Student Congress election results: meet the new president and vice president

New+student+body+President+Andrew+Romano+and+Vice+President+Murryum+Farooqi.+Their+election+marks+a+major+organizational+shift+in+Student+Congress.

Noora Neiroukh

New student body President Andrew Romano and Vice President Murryum Farooqi. Their election marks a major organizational shift in Student Congress.

Jeff Thomas, Editor-in-Chief

Election results for Oakland University Student Congress’ (OUSC) first special election since 1982 are in — Andrew Romano and Murryum Farooqi have been elected as OU’s new student body president and vice president. Their administration marks a new era in the organization, as student activist group the Oakland United Student Workers Coalition (OUSWC) has effectively taken over OUSC and now have real power to pressure the administration.

“It’s a big opportunity … When you don’t hold a position that gives you power, then admins will try to push you aside and won’t listen to you,” Romano said. “ … [Now] there is a lot more responsibility to represent [all students], because I am the representative.”

Farooqi seconded this sentiment, expressing her enthusiasm to get to work on making change.

“Initiatives wise … I feel like we have a lot of momentum right now,” Farooqi said. “I’m excited to push things that I’ve worked on [especially] diversity … We had one indigenous student [and] one indigenous professor [we talked to recently] about how they’re really on board with the idea of working as activists and pushing for money being diverted for scholarships [and] aid toward students services… [and following through with the] the land acknowledgement.”

564 total votes were cast in the election, of those 546 votes were validated. Romano (formerly a Legislator and Judiciary Chair) and Farooqi (formerly a Legislator and Director of Diversity & Inclusion) received 540 of the 546 validated votes, or 98.9% of the vote. Specifics of Romano/Farooqi’s platform can be found here, but generally their goal is to make college more affordable for students. 

Their vision for OUSC is to move it away from hosting events, and move toward being a real governing body that represents students. They plan to use their new power to give a voice to the campus community. Immediate ideas for accomplishing those goals include a new open door policy where concerned students can speak directly with OUSC leadership and appointing an OU AAUP faculty advisor as soon as possible. 

The idea of having a closer relationship with faculty is particularly important, as they see OUSC’s prior cozy relationship with administrators as a conflict of interest that compromised the organization’s ability to function effectively in advocating for students.

“[Only having admin advisors] is probably one of the bigger reasons why there have been a lot of roadblocks,” Romano said. “This is what I’ve seen as a student — I’ve never had a professor not be able to help me when I needed something, but I’ve never had an administrator be able to help me. So in general, professors are just tremendous. Personally, I know professors are more useful. The relationship I have with my professors is way better than anything I’ve had with any administrator … Advisors do have some type of a power dynamic because they are older individuals. So they do command [authority]. Matching that power dynamic with a check, which is a faculty advisor, is one of the biggest things on our agenda.”

Also featured on their ticket — former Interim President and Steering Chair of the Legislature Jeremy Johnson has now been elected as Speaker of the Legislature, and Nayah Pitts and Amir Richards have both been elected as Legislators.

“My biggest goal for us … and it’s always been my goal, since I decided to run for speaker, is to, once we get more legislators in Congress, give them a platform to expand upon their own ideas,” Johnson said. “For a long time student Congress has been missing a key component of teamwork, which is celebrating each other’s victories and giving the recognition to each other that we deserve. A lot of the time, at least in my experience … it’s been doom and gloom, [the feeling that] we can’t accomplish [goals] for [whatever] reason, or [we] shouldn’t even try … But [now] I don’t think that we need to limit our ambition for any reason.”

Romano and Johnson are founding members of OUSWC. They were both retaliated against by the university last spring, getting fired from their housing jobs following a protest to protect student jobs. They have a history of working together and standing up to the administration.

Romano and Farooqi are both relative newcomers to OUSC, especially Romano who just joined last May. They see fresh voices and ideas as a vital part of transforming OUSC. The candidates for Legislators on their ticket, Pitts and Richards, reflect that vision.

“They’re both brand new. They’ve never been in student Congress,” Romano said. “ … Mainly they want to come in and they want to see change. So it very much fits our platform [and] our vision pursuit [of OUSC], which is a new leaf, we’re turning over a new page.”

Also passed were referenda C.B. 22-22 which aimed to edit Article I of OUSC’s Constitution passed with 538 votes, and C.B. 22-23 which aimed to assimilate the language in OUSC’s Constitution with language in their Bylaws pertaining to committees passed with 536 votes.

Here is the unedited transcript of Romano’s victory speech:

Legislators, advisors, chairs, students, administrators, professors, and members of the gallery. I stand before you today, not just as your newly elected Student Body President; but, more importantly as your ally. Today is a day for celebration and new beginnings. But, today also is unique. It’s no secret we have faced adversity. We’ve been going through a pandemic, university student workers have been laid off, and now we face a complete reset of student congress. This special election has been a test for student congress, on whether or not we would fall apart. All of us gathering here today proves to the entire University that we have no intentions of going anywhere. 

 Student congress will continue to be here for our fellow students. We have spent several months embattled with infighting, but we  are now at a precipice, a defining moment. Will we continue our infighting? or shall we harness our shared passion for advocacy to facilitate real change?  I’m here today to propose we unite, let’s end the chapter where we battle each other. And let’s open a new chapter where we fight administration together, for the betterment of every student on campus. 

I’m not saying we have to agree on everything. But, where we can find common ground, Let’s work together. 

Today I bring to the congress 3 overarching topics that are going to be the core of my administration’s agenda. Topics I know we as a congress share interest in. Topics I know we can find common ground on. 

The first topic I present to the congress is sustainability, something I have a personal connection to in OUSC. Earlier this year I made my first appearance before Student congress as a guest speaker, introducing everybody to my ideas of what can be done for campus sustainability.  

Now, 7 months later I stand before congress again, with the power to commit OUSC to improving campus sustainability.  

For starters: Oakland University’s vision statement promises that “Oakland University will unlock the potential of individuals and leave a lasting impact on the world through the transformative power of education and research.” 

I challenge the University to look at the “lasting impact on the world” they currently have on our environment. 

They will see The current treatment of sustainability at Oakland University is not enough.

Recycling programs were a great start for the 1970s; but, In the year 2021 we need to do more:

  • We need to invest in reducing single use plastics, which haunt our rivers, lakes, oceans, and drinking water for hundreds of years 
  • We need to demand the University produce a comprehensive renewable energy plan, one that commits to achieving complete renewable energy in the near future.
  • We need to clean up campus ands the biological preserve by removing on campus litter.
  • We need to beautify campus.
  • We need to be a conscious consumer and do research about the practices of businesses we purchase from
  • We will end businesses with any corporation that allows child labour, forced labour, low wage labour, significant environmental pollution, and more. While also buying local to support the communities that most of our students come from.
  • Above all, we need to enlist more experts in this fight. Creating a bunch of unpaid committees with little to no power on earth day is cute. But it is not sufficient. Sustainability at Oakland University cannot continue to be an unpaid extracurricular.  We must join the ranks of other Michigan Universities including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan Technological University, Western Michigan University,  Northern Michigan University, and several others. To create a dedicated office for sustainability at Oakland University. 

Gone are the days when higher education could promise to prepare us for our futures while going behind our backs and contributing to the destabilization and destruction of said future. It’s time to stop letting people without the proper degrees make decisions that impact our campus sustainability. decisions whose long term consequences won’t be felt by the aged staff in University Administration; but, will impact us, the youth, the students throughout the entirety of our lives. 

My message to those in power currently is simple, save your greenwashing for your conscience, the students are no longer buying it. I refuse to let the dichotomy continue where I pay thousands of dollars for a degree to better my future to a University that’s going to help destroy the earth that my future is contingent upon. 

The second topic i bring before everyone, is one that is vital to the longevity of our student congress, which is bringing in new voices and perspectives into Student Congress. Student Congress has the unique opportunity to raise points of concern to administration. Though we need to hear from everyone if we are going to fight for everyone. Without fresh ideas, Congress will become stagnant.

To facilitate Congress as the marketplace of ideas and unite everyone on the same page i propose we as a congress come together to:

  • Pass and implement the Student Assembly that will give 1 delegate from each registered student organization a vote and voice
  • Recruit a faculty advisor that’s a professor at Oakland University with a background in politics/ public policy. To give us advice on how to achieve these goals. 
  • Reserve space in the legislature to have representatives from every academic school at OU to get special insight on different programs.
  • Work with the AAUP to welcome in a liaison to give updates on professor/administration relations and inform us how we can help. 
  • Most importantly, dedicate ways for students to get in contact with us.
  • Through google forms and the ability to schedule meetings with me, the vp, and the speaker of the legislature. Afterall we are here to represent the student body. 

Communication has been a crutch on our ability to collaborate and work together as a student body to hold upper administration accountable. It is of the utmost importance we get on the same page and hear from each other, if we are going to achieve any major goal. 

The third topic which is something that has become of increasing interest is reigning in tuition. 

I propose we unite as a student body in conjunction with the faculty on campus to demand tuition dollars be redirected to support professors and students alike.

  • At the front of this effort is: Raising the wage, to be a livable wage so that students may work to afford the cost of University.
  •  If tuition is going to increase by 4.2% then wages should increase by 4.2%. It should not get harder every year for students to work to afford school. 
  • University administration won’t increase the minimum wage for all students on campus. We are going to work with each department to lobby for student wage increases. 
  • Ensuring students can afford school is something that is not negotiable. 
  • Investing more money in student activity funding
  • Increasing the amount of printer money
  • Addressing the minority graduation rate
  • Providing more support to professors. 
  • And funding new initiatives that are brought to administration by the Student Body

If tuition is rising, then why is it that everywhere a student turns on campus they are being told the service has been reduced. We are going to work diligently to figure out where these funds are going, and advocate for their redirection to things that directly benefit students. Oakland University is a public University, this information should not be hidden. I’ve had enough of hearing about budget cuts. Especially, When I walk around campus and see a shiny new extension of Wilson hall being rushed to create new departmental and upper administration space. If we are going to be faced with “budget cuts” then everyone on campus should feel the burden of those budget cuts. Not just the students, and not just the professors. 

When it comes to reigning in tuition it’s simple, the students want answers, and I intend to get them those answers.

Closing Statement

I’d like to conclude my inauguration remarks by expressing gratitude to several individuals who helped me get to this point. Because I did not get here alone. 

Thank you to my running mate and newly inaugurated Vice President Farooqi. Who has always worked with me to accomplish our ideas together.

Thank you to all the legislators who welcomed me into congress and collaborated with me to write over 30 pieces of legislation in the 5 months I’ve been in student congress.  

And a special Thank you to Jordan Tolbert, who brought me into Student Congress and helped me countless times. Without you I wouldn’t be standing here before the congress today. 

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me. At the election town hall I asked the Student body to take a chance on me, despite the uncertainty going on around Student Congress. And the Student Body trusted me enough to vote for me to be their next President. Which I am eternally grateful for. I promise I will do everything in my ability to bring the change you voted for. 

Student Congress has the unique opportunity to redefine itself, to be an organization where we focus on long term initiatives, and leave the short term events to the professionals in SPB

The battle with each other is over. But the battle for improving sustainability, elevating new perspectives, and reigning in tuition have just begun. It’s time to demand change, and work to make the lives of every student on campus better.

I look forward to being your Student Body President for the remainder of this term. Let’s move forward together in ushering in this new era of OUSC.

Here is the unedited transcript of Farooqi’s victory speech:

Good afternoon everyone, when I first joined congress, a little over a year ago, I made a commitment to making sure minorities on campus THRIVE rather than just being able to survive. I was giving my proponent speech to be on the diversity and inclusion committee, and before I knew it, I was giving another proponent speech to be a legislator, and a couple months later, director of diversity and inclusion. Now as your new student body Vice President, I plan on honoring this commitment in everything I do. Anyone who is a minority knows, you often times go through life just trying to avoid being in the spotlight, because usually when someone puts us in the spotlight it’s to put us down. We look around at the way things work and realize that the policies or initiatives that are put in place don’t really take US into account. I am here to be your voice, I am here to be OUR voice, I am here to tell you that an inclusive campus to all students is a top priority of this administration. My biggest priorities will be demanding services for our indigenous community, addressing our low minority graduation rate, making campus accessible and inclusive to students with disabilities, and improving the campus dining experience by making it more inclusive.

As director of diversity and inclusion I met with our indigenous community on campus and it was clear that while land acknowledgement statements and cultural events are positive, they are only the bare minimum. Our talks heavily leaned towards pressuring administration towards policy changes, because actions speak louder than words. I plan to advocate for services for our indigenous students by advocating for scholarships and by involving indigenous students and faculty in that process.

Scholarships and financial aid are also crucial to raising our low minority graduation rate. We know that white students at OU graduate at a rate of about 60%, while black students graduate at about half that rate. Funds need to be directed back to students in the form of aid and scholarships, rather than retention programs that only expand our already bloated administration. Financial hardship is the main reason minority students take longer to graduate and it is up to OU to meet that need and be there to truly support ALL students. 

Students with disabilities also face unique barriers to education that we can do better on. We need a font policy that allows students to have options when it comes to font choice on assignments- currently if you have dyslexia you might be forced to write an assignment in a font that makes reading significantly more difficult. 

Food and dining on campus is accessible if you’re willing to dole out unreasonable amounts of cash for a simple snack or sandwich, and if you don’t have any dietary restrictions. The options for people with dietary restrictions are limited, and one halal restaurant that can’t even turn its lights on isn’t enough. OU can make the choice to hire a halal vendor to provide halal meat options in all dining halls. 

The infrastructure is there, all we need to do is push, and I look forward to pushing on these issues with President Romano and the rest of our student body. I am here to be OUR voice.