NBN sat down with new ASG leadership to discuss controversy, goals

    After a campaign period marked with controversy, Weinberg juniors Sky Patterson and Emily Ash narrowly defeated SESP junior Justine Kim and sophomore Austin Gardener for student body president and executive vice president, respectively.

    The Patterson and Ash campaign received two elections commission violations for pre-campaign activities and faced huge backlash in the form of stinging letters to the editor. Since the election, Gardner, who is the ASG vice president for accessibility and inclusion, and the entire A&I committee have resigned effective immediately, Gardner said during Senate on Wednesday.

    “We have reached a point where we feel we cannot accomplish our tasks under the structure of ASG or its new leadership,” said the committee in the resignation letter sent to former ASG president Nehaarika Mulukutla.

    Patterson and Ash will need to establish themselves as leaders who can unite, rather than divide, the factions of ASG. The two hope to move forward and work on the issues they see around campus, but they will certainly have to answer for the questions raised by the resignations and campaign drama.

    For now, the newly sworn in leaders sat down with NBN to share their perspectives and discuss how they would like to move forward with their platform.

    NBN: Why did you initially get involved with ASG?

    Sky Patterson: I got involved in ASG as a freshman – I joined FMO, the Black student org on campus, and I was lucky enough to get elected as their senator. Eventually, I applied to be VP of Academics, and here I am now.

    Emily Ash: I think my relationship with ASG really deepened this year, as a result of both of the leadership opportunities I took on. The first one was VP of Public Relations and leading that committee. Working with that committee, I don’t know if I just got ridiculously lucky with the students I had on my committee, or if it was just really engaging work, it was probably a combination of all of those things, but it was such a pleasure … To see the energy and enthusiasm that especially first- and second-year students put into student government really inspired me to keep going, even though the organization can be a somewhat discouraging at times because of the pace it moves at and internal bureaucracy stuff. I think that’s why the role of EVP was such a good role for me, because it is a little bit more of an internal-facing role. I’m really excited to build an executive board this year.

    NBN: What would you say is the value of ASG on campus?

    Patterson: I think one of the values is that it’s sometimes and often the first stop for administration when they’re trying to gauge the student voice and what students want. So, its value lies in its ability to advocate for students and put students first when talking to administration.

    NBN: What has been most impactful about your time at Northwestern, what really stands out to you?

    Ash: Something that has been really evident to me, from the moment I came to campus, was that certain types of students have a much easier path into those unpaid leadership roles, namely higher-income students who don’t have to worry about balancing those things. I’ve really been bothered at Northwestern by the wealth that privileges access to leadership. And that’s one of the many arenas in which income status stratifies our campus. That has impacted my perception of Northwestern.

    NBN: How do you plan on addressing income inequality on campus?

    Patterson: Course affordability was an important part of my term as VP for academics, and it’s important to me now. We want to expand Books for Cats (a program started this year by the university to loan textbooks to qualifying students) so that anyone on financial aid can apply for it, get it to more students and advertise it more so that more students know what it is. But also, we have an initiative in our platform to pay student leaders. Emily talked about how wealth privileges access to certain leadership positions and opportunity can be somewhat unequally distributed on campus based on wealth. It can be difficult to juggle classes, a social life, a couple jobs and leadership, and that’s the problem that many students face.

    NBN: How do you plan to move past the issues that came up during the campaign, like the campaign violations and letters to the editor?

    Ash: This is the first time that half of the students have seen a contested election because last year the election was uncontested, so a lot of students haven’t seen how the organization comes together after a contested election. It’s no secret that the organization becomes less productive during campaigning season when folks aren’t going to want to collaborate with people they are competing against. So I’m looking forward to getting back to normal and working on our organizational priorities.

    Patterson: Moving forward, we’re just going to continue to treat people with fairness and respect like we’ve always tried to – that isn’t going to change. We’re focused on doing good work, and whoever wants to join us is welcome to. People stuck with us because the people who I’ve worked with know who I am, the people that are close to me know who I am and I know who I am. And that’s all that really matters. That’s why we’re able to just keep our heads high and push through the election, to victory, thankfully.

    NBN: How are you all planning to improve ASG while you’re in office?

    Emily: Right now, the Senate Reform Committee convened at the start of winter, and they’re getting ready to deliver their recommendations for restructuring senate representation. As far as the other branch of ASG, there’s a lot of opportunity to create leadership opportunities at the mid-senior level, particularly with sophomore and junior students who don’t have a position in the cabinet, but who want to take on projects. This is an opportunity to formalize those types of roles, so that leadership doesn’t get concentrated in a dozen or so people.

    Patterson: This is more culture than structure, but [Ash] and I have talked about making ASG a less-toxic organization so that it’s healthier for the individuals who join it. Right now, this culture of always being in meetings if you’re a VP, and people will rarely take phone calls or handle things by email, and it really takes a lot of time out of your day. We recognize the need for our health and wellness VP to have not only an external role but an internal role so that people who are working on initiatives to help the student body are also practicing healthy lifestyle habits. We don’t think accessibility and inclusion should be siloed in its own category – we think that the VP of Academics should be thinking about how to make the classroom more inclusive, the analytics survey could work to put out questions that get at course affordability and things like that.

    NBN: What are you most excited about for the upcoming year?

    Patterson: I’m excited to be on a board with new people. I’m excited to see who applies for these positions. Maybe we’ll be able to attract people from across campus, maybe people who have never been involved in ASG before.

    Ash: I’m really excited to lead by example and to set a healthy culture for doing work. I think we’ve seen examples, not just in ASG, but in any student organization, where doing more work doesn’t translate to getting more done. We’re excited to prioritize the issues that are important to us and to the students we represent. We have a lot of really good administration partners and advisors, so right now Sky and I are establishing those relationships and setting the goals for what we want to come out of those relationships.

    This Q & A has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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