Meet SGA Candidates Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas and Osama Syed

When I heard that Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas and Osama Syed were running for SGA, I knew I had to get an interview. Voter education is important, y'all. So, I arranged to meet them on the top floor of Union early Friday afternoon: it was time to get some answers.

Her Campus: Where are you from and how has that influenced you?

Itziri: I’m from Aguas Calientes, México, but I grew up in North Carolina. As an immigrant, it’s hard to be on the outskirts of society, yet also in the center of political debate. I learned that just because some have tried to push us to the outside doesn't mean that we can’t engage in the community and make a difference in it. It’s also made me caring; I am really dedicated to helping people who face struggles like I did, even if those struggles are different.

Osama: I was born in Karachi, Pakistan and I moved to Wichita, Kansas in 2000. So, I have a bicultural background. I went to public schools with diverse student bodies. My family owns a restaurant in Wichita, and I’ve worked there since I was young. Being in the business taught me the value of putting myself fully into what I’m doing. It taught me the realities and the impact of money. And it taught me the value of hard work.

HC: What are your areas of influence at Davidson?

I: Currently, I’m the Co-founder and President of Define American. I’m a Humanities Fellow and Admissions Tour Guide. I serve the Latin American Studies and Africana Studies Departments as a Research Assistant for Dr. Benson and I’m a member of Warner Hall. In the past, I served as the Fund for Davidson’s Student Ambassador. I served as an ESL Tutor at Cornelius Elementary. I was a Research Assistant for Dr. Leyva through “Food for Thought” and I was on the Cheerleading team.

O: I was the President of the Muslim Student Association last year while simultaneously serving as a diversity board senator in SGA and a parliamentarian in the Questbridge Scholars Network. I’ve been an on-and-off member of Davidson Refugee Support and Common Ground. I’ve participated in many interfaith activities and a couple intramural sports. I have worked in the innovation and entrepreneurship department and I currently work in the post office. In the past, I have helped with admissions for events such as Junior Day. I was in S.T.R.I.D.E my first year, where I met Itziri. 

HC: What’s your platform?  In what ways will you work to make students’ on-campus experiences safer and better?

I: Our platform contains three central elements: sustainability, the Center for Career Development, and alcohol culture. Currently, sustainability is on the periphery at Davidson, but it should permeate all aspects of student life. Right now a group of dedicated students drives a lot of environmental action on campus, and that’s amazing. We want to build on their efforts and make sustainability a priority campus-wide. A few areas of sustainability we are focusing on include reducing the single-use of plastic, ensuring the Vamanos Van is used efficiently and furthering the MoBikes bike-sharing program. We also want to help students become more aware of the school’s efforts to become sustainable, like the goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

O: In terms of the Center for Career Development, we are very lucky. Davidson is one of the few liberal arts schools that has a Center that offers walk-in hours for students. Still, we should look at ways to improve.

I: This is especially important as the value of a liberal arts education is a subject of conversation nationwide. So, Osama and I have looked at other schools’ Career Development Centers and compared their programs to what we have at Davidson. One that stuck out to us was the Pathway Program at Hobart and Williams. They work with their students during all four years of their college experience an guarantee each student an internship, job-shadowing, or research opportunity. We think it’s really important for students to have an ongoing relationship with the Center for Career Development at Davidson. At Davidson, the CCD has a 4-year plan for students that is essentially a suggested course of action, but few underclassmen actually complete the steps.

O: Many wildcats only visit the CCD as juniors and seniors, when it would benefit them in the long run if they began interacting with the Career Development staff earlier on. We want students to meet with a CCD counselor in their first year so students can learn about their aptitudes and areas of interest, be directed to relevant resources such as student organizations, and get started on the path to their future. Once they are plugged in and connected with the leaders of relevant organizations, they could have periodic “check-in” with the CCD for further help.

I: Another aspect of Career Development that we want to maximize is the day trips. We think students should take the opportunity to interact with different companies, see their physical spaces, and get an understanding of what their atmospheres are like. Students need to know if companies and fields they are interested in are more collaborative or more autonomous if they’re more structured or more flexible. And day trips can help them figure out in what kind of place they’d like to work. Of course, we’d first want to see if there’s a demand for this among students, and if so, we’d respond accordingly.

O: Lastly, we understand that the alcohol culture at Davidson has become the subject of increasing concern in the past few semesters. We know that there has been a dramatic rise in transports and have been told by Chief Sigler that some of these cases were serious enough that students were at risk of dying. This needs to be addressed. How can we improve the preventive measures that are already in place? What additional preventative measures can we take?

Collaborating with Patterson Court Council (PCC), we will work hard to pinpoint any and all reasons behind the increase in transports. In recent conversations we’ve had with fellow students, some have explained that there isn’t enough to do at certain times, causing them to resort to drinking. For example, there aren’t as many “dry” events on campus from 10 to 12 p.m. If this is confirmed as a source of increased alcoholic consumption, we’ll work with Union Board and other student organizations to put on dry events during this time frame. This will benefit everyone, not just those who drink. We’ll also look into the issue of mobility at Davidson, continuing conversations that are happening in the town currently to improve student access to local events.

HC: What specific actions can you, if elected as SGA officials, take to combat sexual assault?

O: Student organizations such as The 1972 and the Rape Awareness Committee are already doing great work on this front, and we will do our best to empower them and provide them with continual support. Also, I believe that changing the alcohol culture on campus can help change rape culture and reduce instances of sexual assault. Substance use/abuse and sexual assault are strongly correlated.

HC: Any thoughts on Union Station?

I: We want to make sure the products offered there, such as conveniently-packaged food and medical supplies, will be available elsewhere on campus.

O: We may be able to incorporate some of these goods into Davis Café or put them in vending machines.

I: In terms of the space, we’re thinking of how it could be used in the future. Could it be an arcade? A relaxation room with massage chairs? A conversation room with coffee and tea? We’re open to your ideas. We’d love to host an open forum to discuss the possibilities and hear from you!

HC: In what areas do school and politics sometimes overlap that they really shouldn't?

O: Honestly, the political party affiliations of SGA representatives are largely irrelevant to the work we do in student government at Davidson. The decisions that we make, the decisions that affect our 2,000-student community, aren’t colored red or blue. Our purpose isn’t to make things political or to polarize the student body. We simply want to represent students and further their best interests, and right or left-wing just doesn’t play a factor in that.

HC: You have four words to describe Carol Quillen. They do not have to be adjectives. Go.

I: Resilient. Inspiring. Approachable. I know I’m running out of words, but I have to add that she embodies both knowledge and leadership.

HC: What’s your campaign slogan?

Both: For Our Future!

HC: So do y'all have a Facebook page or a Twitter for your campaign so we can stalk you?

O: Our website is forourfuture2018.weebly.com and we also have been posting on our personal Facebook and Instagram accounts.

HC: Is there anything else you guys would like to put out there?

I: Some students might be hesitant to vote for me given that I haven’t been in SGA before. But I’ve served in leadership roles in other areas on campus, I know how to communicate and collaborate, and I’m in touch with many different facets of Davidson life.

O: Itziri is very driven and also very social. She’s got a lot of ambition and persistence. I know she can be a great leader and I want to support her in every way I can. When she asked me to run as her vice-president, I jumped.

I: Davidson has helped me find myself and become who I am, and I want to give back.

O: I would echo that. Coming to understand people’s different identities has changed how I think, how I interact with others.

On that note, I also want to mention how groundbreaking it is for a Latina woman to run for SGA president this year. We haven’t had a woman run for president in recent history, and Itziri is a woman of color! I don’t know if any Muslims have served as vice president either. But representation is so important. We want to have people’s concerns addressed. And between the two of us, we have a range of backgrounds and skill sets that can help us do that.

HC: Thank you both for your time, and best of luck!

Readers, don't forget to vote on Monday! 

 

 

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