Interview: Elizabeth Heng and Lauren Graham

We asked the outgoing ASSU President and Vice President to discuss their time in office

Stanford Review: What accomplishments in the ASSU are you most proud of?

Elizabeth & Lauren:
– International Winter Housing for International students
– Rideshare Airport website
– Mausoleum Party
– Green Week (Environmental Conference at the end of this month)
– Roll Over Meal Plans
– Helping to secure funding for an alternative summer break for people who wan to go into the Non-Profit sector (this will begin next school year)

SR: You resurrected the Mausoleum party. Are you happy with the outcome?

Elizabeth: We are very proud of being able to bring back the Mausoleum Party. Jessica Stanley, our Executive Cabinet Member, did a phenomenal job in spear heading the event. We secured funding and institutionalized the party with the Junior Class Presidents so that it can be sustainable. Everything on the student organizing end went accordingly as planned. However, the music glitch on sound was out of our control. Events and Labor Services did not have enough energy in the generators that we rented. We have ensured that this will not happen again. Other than that, we believed it was a success.

SR: What would you have liked to do that you were not able to?

Elizabeth: I wish that we had more time to be in office. There are a lot of projects that I would like to see come to fruition. For example, the international summer break program will not come to fruition until the following year because it took so long to receive funding.

Lauren: I don’t have any major regrets, but I wish I could be around for a second year to see projects develop and help shepard them along further. Presenting a long-term vision with short-term deliverables is a challenge to do in one year, especially given the turnover of elected officials with elections. I also would have liked to do more direct outreach to the student body.

SR: What obstacles remain in making Dead Week dead?

Lauren: We were making steady progress with dead week and talked with numerous professors and department chairs about the viability of the idea. Overall our reception was very warm and faculty understood and embraced the need for an end-quarter review period. One obstacle is that the faculty senate voted to keep the week-long Thanksgiving break that was on a two year trial period. This permanently shortens the calendar and introduces a new challenge, however we are still negotiating a modified reading period.

SR: Last year, you told the Review you wanted to focus on more openness and availability to students. How have you succeeded at this, and what remains to be done?

Elizabeth: This year, we revamped the website, created a communications position to bridge the internal and external communications, and held office hours.

There is always more to be done in terms of communication. This University is so decentralized. Although I believe that publications is crucial, there needs to be more ways to diversify the information that is delivered to the Stanford Community. I hope that the next ASSU Executives will make this a priority and put pressure on the University.

SR: How have you advocated for student groups with the administration. In particular, what have you done to help student groups dealing with the OSA?

Elizabeth: Last quarter, there was a huge outcry from the students in regards to the OSA. Although I do not agree with the personal attack, I agree with the arguments that were made. The OSA is not transparent. The process is not streamlined for students and it is difficult to get anything done on this campus. Furthermore, when event are not approved, there is often a lack of communication between the administration and students.

Even more worrisome, there seems to be a bridge in communication between the students and the administration. No one seems to listen until it gets into the press and potentially blown out of proportion. We need to figure out a better way to alleviate these issues that student have.

We have made a number of suggestions:

  1. Orientation with the student groups: I don’t think that everyone understands the purpose of many of the administrators. This needs to be more transparent
  2. Feedback system: Set up a program that allows grievance to students and for them to provide feedback.
  3. Board of Students: they will communicate student concerns to OSA.
  4. Listen to the students.

On the OSA’s defense, they have many good ideas to streamline the process. However, they don’t always have the funding to get it done.

Lauren: Part of balancing the job of executive is to decide whether we should promote larger campus-wide initiatives and events that reach more students, or to cultivate stronger relationships and supports for different community groups. This year we have done more outreach to a cross-section of student groups on campus to specifically address their needs, and help develop a stronger relationship with the ASSU. In doing so, we tried our best to empower student groups by connecting them as directly as possible to the resources and administrators who would help forward their missions. In doing so, we functioned as a connector as opposed to an intermediary.

SR: Last year, we asked Melanie Kannokada and Aneto Okonkwo what the biggest challenge facing you was. They answered,

“Unifying the organization under a coherent vision, prioritizing projects, and funding – the general fee measure did not pass (it needed a 2/3 vote)– meaning there will still be a very limited pool of money to be allocated to the ever increasing amount of student groups.”

How have you succeeded?

Elizabeth: Although I agree that there needs to be a unified coherent vision, I think that vision already exists—to serve the needs of Stanford students. Like any governmental institution, there are different approaches to accomplishing that outcome and it may not necessarily be “unified.” Different people have different ways of reaching that end. Unfortunately, we cannot choose our successors. That’s the glory of democracy. If it isn’t working one way, we change it and make it work another way.

SR: What are the greatest challenges and opportunities facing your successors?

Lauren: Institutional memory, continuing centralization and improving the efficiency of the ASSU are continuing challenges that every executive grapples with. Elizabeth and I started many brand new initiatives this year that will take a few years to develop and strengthen. With new office space in Old Union, there will be a wonderful opportunity to renew interaction with the greater student body population, and to promote study and programming space. Keeping the momentum of projects going may be a challenge, since Elizabeth and I successfully undertook many initiatives this year.

SR: How do you want the ASSU elections to turn out?

Elizabeth: I hope that the election goes smoothly and orderly. I hope that the candidates have done their research in crafting their campaign promises by speaking to students, faculty and administrators. Furthermore, I hope that the winners’ priority is to push the vision of ASSU further by advocating on behalf of the students at Stanford. If they are not on point, student voice can get lost in the decentralized nature of Stanford and many unwarranted policies can take effect.

Lauren: As Elizabeth mentioned, we don’t have any specific preferences. I simply hope that our successors are open to learning from both our successes and shortcoming, and take the position of the executive, and the ASSU as an institution to the next level. I want the elections process to challenge the candidates to put their best foot forward and give a favorable impression to the student body about positive change that the ASSU can make on behalf of students.

SR: And, finally, what are you going to be doing after graduating?

Elizabeth: As of now, I am going to travel the world for a year and study intensive Chinese. When I return, I am going to get on a Presidential Campaign.

Lauren: Right now I’m planning on working for a non-profit in some area of public policy.

SR: Should we look for you in the political arena in a few years?

Elizabeth: You bet.

Lauren: Definitely!

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