By Elianna Novitch
With student-government-election season underway, one party aims to use its collective experience as well as different backgrounds and perspectives to enhance student life at the University of Iowa.
The Empower Iowa party, led by presidential candidate Ben Nelson and vice-presidential candidate Nate Robinson, is one of four tickets running for UI Student Government office for the 2018-19 academic year. The party also comprises of 29 senatorial candidates.
Empower Iowa has more than 30 combined years of experience in UISG and is involved with more than 60 organizations on campus.
“We see the strength of that diversity manifest itself in our platform,” Nelson said. “We’ve reviewed the other parties’ platforms, and we are confident to say we have the most well-researched, we have the most robust, we have the most practical platform of any ticket running.”
Empower Iowa’s platform addresses initiatives in the areas of inclusion, affordability, sustainability, advocacy, community involvement, and more. Nelson estimated the party has around 50 platform initiatives with approximately 100 solutions for those initiatives.
One senatorial candidate, Zahra Aalabdulrasul, said she joined the Empower Iowa team because of the value it gives to diversity.
“Our ticket is very diverse, and I think the special thing about us is we’re diverse, but we’re not tokenized,” she said. “I think what that means is we have a diverse group of students who have different perspectives that could really contribute to Student Government and to making a change on campus. We’re not including people of color just to give the diverse label.”
Some specific initiatives in Empower Iowa’s platform include removing the 20-hour per week work cap for UI student employees, implementing medical-amnesty policies for emergencies, and advocating for a university-wide class-absence policy that aims to prioritize students’ mental and physical health.
Robinson stresed the importance of increasing support and programming at the cultural centers. Empower Iowa wants to implement Supplemental Instruction tutors at the cultural centers and increase the number of workshops and professionals brought to the centers.
“Being at an institution that is a predominantly white institution, these speakers that we could bring in are faces that these marginalized groups don’t get to see day-to-day, and representation is so important,” Robinson said. “To be able to see someone at a level that you hope to be at one day or can talk from an experience that is similar to yours, that is something that should be brought to the students. That’s showing that you actually care for who’s here and that you actually see them.”
The team will also look to address the structure of UISG and how the organization interacts with the student body it represents.
To increase student involvement, Empower Iowa plans to invite student leaders to committee meetings to give perspective on initiatives being discussed and live streaming UISG meetings.
“Many see Student Government as this hierarchy type of organization [and] nobody knows what they’re doing and that’s part of the culture that Ben and I felt strongly about changing,” Robinson said. “[We are] looking at ways to make sure that Student Government is accessible to all students and making sure that they’re at the table with the discussions on initiatives that we’re trying to pass.”
Nelson described his experience as the UISG City Council liaison and how the connections gained in that position will benefit the Empower Iowa team.
“The biggest strength that my background as City Council liaison gives me is it makes me recognize that the University of Iowa is not the only institution in Iowa City,” Nelson said. “It’s a very partnership-oriented position simply because the city government is a multifaceted institution that feeds from all these different channels.”
Robinson also has experience that he brings to the party including his work as a Black Student Success Coordinator in the Office of the Vice President for Student Life and as a resident assistant.
Nelson emphasized that students should vote for Empower Iowa team because of the experience its members have throughout the ticket.
“That experience is unmatched,” he said. “The experience that we have on campus, off campus in the community, in and outside of student government.”