Junior journalism major Stephanie Cheng was elected as the next Associated Students President on Friday, April 25. Cheng spoke with The Western Front about her goals for the AS next year, accountability for university administration and diversity on campus.
What does the role of AS President actually include?
The AS President supports the Vice Presidents, and together they work as a board to facilitate what happens within the AS, essentially. I’m really excited to not only work with them but support them with the projects that are going to be happening, because I know everyone on the Board has a ton of great ideas, and I’m really excited to serve on different committees and be a part of the decision-making processes across the university.
You’ll be working directly with the Vice Presidents, then. How do you anticipate working with them?
I think it’ll be really great. I think the key to having a good office structure and a good team is to be open and communicative. We had such a big election — there were 20 candidates. I’m super excited about all of them.
Chances are that you are going to have different opinions on issues than your VPs do. How do you plan to deal with any disagreements should they arise?
Everyone has valid points and differing perspectives, and, again, I think it’s that piece of open communication — because if someone is coming with a different angle that I may not understand, it’s good to get to the root of where they’re coming from and make it a dialogue instead of a one-ended conversation.
The same can be said for school administration. How do you plan to balance student’s desires with what the administration wants?
Making sure that student voices are heard is super important in rooms where it’s mostly administration, faculty and staff. Balancing that is making sure that you’re recognized as a colleague instead of a student.
You talked continuously through your campaign about accountability for administration. What ideas do you have that could accomplish this?
The biggest thing, and something that was a part of my platform, was transparency. A lot of stuff happens behind closed doors, and I think we all need to be more honest and more transparent about what decisions are being made and how we’re making those decisions
You mentioned that you do not see The Western Front as a safe space. How do you intend to work with student media?
I believe that student media is incredibly important, and I think what needs to happen, within the AS specifically and The Western Front, is for the leadership team on both ends to have an open dialogue of what the AS would expect from Western Front reporters and vice-versa. Starting that dialogue and making sure it’s consistent through the whole school year is really important. Because I don’t believe that the Western Front should be a tool for the AS, but I do believe that we’re both parties that have big stakeholders.
The AS Board of Directors came under a lot of scrutiny this past year. Are you at all concerned with being in the spotlight?
I’m not. I’ve been representing Western for a long time in different facets of the university, like New Student Services and the presidential search. It’s something that I’ve been doing.
The current AS president came under personal attacks this year. How do you intend to address insults to yourself or your character that go above and beyond your job, should they arise?
I think it’s important to realize the distinction between personal and professional life. Specifically, talking about what happened this year, I think that there were a lot of threats in regard to personal safety, and I think there are times where prioritizing yourself as a person is more important. It’s an interesting line to walk, but I do believe there is a difference between your professional and personal life.
Your campaign discussed changing the amount of transparency and accessibility in the AS. Now that you’ve been elected, how do you plan to implement these changes?
I think brainstorming with the new Board on how we can take the things we are going to be doing and figuring out: what are the language-ing and rhetoric we know versus what students at large know and want to read. Finding creative ways to make sure information reaches students in the way they want to consume it and how we frame that.
During campaigning you talked to lots of students. Did your policies or ideas change as you talked to more and more students?
Working in orientation, I hear a lot from new students particularly, and the more I talked to different student groups and different stakeholders, it really allowed me a broader insight on what people are looking for and what they are not getting and what they want from the university.
One of the biggest issues of the election season was the Multicultural Center, which you supported. Now that the ballot measure passed, how do you plan to help it move forward?
I want to support Aleyda [Cervantes], the new VP of diversity, as best as I can. I think being more hands on is a really good place to start. I’ve talked to a few ESC clubs about how they feel about it, and I’m really excited the referendum passed.
Why was the Multicultural Center such an important issue for you?
It goes back to the idea of safe spaces and creating a big enough space for students. Western talks a lot about diversity and we’re so proud of it. It’s not about just giving students a space; it’s about ensuring that they matter on this campus.
Many students who didn’t support the referendum opposed it because they felt the new Multicultural Center wouldn’t affect the greater student population. How would you respond to this?
I think an important place to start is to realize that Western is a predominantly white institution, but we need to center conversations and center spaces around students of marginalized identities because that not only improves enrollment and retention, but it’s saying that Western adheres to its values — caring about equity, diversity and inclusion and not just catering to the majority of the population.
We have a campus of over 15,000 students, all with varying backgrounds, desires and needs. How do you plan to find and address what is needed most?
Something I really want to implement is an anonymous survey system to constantly get feedback about what we can do as a university and as an organization to support student needs. A lot of information right now through surveys is tied to W-numbers and specific student demographics, and having an anonymous accessible way for students to voice their concerns is really important.
I’m sure you are aware of a post on Facebook from your ex-girlfriend alleging that you domestically abused her. She said that she contacted the Equal Opportunity Office about it, and the post was spread to social media. Do you want to respond to these allegations in any way?
I don’t think that’s a fair question to ask in this interview, but like I’ve said previously, there is a difference between a personal and professional life.
Finally, it’s a big job you’re taking on. What is the legacy you hope to leave behind?
I hope that at the end of the next year I can be viewed as someone who supported the Vice Presidents and did everything within the ability of the position to enhance student life and what resources are being made available to students.