Q&A with Simrun Chhabra, AS president elect
Simrun Chhabra, elected as AS president for 2017-18, is a junior in the human services major with a minor in anthropology. Chhabra said she is passionate about working with underrepresented communities, specifically marginalized identities, because of her experience being a part of these groups.
Q: Why did you decide to run for AS President?
A: The reason why I wanted to run was because I saw there wasn’t a lot of work being done with marginalized identities. We often push aside these issues because we think that this is the way the world works, and that’s not enough of an excuse for me. I think having tangible change within the year is possible and I wanted to see myself creating that change. I didn’t want to take the back seat again.
Q: What are your goals as AS President?
A: I’m looking to meet with a lot of groups on campus. I’m going to start with the Ethnic Student Center groups and look at what kinds of activist work they want to accomplish within the year. I’ve already met with the Vietnamese Student Association and talked to them a little about the work that they want to do, and I’ve met with the South Asian Student Association and the Khmer Student Association so far, but I would like to have further conversation with these clubs. Then I would move across into other identities. Some within my statement were queer students, I want to meet with the Queer and Trans People of Color club especially because I feel that queer people of color are often pushed out of spaces. I would like to meet with students with disabilities, because I know 100 percent that our campus is not accessible and I would like to work on ways to improve that.
I would also like to work to make gender neutral restrooms more accommodating throughout our campus. I would like to move to work with students experiencing homelessness and the amount of time that they can have emergency housing and having a space that they can go to within the AS.
These are just some of the groups I want to work with, and of course it will change and evolve as I learn more about the students that I am representing.
Q: How do you plan to implement these goals?
A: I’m a project person, I focus on tangible goals. I definitely believe that there are systematic changes that need to improve in general, and that’s across the United States and that comes at a system level, which means that it will take time. Having tangible goals within the year means having things that people can see and make people feel represented and supported and will allow them to progress further. So gender neutral restrooms is something that seems a lot tougher to people that are not used to the idea, but it’s not very difficult to implement gender neutral restrooms if we actually put in the work and time for it.
I’ve spoken with the Blue Group and they want to work towards having an Undocumented Center within the new Multicultural Center. The Vietnamese Student Association wants to put in stones representing their culture within Viking Union and to make their presence known on campus.
So tangible goals is where we will start, and then we will progress into more systematic changes. Currently we need to start with the work we’re doing step by step, and having those goals that we will be able to see throughout the year.
Q: What are some ideas from the current AS board that you would like to change?
A: I would like to change how much the President works with the Vice Presidents on projects because I believe the President has to represent all of the students equally. One person alone can’t do everything and these VPs are set up in these positions for a purpose. We saw VP Wayne Rocque and and VP Bryce Hammer working on the LibeRAted movement, and first of all that was a lot of pressure to put on these two students, so I think having more support from the President would help the VPs.
I don’t think one person can come in, autonomous, and say, “Let me just declare everything.” Representing means listening to student voices and and the student voices are going to relay to where they best see fit.
Q: What do you think about the low voter turnout this year, and how can we engage more students in the future?
A: A lot of students tend to not see the AS as something that impacts their education or life here. I know that had I not been involved in the Ethnic Student Center I would not have as involved with the AS in general. The way we outreach to students in the first place is very important because it allows them to be involved.
A lot of individuals that I spoke to while I was campaigning said that they had never voted and that was why they didn’t want to vote again. I think breaking the stereotype that voting isn’t going to impact students enough will actually allow these students to help. I think being more transparent about the work we do so that students can see it. I don’t think that this transparency is currently there and I’d like to build on it. I think how we increase voter turnout is showing students “This is what your voting does.”
Q: What are some expectations that you have for your new AS board?
A: I expect transparency within the student body. I would like for students to know what the AS is doing. I would also like for the board to engage with students more because that’s who they’re representing and trying to make the change for. I think what we have going this year is a good start, but we can build on that.
Q: How will you and your AS board meet the needs of students on campus?
A: So I think where we see the lack of needs is in marginalized identities. We need to have uncomfortable conversations to have tangible change in the next year or the next five years. I know that within systems change takes time, however that’s not as transparent and we often wonder “What did the last AS board do?” and we don’t see those directly because the change is very slow and progressional. So I think it’s important to let students know “This is what we’re doing, this is why we’re doing it, this is how it’s going to help.”
Q: What are some ways that you and the board will increase communication between students and administration?
A: The board hasn’t formally met yet. Personally, I want to have physical meetings with people so that we can have conversations that are transparent. I want to ask people what changes they want to see on campus. Physical meetings are very important to me because it allow for us to have a deeper understanding that is not present through technology, and allows for students to actually show us what they want to show us.
However, I would like to speak to the VPs before I give a concrete answer. I don’t want to be an autonomous body, I want to speak in a way that is representative of the VPs. They are their own people and they see the world and the problems on campus very differently, which allows for us to answer problems.