By Kristóf Oltvai and Matthew Pennekamp
Features Editor, Staff Writer
Denisonians will head to the polls in two weeks (located online at MyDenison) to select their new student body president and vice-president. Drew Johnson ‘14, the incumbent president, ran in and won a special election to replace the outgoing Hannah Frank ‘13, who resigned in January of this year.
However, Johnson has also opted not to run for a full term this cycle. Moreover, Atanu Chakravarty ‘13, the incumbent vice president, will be graduating this year, leaving his position vacant as well.
Into the vacuum created by the departure of these two have stepped four candidates: Jackson Wu-Pong ‘15 and Ana Victoria Morales ‘14 for the presidency; and Hung Tran ‘15 and Stetson Thacker ‘14 for the vice presidency. They may begin campaigning officially next Thursday, April 18, when official platforms will be released on OrgSync.
The Denisonian conducted a preliminary poll of the student body on Thursday, April 11. Between 7 and 9 p.m., 150 randomly chosen first-year, sophomore, and junior students were polled from Crawford, Shepardson, East, Huffman, Curtis East, Curtis West, and Shorney Halls; and from Preston House. At least 15 students were polled from each dormitory. Students were asked which candidate they preferred in both races, if they were undecided, or if they were considering a write-in candidate.
According to data, Morales leads in the presidential race at 29.3 percent, with Wu-Pong closely behind at 23.3 percent and undecided voters at 47.3 percent.
In the vice presidential race, Tran leads with 40.6 percent with Thacker at 14 percent and undecided voters at 45.3 percent.
The candidates agreed to release some preliminary comments to the press.
Wu-Pong, who has advanced within the hierarchy of DCGA, is the current chairman of the Senate Policy Committee (along with being the former coach of the women’s volleyball team and a prospective R.A. in Sawyer Hall next year).
As chairman, he has endeavored to launch the CarShare program alongside Tran, the Campus Improvements program, and to facilitate Outlook’s push to create gender-neutral bathrooms. According to Wu-Pong, his strengths are two-fold: he has invested a lot of time in the successes of DCGA as a sophomore class senator, and from his position on the Policy Committee, he has a strong overview of the various problems confronting the campus.
Of these, he outlined three: the sudden barrage from administrators toward fraternities; the relationship between students and the administration in Doane Hall; and student interactions. As a brother in Beta Theta Pi, Wu-Pong believes that he is in the ideal position to act as a liason between the Greek community and Doane Hall, making certain that the administration respects traditions while ensuring the alleged hazing which has landed at least three fraternities in proverbial deep water comes to an unequivocal halt. In the words of the candidate, “Increased oversight is important.”
However, Wu-Pong readily admits that the answers to the last two problems are more philosophical and, by extension, harder to resolve. He feels that part of the answers lay in Denisonians, “feeling a greater sense of ownership in their community, as well as mutual dependence upon one another instead of the current lacking of a collective sense of investment in the school.”
At the end of the day, Wu-Pong’s primary goal is, “to emphasize what we can do well, as opposed to drawing constant focus on what we don’t do well.” On a personal note, Wu-Pong is a politics, philosophy, and economics major from Richmond, Virginia. He aspires to one day enter politics and ultimately be elected Vice President of the United States.
Morales says she is more of an outsider in this race. Although she never served on DCGA nor carries the institutionalization that so often comes with being Greek, she considers the qualifications she acquired in other fields to be just as formidable. These include two years as an R.A., host of the Open House’s Chai Time, and her leadership of Sustained Dialogue, which tripled in membership under her tenure.
Although reluctant to pre-empt details of her platform and its concerns until its official release on April 18, Morales did describe the traits she feels are quintessential for any leader to have. Passion is key, for when one is clearly and publicly passionate about a given subject, “then the people you need to meet in the middle will recognize that and meet you there too.” – a life lesson undergirded by her years as an R.A.
She went on to mention the importance of humility and how a true leader must know when to take a step back and realize one cannot do everything alone. Finally, she cited good listening skills as understated but important. By applying such skills, she hopes to inspire underclassmen with the notion that, “it’s not too early to begin striving for great things.”
According to Morales, “I’m not interested in representing one type of person, but all types.” Morales herself hails from Lawrence, Massachusetts and one day hopes to become mayor of her city. This is fitting, seeing as one of her three majors is political science (the other two are Spanish and dance.)
Thacker, a biology and English literature double-major from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, has served on DCGA as a Class Senator since his freshman year. He is the current chair of the Finance Committee, and has served on the Committee for Residential Life and the Academic Affairs Committee. Thacker is also involved in Sustained Dialogue, Exile literary magazine, Habitat for Humanity, Sigma Tau Delta, Alpha Epsilon Delta, and Beta Theta Pi.
Describing himself as “deeply passionate about the student government,” Thacker says that he has “the experience and ability to creative positive change for Denison’s campus through the VP position.”
“I plan on making an impact on residential life, which is the currently designated emphasis of the VP position,” Thacker continues. “This focus…will also develop into a focus on social culture…We want a[n] open, transparent relationship with Denison security and administrators on social events that encourages a safe and happy social culture on campus.”
Thacker also has ideas about developing Denison’s academics. “For example,” he says, “I want to help encourage the passage and implementation of the writing program.”
Thacker’s Finance Committee has recently come under attack in the Bullsheet. He defends the process, calling it “especially efficient and well-planned this year. Unfortunately,” he continues, “there have been several misconceptions and pieces of misinformation disseminated to the student body… Finance has a tried-and-true method which have worked over the past few years.”
Regarding DCGA’s reserve budget, which is in excess of $700,000, Thacker says that “the reserve monies should benefit the student body for an extended period of time beyond one year.” He claims that use of this fund for student organization fees would be inappropriate. “It’s the Finance Committee’s fiduciary duty to protect the reserve funds for… capital purchases.”
“The thing that sets me apart as a candidate is my experience, institutional knowledge, and relationships with faculty [and] admin[istrators],” says Thacker. “I have [been] involved in almost every aspect of student government on this campus and have seen the evolution of DCGA.”
“I look forward to the race,” he continues. “I think the student body will benefit from electing any of the candidates in the race – they are all awesome.”
Tran, a sophomore computer science and communication double major from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is Class of 2015’s Co-Governor and has served on DCGA as a Class Senator since his freshman year, sitting on three of the Senate’s commitees: Policy, Public Relations and Rules. He is president of Denison Community Association’s Homelessness and Hunger and is an Editor-in-Chief of The Denisonian. He is a teacher’s assistant for the Department of Studio Art and interns with University Communications. He has also served on the D-Day Committee and is a brother of Beta Theta Pi.
Tran explained that his reason for running for office was twofold. First, he described that through involvement on campus he has learned to appreciate the “human element” of Denison. “The human element in the school is the most important thing,” he said. He added that he not only wants to “make a difference to…the school, but [to the] student dynamic.” In this regard, he cited Hannah Frank ‘ and Rob Moore ‘12, two previous DCGA presidents, as inspirations.
Second, Tran stressed that there is room for improvement at Denison and, more specifically, with the role of the Vice President. Although the Vice President is meant to be involved with ResEd, Tran said “this communication line is broken.” He thinks that the “focus [of the office] could be shifted in many ways.”
He stressed four broad points which he plans on specifying in his platform: first, the development of campus community through the use of the Class Senators; second, the improvement of the Residential Education program; third, the cohesion of a school spirit through a “commission to find the Denison identity,” and create the true feeling of a “second home;” and finally, the use of the DCGA’s reserve fund, to “boost student activity” and “bring the community together.”
While Tran affirmed that he has “as much experience as Stetson has,” he also said, “What sets me apart from Stetson is my openness in conversation with students from all backgrounds. It is proved by these conversations.”
“I believe in myself,” said Tran. “I believe in my visions, and that these can really benefit the school.”
The Denisonian understands that Hung Tran holds an important position on its staff. All effort has been made to deliver fair and balanced news and analysis. Tran was not involved in any way with the writing of this article, or with the student poll. All editing has been done by News Editor Carole Burkett.
The Denisonian plans on continuing its electoral coverage in the following issue. Once platforms are released on Apr. 18, staff will be conducting a second poll of the student body. This poll will double our sample size and will expand the questionairre beyond candidate preference.