the Cornell Review reached out to Student Assembly presidential candidates Duncan Cady ’23 and Valeria Valencia ’23 to learn more about their respective platforms.
Cady has served as an undergraduate representative in the University Assembly, as well as a representative of students with disabilities in the Student Assembly. Valencia currently serves as the Student Assembly First Generation Student Representative, Chair of the Academic Policy Committee, and, as we have extensively covered, Student Assembly Vice President of Finance.
After reading the campaign statements of the two candidates on the spring 2022 election website, our team compiled and sent a list of personalized questions to each candidate for further feedback. Valencia responded to the Review‘s request for comment last Tuesday. Cady replied to Review‘s questions earlier today.
Interview with Valeria Valencia ’23
the Cornell Review: What do you think are the pressing concerns that Covid still poses to the Cornell community, and how would you address them?
Valeria Valencia: We have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic since the spring of 2020. Although many of us are eager for things to return to normal, this will not be possible until Covid stops. be a threat to our community. As part of my platform, I mentioned making sure we as students get the resources and support we need while we are still navigating this pandemic. I urge the administration to provide a virtual learning option for students who may feel uncomfortable attending classes in person during an increase in cases. I also urge administration and faculty to relax attendance requirements as some students face the difficult decision of attending class while feeling ill or staying home and risking penalties.
the Review: You plan to advocate for “a review of the student health insurance plan”. In what ways is the SHP lacking and are there specific gaps you would like to fill?
Valencia: The Student Health Insurance Plan (SHP) is a health plan that all Cornell students are required to enroll in unless they are eligible for New York State Medicaid, in which case students would enroll in the HPS+. Cornell students may request to waive this requirement if their insurance meets the university’s requirements. I found that Cornell tended to deny waivers to students with out-of-state insurance (like me). This requires students to pay $3,100 for the student health insurance plan. Also, no matter what insurance a student has, we are all obligated to pay $420 health care costs. If students are already paying this much for student health insurance, we shouldn’t have to pay an additional $420 health care fee. I plan to work with the administration as well as Cornell Health and campus organizations to urge the administration to reduce student health plan costs and mandatory health fees.
the Review: What are your plans to expand gender-neutral bathrooms, and would your proposal convert bathrooms that are currently gendered?
Valence: Our campus already offers gender-neutral bathrooms. They can be seen in some residence halls and campus buildings. My goal with adding more neutral bathrooms is to make students feel more comfortable. I would work with organizations on campus to determine where the demand for gender-neutral bathrooms is highest and go from there. It can look like either completely transforming an unused space into a gender-neutral bathroom, or converting bathrooms that are currently gendered. It will all depend on what works best logistically while taking into account community feedback. Again, my goal is to make students feel safe and comfortable on their own campus!
the Review: The Cornell Faculty Senate did not come to a clear conclusion on whether anti-racism training would be mandatory or optional for faculty. Would your proposal for mandatory diversity training for Cornell faculty be different from the university’s anti-racism initiative?
Valencia: My proposal for mandatory diversity training for Cornell faculty would rely on many similarities that the Faculty Senate could not come to a clear conclusion on. I would work with the Faculty Senate to hear their concerns and see why they could not come to a clear conclusion. No issue is black and white and with a topic as important to the community as anti-racism, it is important that we take the time to do it right and listen to everyone’s concerns. Cornell students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and identities, which is what makes this campus so beautiful, so it’s important that our faculty know all of the different identities of Cornell students. This way, students can feel more supported and welcomed on our campus.
the Review: How do you plan to eliminate gym, physical education and laundry fees?
Valencia: The elimination of gym, physical education and laundry fees has been an initiative that countless representatives of South Africa have launched [sic] on. So what makes this time different? Our campus is in a very unique position. We’re coming out of a pandemic and the administration is raising $5 billion through the “Do the greater good” campaign, and we’ve seen that the administration is willing to work with us, as they recently increased the salaries of Cornell restaurant workers after months of advocating for it. I believe now is the time when we can really push the administration to eliminate all these fees and get them to listen and act. Many other universities offer free gyms, physical education classes and cover laundry costs, why not us? The university repeatedly claims that it really cares about our mental health, expensive PE classes, gym fees, and laundry costs are all detrimental to mental health. I would tell the administration that if they really cared about our sanity, they would arrange to cover gym, physical education and laundry costs. By working closely with the administration and various departments at Cornell, I hope we can truly accomplish what so many people before me have set out to do.
Interview with Duncan Cady ’23
the Review: We would like to start with your position on health, an issue that worries many students. What are your specific plans to provide more student health resources and what are we currently missing?
Duncan Cady: Without a doubt, the biggest health issue for most students is mental health. Cornell has had a bad reputation and sadly as of late hasn’t been the best support record of ours. Based on the Comprehensive Mental Health Review from a few years ago, we know the administration has the knowledge and expertise to advance wellness remedies for all students. . It is simply a matter of putting pressure on the administration to act. It is for this reason that I join with the Faculty Senate and all the assemblies of the University in supporting the new Natatorium (swimming pools) project, a direct recommendation of our own mental health examination, something for which University Development is now striving to raise funds. This is just one example of how I have worked on this SA to support the student experience, recognizing that we are all people outside of the classroom who need well-supported resources to thrive. .
the Review: Along the same lines, your statement on the SA website indicates your concerns about accessibility. What accessibility issues still affect campus life and how will you mitigate them?
Cady: Unfortunately, I believe that some of the best things to offer on our campus are beyond the reach of many students. The Student Assembly, I just believe, needs to work harder to connect what we have with those who need it. Over the past year for me it has been physical accessibility, working in and out of the classroom on many issues for students with disabilities. In the grand scheme of things, I believe a more accessible Cornell starts with a more accessible SA, an SA where the concerns of our community are legitimized and taken into account, not just brought up in elections and then ignored.
the Review: Finally, in keeping with your commitment to listen to student concerns, would you solicit or accept motions or ideas for motions from the student body?
Cady: The motions and ideas of the student body are central to why I’m running. I care deeply about all sorts of mental health issues, unequal access, and so much more, but the Assembly as a body built to represent must meet the criteria of listening and acting on this what students want, not just our own notions of what is right. I’ve submitted over 15 resolutions this year, ranging from investing in services like EARS, to supporting our vet students, and even supporting student interest with Slope Day, but I’ve not only because I felt it was right, but because it would represent the interests of students ready to welcome change and ready to work for it too.
[UPDATE] This article has since been updated to include Duncan Cady ’23’s answers to our questions.
Samuel Kim, editor of Cornell Reviewcontributed to this report.