senator They may feel more comfortable going into a position like that. I also think student involvement on campus has been dropping. Of course we’re in a pandemic, so your viewpoint has to be adjusted. We will be better if you are involved. You have to Zoom all day in bed and it’s easy to stay in bed, I think we just need to kind of refocus our attention. Getting students back involved, when an apathetic campus isn’t a campus that breeds passionate students we want to get the Quinnipiac and Bobcat passion back.
Do you think SGA needs to be restructured? Why or why not?
Yes. We currently have our specialized representation cabinet and recently changed my position from VP for Student Experience to VP for Inclusion, Diversity and Engagement. While we did a top down approach, I believe we also need a bottom up as well. The G-Board (General Board) is the voting body. They’re the ones that pass resolutions, pass amendments, vote on finances and get to hear some of those speakers that we have to go into executive session about. A restructure in my mind would focus on it more with steering and get feedback because they are the voting body. Should we be reducing cabinet sizes? Which I think we could do. I think we could create more, they want to be called specialized-representation boards, but have more focused key areas of the student body, student engagements and intersectionality. We currently need to focus on how we can reach equity and give everyone an equal playing field. Then we can move on to liberation, where everyone is inherently included.
I do think a restructure is important. Especially with the new role, inclusion, diversity and equity I’m very excited to see where that goes and how it affects SGA. Whether it’s a top-trickle-down effect and having that role at the top will infuse more of DEI and standing up for these underrepresented groups. Right now we are an initiative-based organization. We have about 50 to 60 initiatives going on at a time, which that’s great. That means we’re doing a lot of stuff, but a lot of times it’s smaller stuff. I think switching, not getting rid of the initiative model, but a structure that has those individual positions and is more advocacy based. We can tell students, “oh hey we got you XYZ in the cafe,” but students are like, “OK, but I’m not feeling like I’m being represented and advocated for. While it’s great that you got that in the cafe, we really need someone in the room that represents our ideals.”
Is the $90 fee on commuters fair?
I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, and this is literally third-degree price discrimination that’s what we call it in economics. It’s targeting a specific demographic and tries to maximize profit. You guys (commuters) need to park, that’s non-negotiable and it’s really not fair. That’s your livelihood, that’s how you get to campus. If you work part time and if you don’t have the luxury where you don’t need to worry about your own finances or support from your family, while going to college, it’s not that bad for those students. But not everyone has that luxury, especially if you’re asking the groups for more money that have the highest need I think that there are other ways that we can definitely fund it. Like the initiatives that are coming from the parking fee, like the commuter assistant program, is coming out of that and more investments in the commuter experience and the facilities master plan, there’s other ways we can certainly go about it. Helen Tran, she’s unopposed for the commuter senator position, if elected, I’d like her and a variety of other commuters, different class years, academic backgrounds and whatnot come together to have a commuter experience advisory group.
So I myself, am not a commuter so I’m going to preface by saying that I will be a commuter next year, but I have not yet experienced that commuter life, and so I don’t think I’m solely qualified to answer that. But, my opinion is I don’t think the way the $90 fee was approached was fair and the least I think the price. It’s competitive to other schools. It’s significantly lower than a lot of schools, which is not something I’m going to ignore, We weren’t originally given a path of where the money’s going, like you are paying $90 what is that translating to? That’s what I think we needed to see. I think the original email sent out, the wording was incredibly offensive to a lot of commuter students.A parking fee on one group of people on a little on-campus, $180 a year doesn’t cover the $14,000 you’re going to spend in housing It all goes back to if there was student input on that. If we want to improve the lots and everything I do understand that the money’s going to have to come from somewhere, but if it’s just commuter students and the way it was approached, the whole mentality behind it, I have issues with, and I believe are unfair.
Is there a wide gap in economic diversity on campus? If so, how will you try to close that gap?
QU is very well known for being a primarily middle-upper class institution given the price tag. The QU admissions process has been doing a good job of helping diversify in terms of race, income, identity, and though there’s obviously still more work to be done. Like in the 10-point plan they’re promoting pushing out more data and we don’t have that yet. They’ve been promoting that for about a year and you need the data to kind of know if we’re going in the right direction or not. There was recently a Chronicle article about economic diversity at QU, they had to use data from 2012 (2009). That’s abysmal, that’s not reflective of any changes over time. But we have to resort to that because we have no other indicator. In order to promote more economic diversity on campus, it’s a matter of getting the data to know where we need to go. But on a qualitative note, build more pipelines. Why don’t we have a pipeline with Hamden schools, in New Haven schools, schools that are more local? Focus on those town-gown relations and bring in people of different socio-economic incomes and backgrounds in order to make QU more reflective of the area of America and especially as demographics continue to shift.
I do think there is a wide gap, now that I’m thinking about it, I just hadn’t thought about it in that way, Students who are incredibly aware of them and then students who probably struggle with them but it’s not talked about. One of our biggest issues is that no one talks about personal finances or economics, or how this is economically impacting the individual student. I think the general consensus on campus is that “oh well, I’m not directly paying for my school because that’s what the majority of the students here feel like.” Many students on this campus are lucky enough to have financial support, and we need to be thinking of the students that don’t have that support. Any cost, whether it’s books, a parking fee, buying an additional meal plan, even though you have extra things like that, it falls on the student and that shift in perspective is something that SGA needs to take on, but that’s also something administration needs to take on. I think it’s easy for them to be like oh here are the finances, we know where everyone’s at we know everyone’s financial situation but numbers don’t translate to what the students are actually going through. Also having that student opinion in the room, it really affects them.
What needs to be improved in order to make this campus diverse and inclusive? How can you help marginalized groups?
It’s important to take that step back, take into account my own experiences of others, friends, peers, people I don’t even know. We still have a lot of progress to be made and working with those student organizations and, more specifically, also bringing in students who aren’t necessarily engaged, they’re the hardest ones to reach out to. They often feel less included in general so, on top of something like the commuter task force, I would also like a DEI task force to help to promote work with more student organizations. Something I started that fell through the cracks sadly this past fall with the International Students Association was creating an international student and family weekend. Usually, they can’t really go home and they’re here by themselves and with the pandemic that’s heightened. We should be honoring, celebrating them it’s not easy for them to be here. That’s one small way to make students feel more included. Working with ISU (Indigenous Student Union) on the land acknowledge statement and revising the legend of the bobcat. Hosting vigils and proactively being involved with student organizations, all of that goes a long way towards making students feel more included. When you do more campus action you also solve the problem of, how do we attract more people to QU? This is not rocket science. We call ourselves a Bobcat family but not everyone feels welcome. We should be advocating for all and everyone should feel welcome, they should be proud to call themselves a Bobcat.
Uplifting their voices and making sure marginalized groups feel represented is the first, but also something I’m campaigning on is conduct reform. Allowing there to be more transparency within the conduct system, when instances of bias and hate crimes happen on-campus students understand that they will be punished. I think there’s a general consensus within the student body that people think they (offenders) will go unnoticed or unpunished. Creating a more transparent conduct system with students involved in either the decisions of what charges equal what sanctions or reviewing how the system is in general. Having the administration realize that there are certain groups on campus they can reach out to, SGA is not the only group they can reach. This is something Rachel, the president of ASA (Asian Student Alliance), and I talk about when we wrote the resolution after all the Asian hate incidents on campus and throughout the nation. The administration never directly reached out to ASA until after we released everything. If they wanted help building a statement, reach out to SGA as long as you’re including the groups that it’s directly affecting. I myself as a white female am not directly affected by this but I will work just as hard to represent them. At the end of the day, we need to look back on ourselves and know this is what I know, this is what I don’t know, let’s reach out to the groups who do know.
Overall, what does accountability mean to you?
I’m very passionate about accountability, this is kind of twofold. I’ll start with the personal form of accountability. Accountability, to me, is being true to myself and the people who elected me. Tom Ellett, I meet with him very frequently, the CXO (Chief Experience Officer). Something he told me early into our work relationship he said, I always try to think, “what have I done for you today. What have I done to try to improve the student experience?” That really resonated with me, especially as VP for student experience, it’s really on me to try to improve campus climate, campus culture. I really try to hold myself up to that high bar. But when it comes to an organizational perspective, something I’m very keen on is judicial ethics board reform. So they’re currently not super involved with the organization, only involved in terms of grievances. I would love to see the judicial ethics board a little more involved with writing the accountability contract that our organization has. Ensuring everyone’s maximizing performance and reflecting the needs of the student body and working on initiatives is key. Also getting them to be more transparent with the body. Like at the end of the year conducting an anonymous review of any cases processed by them.
It means when you say you’re doing something, if you say you’re fighting for the students, that you are doing it. It’s that you’re consistently putting their needs above anyone else’s. Holding people accountable means that we are calling them out when we see they’re doing something that is not what the students want. When SGA says, “hey don’t worry we got you guys, we’re fighting for you”, but we’re really just sitting, chatting and having a good time we’re not holding each other accountable. In meetings with administrators, we tell them how it is. A lot of times we like to want to save face with the administration because it’s easier to be friends with them than to be enemies with them. I’m not saying we alienate every administrator in the school, but we need to be in a place and be confident enough in ourselves that we know student opinion, so we can be like, actually, no students don’t want that. Accountability is holding up to the standards that we set for ourselves and the school says that they’re here for students.