MSA presidential candidates launch campaigns

The platforms of both candidates focus heavily on mental health but take different approaches.

by Raj Chaduvula

As national presidential campaigning ramps up, the undergraduate student body at the University of Minnesota is gearing up for its own election. 
Two teams of students are vying to lead the Minnesota Student Association. 
Cameron Holl and Nidhi Khurana will face off against Abeer Syedah, MSA’s incumbent vice president, and Samantha Marlow. 
Syedah, a political science and gender, women and sexuality studies junior, and Marlow, a finance and management information systems junior, have been involved with MSA since their first year at the University. During the 2015-16 school year, Syedah served as vice president and Marlow as director of development. 
“[Our campaign] is based off of student feedback and three years of work,” Syedah said. 
Holl, a junior triple majoring in political science, history and philosophy has also been a part of MSA since his first semester. He’s also a two-term College of Liberal Arts student senator. 
“[W]e want MSA to be focused on issues … that affect the day-to-day lives of students,” Holl said. 
For his part, Holl’s vice-presidential companion Khurana is leveraging his experience by interning for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis and Gov. Mark Dayton. 
Syedah’s and Holl’s campaigns are the only two running right now, current MSA President Joelle Stangler said, but there’s room for a write-in campaign to form.
“The best indicators of a better president than the last one [are] their past successes, what they have already delivered,” Stangler said.
Both platforms emphasize work on mental health and recognize the issues as the most serious problem concerning student well-being. 
Syedah said she wants administrators to take on greater responsibility for mental health issues.
“This isn’t necessarily a policy but a demand,” Syedah said. “We need somebody in a university to make a public declaration of support for mental health counselors, aid and the prioritization of it as a whole.” 
Holl and Khurana said they hope to eliminate counseling waitlists and make mental health a topic in First Year Experience classes.
“[Our plan is to] make mental health more of a core issue and bring it up earlier and more often,” Holl said.
Beyond mental health, Holl and Khurana are also pushing to integrate sexual assault awareness into FYE classes, as well as continued resource support for the Aurora Center and expansion of MSA’s existing “No Gray” campaign.
“These are issues close to our heart … and [we will] build on what Joelle and Abeer have done,” Holl said.
The pair is also running on the issues of college affordability. If elected, Holl and Khurana — who are both from out of state — plan to create a yearlong lobbying plan focused around freezing tuition for nonresidents. 
Syedah and Marlow identified six action items in their platform, including a revamp of Onestop, which would expand its services beyond financial aid, and the  creation of a campus center focused on religious, secular and spiritual minorities on campus. 
Syedah and Marlow are also prioritizing infrastructure and sustainability, with ideas for increased lighting in neighborhoods within a five-mile radius of campus and appointing a liaison for people organizing sustainable events or programs. 
“We want to run a genuine campaign … and ensure that what people care about can be brought to us,” Syedah said. 
The two pairs will campaign until voting takes place between April 6 and 8.
Brian Edwards contributed to this report.