Meet 2019-2020 RUSA Presidential Candidate Jhanvi Virani

Around this time every year, Rutgers University students have the opportunity to vote for who will be representing them in the Rutgers University Student Assembly, or RUSA. Founded in 2005, RUSA is the undergraduate student body of Rutgers University-New Brunswick. It advocates for the needs of the student body and fights for change on behalf of their fellow students. They seek to make change through legislation, town halls, student organization allocations, and meeting with both student and administration.

I had the opportunity to interview Jhanvi Virani, one of the candidates for the 2019-2020 President of RUSA. 

Keoni: So Jhanvi, tell me about yourself.

Jhanvi: My name is Jhanvi Virani and I’m a junior studying computer science and math at Rutgers. Over the past two years, I've been in RUSA, I've been Busch Caucus Chair and eventually moved on to become Student Affairs Chairperson, where I work primarily on amplifying the voice of other student groups on campus and bringing their concerns to the assembly. Outside RUSA, I'm the president of the Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society and a student at the Honors College.

K: How did you get involved in RUSA?

J: I actually got involved with RUSA in the beginning of my sophomore year. I was a Busch representative and eventually became Busch Caucus Chair, so my job was basically overseeing all the representatives of RUSA that represented Busch campus.

K: Why did you decide to join RUSA?

J: I decided to join RUSA because I had heard a lot about it. It seemed interesting to me because student government has always been something that I have been somewhat intrigued by. But after I came to my first meeting and just sat through it, I was just immediately enamored by the passion that the students had. We had meetings every single Thursday at 7:30 pm and they could usually last from anywhere between three to four hours and students would just give up their time for the potential for impacting Rutgers community. And that was something that I was just so attracted to. So, I ran for office and eventually won a seat and the rest is history.

K: So as a presidential candidate, what do you think you can bring to the table that other people haven’t done before or other candidates can’t bring to the table?

J: Yeah, so I think my experience as Student Affairs Chair has really brought me to working with students who aren’t in RUSA which is something that I think is very valuable. I think a lot of times people in RUSA tend to be somewhat similar to one another in that they have similar ideas and they think somewhat similarly and sometimes we forget to go outside the assembly and take a case on what the average student wants, which doesn’t always converge with what the assembly wants.

So in my role as Student Affairs Chair I have been very aware of the fact it’s really important to gauge student input and I think that it’s one of the most important things when running an assembly and being able to step back and say “Hey, we need to talk to other people first to figure out if this is something students really want and really need.” Another thing that I’d like to bring to the table is changing up the way RUSA runs financially. Every year RUSA is allocated anywhere between 100-150,000 dollars, which is a ridiculously large amount of money, but in the past...many times...a decent portion of the money that we spent is on internal things- office supplies, tabling, retreats, things like that.

I think that if we were a little bit more frugal in our spending on how much we spend on ourselves, and our own budgeting, and we spend the leftover sum on things like buying textbooks for students or buying iClickers that they can rent out, then we could really start being a better voice for the students and the students will really appreciate having a student government that stands for them.

K: So what are you going to do about the relationship between RUSA and Rutgers clubs and organizations?

J: One thing that I’m working on right now is having a formal mechanism for student organizations to directly connect themselves with RUSA to not only voice their concerns and their questions about RUSA and the allocations process but also opening the door for collaboration for future legislation projects. So how the program is planned to work out this semester is the student can sign up and they can be a part of this monthly newsletter that goes out to all the organization e-board members on basically an update on what RUSA has been doing the past month. Organizations can also submit their events and their upcoming projects, so they can broadcast them to a wider net of people. And then every organization will also get a RUSA liaison who’s a member of the student affairs committee. The liaison system creates a personal and tangible connection between student orgs and RUSA that hasn't existed before, so it’s a completely different experience between you just emailing the RUSA email address like “Hey, I’m from Her Campus and I need help on this” versus like “Hey, Brian, can you help me on this thing?” It’s a lot more personal and we think it’s a lot more collaboration and productive.

K: I know that you mentioned an email that would form a connection between RUSA and the clubs, would that possibly be integrated with the current [weekly] RU Student Involvement email that also gets sent out? Or would it just be another separate email?

J: Well the RU Student Involvement email is very useful because it gives out a lot of information particular to student involvement and SABO, which is basically how organizations can access their funds. We thought of the RUSA newsletter as being a lot less formal and being a lot more about the initiatives rather than about “This is how you need to pay for your things” and things like that. So the way that it’s designed is very friendly to the eye, the things that we’re planning to put on there are very relevant to student orgs but also us as students. So it’s legislation about sexual assault prevention training, it’s projects about creating more sustainable solutions in the dining services and things like that. It may not necessarily be about your club and about the way that your club functions, but it’s more about connecting students on a much more holistic level.

K: I know that you are possibly going to be, if you do win, the first Asian-American president of RUSA…

J: Yep.

K: So, do you want to talk more about how your identity or maybe your cultural background brings something different to the table?

J: So I think minority representation is always important in politics. If you are representing a large body of people, you want to have it be representative of all the different people that are in that large body. When I first came to RUSA, I noticed that minority representation was a problem and while I think that it has been improving over the past two years that I have been here, it is definitely still not where I would like it to be. Asian American demographics in RUSA have been going up at a much faster pace than other ethnic groups, but at the same time, it’s still at a place where we’d like to have more people from more diverse backgrounds representing Rutgers, considering the fact that Rutgers is such a diverse community.

So in that way, my identity connects back to being something that a lot of students can empathize with and understand. I personally am an Indian American and that is a very significant demographic at the Rutgers community. And I think that having someone like me as Student Body President not only brings a fresher perspective to raising attention to minority concerns and issues at Rutgers University but it also encourages other minority groups or other students who affiliate themselves with minority groups to see themselves in this position someday as well.

Via: Jhanvi Virani

K: When it comes to RUSA elections, some people may not necessarily be inclined to vote or may think “What’s the point? I don’t really care, RUSA is so irrelevant.” or “I am a student who honestly doesn’t care about elections in general.” What do you have to say to those students to kind of encourage them to vote? And maybe encourage people who regularly vote to vote for you?

J: I think that at its worst, student government will not do anything- student government will not impact you. If student government is at its worst, it really won’t affect your day-to-day life and for that reason you might think that you may not have to vote. But at it’s best, student government can increase the student voice in a way where we can significantly impact the Rutgers experience for all students here. That is something that I think I didn’t understand myself when I wasn’t in RUSA, and for that reason I can understand why students who aren’t in RUSA feel this apathy.

But when we look at the potential that student government at Rutgers can have, it’s really like night and day- we have hundreds of thousands of dollars we can allocate to programs that can alleviate some of the burdens of college affordability, where students might not have to buy five or six iClickers in the beginning of the year because RUSA can buy them for them and rent them out. We can look into doing research on what courses at Rutgers are the most expensive for students and reaching out to those people in those departments to talk about maybe reducing the number of access codes that you need to buy, to make it cheaper for you to take those classes.

RUSA can fund additional sexual assault prevention training programs so the number of sexual assaults can potentially go down and students can know what to do when their friends come to them and say something has happened and they know exactly what resources are available to them and what steps that they can take. RUSA can work on decreasing the stigma of mental health and raising awareness for if you think that you do need help where you can go, what help you can get, and exactly what you can do to hopefully find the help that you need.

And those things are things that maybe not every single student has to deal with on a day-to-day basis and I think that if you are one of those students you stand in a place of privilege. But not all students at this university have that kind of privilege. And that’s why I think that even if you don’t vote for me, I think that it’s very important to genuinely look into the candidates that are running and vote for someone. It really takes only five seconds.

That being said, why people should vote for me- I think it's all those things that I mentioned. I really do see the scope that RUSA has, and I think the only way that RUSA can get there is if it takes risks and it starts looking into creating unique, daring projects that might not make administrators happy or they might not be precedented or they might be completely new and might be a gamble but once RUSA starts really listening to student body and starts transforming those concerns into programs that fix those concerns, we can start having a student government that’s more legitimate and stronger representation of students here.

K: So, Jhanvi, can you tell me more about who you are running with?

J: My running mate’s name is Aneesh Deshpande. He is a junior studying quantitative finance and computer science at Rutgers. In his three-year tenure at RUSA, he's been a College Ave representative, member of the Allocations Board, and is currently serving as the Academic Affairs Chairperson. He has also been a member of other governing bodies at the school, including the Rutgers Business Governing Association and the University Senate. Outside his student government experience, he's also an organizer for the annual TEDx Conference at Rutgers.

I think that he would make an incredible Vice President because of just the sheer experience he has. I came into RUSA only a year and a half ago and he’s been in RUSA for almost three years now. He has a very holistic approach on how other bodies work and I think that he can do a really great job in bringing the best in how those [bodies] function to RUSA to make RUSA a lot more efficient.

Via: Aneesh Desphande

K: Can you tell me more about your top causes as someone who is trying to pursue this presidential candidacy?

J: We do have a lot of different topics that our platform wants to cover, but the main three that are really driving in on are mental health, college affordability, and sexual assault prevention. With mental health, it’s definitely a problem at Rutgers that I’ve seen and many other students have unfortunately also have seen at this university where students feel that they need help but they’re not necessarily aware of the resources that are being made available to them. So, I think that as a student body government, we can do a better job at disseminating information about CAPS, which is basically the Rutgers health services for mental health on campus. I also think that we should do some sort of advocacy effort for partnering with other psychiatric facilities around the Rutgers University area where in case CAPS might not be equipped to deal with whatever you need help with and maybe a full-fledged psychiatric service in the area might be able to do that, we would be looking towards advocating for partnering with them so Rutgers students can use their Rutgers ID to receive treatment there at some sort of subsidized price. Another thing that we’re looking to do is collaborating with other Big Ten schools because mental health is an issue that perpetuates nearly all campuses around the country and we want to work with them in order to see what programs they have used to try to reduce the stigma about mental health and bring the best of that to create some programs here.

With college affordability, I think I mentioned this in the past, but Aneesh is Academic Affairs Chair this year and one of the projects that he’s been working on is having an iClicker bank at Rutgers, where RUSA can use its funds to buy thousands of iClickers and have them at the university libraries where students can use their RU IDs to check them out  for a semester at a time. So that way they wouldn’t have to buy an iClicker for every semester for every single class or wouldn’t have to buy different types of iClickers for different classes and things like that. Another thing that we are looking into is conducting research on the classes that are the most popular here and looking into buying the rights for these textbooks so you can access them on Sakai for free, or Canvas, depending on whichever one we end up transitioning into.

And with sexual assault prevention, we really want to do a better job at raising awareness for the resources available to student survivors, whether or not they want to pursue legal action or not. Some just want some sort of confidential information, some of them do want to pursue legal action and Rutgers has a variety of different options available to them. But not all people are aware of what’s there, so we want to be the bridge for students who aren’t sure what’s available and connecting them to the resources that they do have. And then we also want to continue working with departments like VPVA, Rutgers No More, and others through RUSA already established sexual violence education department. And that’s a collaboration that has been going on for years but we’d like to keep that up and maybe use that to develop more and better programs for raising awareness of these issues on campus.

RUSA elections open the week of March 25th.

If you are a member of RUSA and would like to be interviewed and featured on the Her Campus at Rutgers website and/or on our social media platforms, please reach out to us via our email [email protected]. We will be more than happy to interview you.