Courtesy of Fabienne Banghard
Nina Kalantar is a third year International Affairs and Political Science combined major, with a minor in Law and Public Policy. She added Political Science to her declared major after an amazing experience working on the campaign of Diane Hwang, who was running for state senator in the First Suffolk and Middlesex District. On campus, she has been involved in the International Relations Council and the Student Government Association, for which she is currently the only woman running for Executive Vice President! She will be graduating in 2019, but has already done so much in the Boston community; Nina works for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and has worked for the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (MWPC). She has been volunteering with the ACLU for over a year, assisting with rallies, talks, and educating the public on issues relating to civil liberties protections and the enacted travel ban. She will be marching with the organization next Saturday at the March for Our Lives. Her work with the MWPC was fundamental towards fostering her passion for women’s advocacy and civil rights, and particularly for increasing the number of women elected into office.
Currently, Nina is on co-op in Washington D.C. working as a Legislative Intern for Senator Elizabeth Warren. Nina reflected that when she received the offer to work for the Senator, she knew it was an opportunity she could not turn down. “The Senator has been a fervent voice of resistance against attacks on fundamental civil liberties,” she said, “and working for such a courageous and persistent woman has been incredibly meaningful for me as a young woman looking to enter the law profession.” Nina is primarily involved in the policy areas pertaining to foreign relations, civil liberties, and national security, but is also interested in education and healthcare policy.
Nina is clearly well-rounded and ambitious in all aspects, but I specifically spoke with her to highlight why she is running for Northeastern SGA’s Vice Presidency and to tell me a bit about her campaign.
How did you get involved with NEU’s Student Government Association?
I first got involved with SGA my sophomore year when I wanted a platform to be more of an advocate on campus. I joined as a Special Interest Senator, and SGA provided me with an outlet to voice my opinions on issues pertaining to student welfare.
I was a senator when the travel ban was enacted, a policy that would directly impact my Iranian relatives and friends, and SGA gave me platform to voice my opposition to the ban and my opinion on what the university should do to protect our students at risk of being impacted. I was happy to see Northeastern as a leader on an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief, vocally opposing the ban and highlighting that more students would be impacted by the travel ban at Northeastern than any other MA university.
Being a strong voice in Senate attracted the attention of Suchira Sharma and Paulina Ruiz, our current President and EVP respectively, and I was asked to join their campaign team as an outreach worker for women’s clubs. When they won, my background in debate and knowledge of parliamentary procedure made me a strong candidate to be Parliamentarian, and I was honored to be nominated by them and later appointed.
What is your relationship to your running mate, Collin Walter?
I am so excited to be partnered with someone who I know has been an historic ally for women and has actually worked to increase the presence of women in SGA. We have an awesome relationship stemming from our work on the Suchira + Paulina: Believe in More campaign, and I am happy to be able to work with someone who I know prioritizes accurate representation and understands the necessity of having a diverse SGA. Collin has appointed three directors in the Communications and Events Committee, all of whom are women. He believes that empowering women to take on leadership roles and to pursue future ones is critical to ensuring that women are accurately represented at all levels of the organization, and he has been such a great source of empowerment for me. I am so elated to have a feminist and ally of women as my running mate.
Why did you decide to run for Student Body Vice President?
Running for an elected position was never a long term goal of mine, but the incredible encouragement I have received from so many mentors and friends has empowered me to pursue this opportunity. Collin’s faith in me being the best fit to lead our student government was incredibly meaningful to me, and I am so happy I decided to run.
The support I received from Suchira and Paulina, two of my greatest mentors and friends on campus, has also been incredibly impactful. I would not be where I am today without these two strong, intelligent women empowering me to pursue leadership roles. We need more women like them in SGA. We need to actively uplift other women to be vocal and persistent during debate, and to pursue leadership positions in cabinet. Female representation and accurate representation matter so much.
Tell me about your campaign!
First, let’s talk about women. It’s disheartening to see that I am the only woman running this year. The glass ceiling was shattered with the first all-female slate elected last year. There are not enough women in SGA that are in top positions and many feel they do not have enough power to rise to such positions.
In regards to our platform, our campaign is divided into three A’s: Actionable, Accountable, and Accurate representation. Briefly, Actionable covers what Collin and I plan to get done in order to increase SGA’s power. One of our Actionable goals is to increase the power of SGA’s legislation by evolving our partnership with the Faculty Senate. We would like to see our legislation votes go to the faculty senate who would then discuss and vote. If the faculty endorses our legislation, then the administration would be more likely to listen. We want to not just talk, but do. Accountable includes checking ourselves and other groups or organizations on campus. Last semester I spearheaded a Legislative Review Committee to look for incongruencies in legislative documents. With initiatives like this, we can be constantly evolving and creating government documents that are better. To have a strong house, you need to have a strong foundation, so strengthening the foundation of our student government is essential in order to improve our ability to serve Northeastern students. Accountable also includes holding NUPD and the Title IX Office accountable. The last A is Accurate representation, and this is my number one priority. A lot of students do not like SGA because they feel it doesn’t represent them, and this is completely valid. SGA is currently inaccurately comprised of a body that does not represent the diversity of our school, and is mostly male dominated. However, the NEU student body has a ratio of 49:51 men to women. We have low numbers of women in SGA because of a lack of mentorship and empowerment for women. If elected, I want to create a mentorship program partnering older women in SGA with younger women because I have felt the impact of having a powerful female mentor. Accurate representation also includes representing minorities in SGA, which is equally as important.
Generally, new Executive Board members have to learn how to chair before they can jump into creating change. I know how to chair, so I can skip over learning that and work right on shaping our SGA so that it’s proportional to our student body.
Can you describe your role as the only female in the election?
I am so proud to be an Iranian-American woman, but I am consciously aware that being a woman should not be the sole reason why women should vote for me. I want to earn their vote, and I believe our platform and the vision we have can be incredibly impactful in doing so.
There is a clear lack of representation in our SGA, not just of women, but of minority groups in general. For a school as diverse as Northeastern, accurate representation is fundamental to our organization’s ultimate success. We receive criticism that SGA is too elitist or not representative of the student body, and that is true in some regards. How can we be expected to pass legislation and positively impact our student body if the people in SGA aren’t accurately representative of the school? I look forward to actively working towards establishing a more representative body and cabinet over the summer leading up to the beginning of the new school year. Accurate representative will be the first step towards uniting our student government with our student body.
We currently have a mentorship program in place, and Collin and I want to expand this to partner older women in SGA with our newer members. Fostering mentoring relationships with women in SGA will empower more women to take leadership roles in the organization, which I believe will ultimately make us a more inclusive organization.
Who is your female role model and why?
I have many women in my life that inspire me, but I’d say Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) is one of my favorites. She is absolutely incredible. She became a lawyer when women were not accepted in the legal profession, and she has continuously fought for women’s rights. She is the founder of the Women’s Rights Project in the American Civil Liberties Union, and has argued and won landmark cases in front of the Supreme Court. As a Supreme Court Justice, she has been on the forefront of persistence and advocacy, and she inspires me to keep moving forward regardless of opposition you might face.
Some other women that inspire me are Senator Kamala Harris, my boss Senator Elizabeth Warren, Coretta Scott King, and Michelle Obama!
What are some other issues that you are passionate about?
Since I am passionate about civil liberties and human rights, I also have an invested interest in health care availability and gun reform. Because of my foreign relations background, I am also very passionate about the Syrian Civil War and combating the humanitarian crisis occurring in Yemen and Syria.
What are your goals for the future? What is your dream job?
My short term goal is to attend graduate school. I am interested in pursuing a Masters in Foreign Policy and International Relations, with a focus in Middle East policy. I also am planning to get a Law degree with a focus in Human Rights Law.
For my dream job, I would love to work as an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, or in a think tank doing foreign relations policy development.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
That is a tough one to answer because there is much I would change about the world. One thing would definitely be changing the self-interest of countries, especially because I have seen the impact self-interest has had on the region my family is from. Self-interest is a factor that drives much of the death, despair, and war we see today, especially in countries like Syria, where multifaceted proxy wars have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, many of whom are women and children. So I would definitely change the lack of empathy many humans have for one another. People don’t have an invested interest in helping their brothers and sisters. It needs to be less about me and more about we. Each of us bleed blood and are human. This is also at the root of what Collin and I envisioned for our slate. Uniting NU is so much more than just a slate name. We want to focus our work on how we can work with students and not just for students.