Competitive Graduate Student Assembly election hopes to bring higher turnout

Cassandra Jaramillo

Last year, only one executive alliance ran in the Graduate Student Assembly presidential election, but this year three are vying for the position. 

Voter turnout in last year’s GSA election was about 4 percent, just 462 votes out of a 11,331 graduate student body, according to data from the Office of the Dean of Students. This election has the most candidates running for GSA president and vice president since 2010.

Michael Barnes, GSA’s Legislative Affairs director said the low voter turnout last year was a shocking statistic. 

“It begs the question of how do you represent graduate students authentically when so few have made a decision in choosing that leadership?” Barnes said. “And what kind of work is required to bridge that divide?”

The candidates for GSA president and vice president — Sahil Bhandari and Michael Scott, Wills Brown and Francesca Cicero, Warner Cook and Eloise Boisjoli — have said they want to see an increase in graduate student participation in this year’s election.

Bhandari, a chemical engineering graduate student, and Scott, an educational administration graduate student, said their campaign is focusing on being inclusive and listening to graduate student voices that are not
heard often.

Scott said money budgeted for graduate student organizations often sees some funds left over, which they said is an indication that there’s not enough students participating or don’t know about the resources available to them. 

“Both of us are going to be looking for academic jobs. Our career isn’t to be in University politics or University governance,” Scott said. “The reason that we’re running isn’t for a CV move. The reason that we are running is because we feel that student voices are silenced.”

Brown and Cicero, both College of Education graduate students, said they want to make the University a more graduate student-friendly campus.

Their platform includes raising awareness of the mental health of graduate students, increasing hourly wages for graduate students who have moved from salary to hourly wages, promoting collaboration with a graduate incubator space and creating dialogue on campus carry ahead of the 2017 legislative session.  

“We are both in student affairs programs, and, for us, this wouldn’t be a part-time job,” Brown said. “This is what we want to do. We want to make campus better for students.” 

Cook, an architecture graduate student, and Boisjoli, a music theory graduate student, said the improvements they’ve seen within their time participating in GSA in the last two years are improvements they want to continue if elected.

Their campaign aims to improve accessibility for students to get GSA information, facilitate housing and transportation needs for graduate students and increase transparency between the dealings of the University and graduate students. 

“We want to see things get done, and we want to see GSA get better and become an audible voice on campus,” Boisjoli said. 

The candidates will participate in a forum during the Graduate Student Assembly’s meeting on Feb. 24. Elections will take place March 2–3, and students can vote online at utexasvote.org.