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Freshman senators elected, sworn-in

Laura Browne
Assistant News Editor
[email protected]

Left to right: Freshman Senators Gray McNeish, London Newton, Savannah Rayne Dicus and candidates Xannie Heath-Okunwobi and Rosie Garcia. Photo by Laura Browne.

London Newton, Savannah Rayne Dicus and Gray McNeish won the freshman senatorial election, each securing their place as a member of the Student Government Association.  
The three freshmen senators were officially sworn into their positions during Wednesday’s SGA meeting.
The election, which took place from midnight on Sept. 20 to midnight on Sept. 22, allowed freshmen to vote for three senators to represent their class. Six candidates ran for the position. Xannie Heath-Okunwobi, Rosie Garcia and Ron Dumas ran alongside Newton, Dicus and McNeish.
Freshmen could vote for their senators online through the SGA’s website. Additionally, Elections Commissioner Rae Williams facilitated three tabling sessions hosted by SGA members in which freshmen could approach designated tables to vote.
“I think the biggest thing I’m not satisfied with is how little people voted,” Williams said.
According to Williams, voter turnout was fairly low with around 150 freshmen casting votes.
Newton’s platform is comprised of three central issues, the first of which is providing free menstrual products in all bathrooms, regardless of its designated gender.
“I want to make sure that there are pads and tampons in all the bathrooms: men’s, women’s and all genders, because we have a pretty big trans community here and you would think that Asheville of all places would make sure that we are tending to them,” Newton said. “And then they should be free; if we can afford condoms, we can afford to have pads and tampons in all the bathrooms.”
According to Newton, she has already brought this issue to the attention of Dean of Students Jackie McHargue.
The second issue Newton seeks to address is discussing healthy, non-sexual aspects of relationships in more depth during Embark Orientation.
“I want to talk about sex less in the Embark Orientation process. I think that it’s very important that we talk about sex and sexual assault. They talk about what a healthy relationship looks like, but not a lot and I think that you’re more likely to not know you’re being abused than to not know you’re being sexually assaulted,” Newton said.
The third issue upon which Newton wishes to focus is making better connections between students and SGA, summed up by her slogan: “London builds bridges.”
“A lot of people don’t know that we have student body meetings every wednesday, they don’t know who their senators are, they don’t know there’s an election going on,” Newton said. “A lot of people don’t know who our president is and I think that that’s a problem because I feel like we should have a good relationship with them.”
Consequently, improving the relationship between SGA and the student body is one of the reasons Newton gave for running for senate.
“I think it’s very important that you are in communication with the people who are leading you and I think our student government has been very removed from our student body for a long time,” Newton said. “And so I want to make sure that people know who their senator is and I’m willing to make the effort to make sure that I know who I’m leading and who I’m supposed to be representing.”
Dicus, a first generation college student, claims running for the position of freshman senator is a way for her to help members of the student body who are also the first in their families to attend a university.
“Even me being here is crazy to me — it’s insane. And my main reason is making my family proud, I just really care about that,” Dicus said. “If I win this, that would be an even crazier dream than just being in college in general. And even having an effect on how the university is run is just insane to me, I can’t even describe it. My mom didn’t go to college, my dad didn’t go to college, my grandparents didn’t go to college. So applying and stuff, my first day and orientation, I had to do it myself. They didn’t know how to help me. So, I feel like I can use that experience to help other people, as a freshman senator, who are also first generation college students.”
Once in SGA, Dicus said she hopes to improve accessibility in and around the Woods on-campus apartments, extend hours in Brown Dining Hall and establish a seminar which would center around diversity.
“I also want to start a diversity seminar led by people of color, because I feel like the conversation of diversity is very loud here,” Dicus said. “People are always like ‘yeah, diversity is great,’ but they never really talk about why diversity is great and what kind of benefits it has and why it affects people and I feel like it’s just a lot more impactful if you’re hearing about diversity from diverse voices.”
McNeish said he was very involved throughout high school and sought to participate in leadership through the position of freshman senator.
“It’s enjoyable to me,” McNeish said. “It’s an experience, it’s something to be grateful for; so that’s what led me to it.”
McNeish said economics classes he has taken led him to potentially using the notion of a cost benefit analysis throughout his time as a senator.
“So to boil it down, it’s how does a decision affect an individual and whenever I was learning about that I knew that that’s kind of what I wanted to to be my theme as my term if I were to be elected,” McNeish said.
Once on the senate, McNeish said he is interested in voting effectively.
“As a senator, I think you really have to put more time into how you vote and the bills that are being presented because at the end of the day there’s not enough time for everybody to talk about every idea at all the same time,” McNeish said. “So, it’s just important to me to vote in a way that everything that passes has at least somewhat of a positive effect on the students here.”
As a senator, McNeish said he hopes to ensure that student needs on campus, such as the bookstore, are reasonably priced.  
“As a college student, when you have to be that frugal, you just don’t want to spend money that you don’t have to,” McNeish said. “And I want to make it so the students don’t have to spend as much money buying things that they have to buy everyday.”
McNeish said he wishes for communication between senators and their constituents.
“I would ask people to be open to me and to talk to me and bring forth ideas if they want something happen, or if they feel like there’s a problem, something that needs to be addressed, that they should feel free, or maybe even obligated, to talk to someone like me, or whoever may get elected,” McNeish said.
If she were elected, Garcia wished to use the beginning of her time in SGA as a time of learning in order to better understand the inner-workings of the organization.
“Honestly for this first semester I want to really get to know SGA and what they stand for,” Garcia said. “After that and I feel comfortable, I want to start taking things on my own or working with the committees to really embrace some of their projects before I try to take any of mine, so I just understand how it works and how big of an influence we have here. Plus, Asheville’s still really new to me so I want to understand what needs attention more than what it’s actually getting. So I think a little discovery period’s a given.”
Garcia said that being an out of state student would give her a unique outlook as a senator.
“I can really see what’s happening, either here in Asheville or in North Carolina in general, without the bias of being in state.”
Garcia claims one of the reasons she was drawn to running for freshman senator was to allow herself to feel more comfortable at UNC Asheville once in a leadership position.
“I’ve actually been in student leadership positions for seven-ish years now, so to just continue that really feels comfortable to me especially being so far out of state, to find something that I really relate to and feel comfortable in, I think it’s really going to help me get acclimated to Asheville here, because its hard.”
According to Heath-Okunwobi, she would make a point to affect change without overlooking new students if she had been elected.
“I want to accomplish more changes, especially with us having lots of newer people on this campus, especially me being one of them, I want to make sure that we are heard as well as the other people.”
Heath-Okunwobi said her main reason for running for freshman senator was to represent the underrepresented.
“I decided that I wanted to be someone who’s a voice for those who aren’t heard,” Heath-Okunwobi said. “And I know that we have lots of issues that we have on this campus and it’s important to have someone who’s very understanding about where other people are coming from and what they identify as other issues. And it’s better to have someone who’s involved with these issues and knows exactly what these people need and what they want and they aren’t just catering based on different kind of judgments that they have on other people.”
Dumas could not be reached for comment.
Williams facilitated the election process, beginning with holding two interest meetings about the freshmen senatorial position with around twelve people in attendance.
Though she wasn’t involved in the campaigning process, Williams said she helped the six candidates by clearing up questions, informing them of the rules for the election process and relaying information from SGA President Michael Davis.
Williams said this election gave her ideas to improve the process for the spring semester elections, starting with publicizing the election sooner.
“I think general advertising earlier, telling people earlier in the time when voting is so they kind of have it in the back of their mind and they’re watching for the tables and everything, would have been better,” Williams said.
Williams additionally contends that sending out the link for the election to all students by email may improve the election and voter turnout.
Williams also hopes she can dedicate even more of her time to assist with the election process during next semester.
“I personally want to be able to go around and spend more time tabling for the voting process,” Williams said.

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