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Thursday, October 5, 2023


SGA president-elect talks first priorities, campaign promises

Spirit RED won the election with 50.8 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff.  | Courtesy of Winni Zhang

On March 31, Winni Zhang will take office as the president of the 54th administration of the Student Government Association, following a contentious election season called on Friday.

After the mudslinging subsided and complaints to the election commission were settled, Zhang and her running mate, Adrian Hernandez, emerged victorious. The pair won the election with just over 50 percent of the vote, and Spirit RED swept the Senate, securing 24 seats for its members.

The Cougar sat down with Zhang to learn what her first actions and priorities as student body president will be.

The Cougar: You said in the presidential debate that your first priority is outreach. What is the first step toward doing that and who do you want to reach?

Winni Zhang: Once I finally get my team, (my first step is) to go to different classes, introduce SGA. A lot of students don’t know what SGA does, so really giving them a rundown of what it does and what it’s in control of so they can hold us accountable to change we want to make this year. So they know there’s an avenue for their voice to be heard, there’s a channel for student voices so they don’t feel like they’re going up against the administration and have no one to hear them out — that they’re just one student — but that there’s an actual group that unifies all student voices and targets problems that students face on campus.

TC: Now that UH is part of the Open Textbook Network, how is your administration in a position to expand on that success?

WZ: The open source textbooks, right now, are only at 20 professors and it’s a trial period. The Provost is currently incentivizing the 20 professors with a stipend. What we plan on doing is making sure that each core class and department transitions to Open Source and make sure that they use it because right now it’s kind of like an opt-in thing. So right now, if you’re a professor and you want to go into this, you can’t. A lot of professors that I’ve spoken to have no control over their textbooks, their departments do.

For example, the department of political science has control over what textbooks they use and they negotiate with McGraw Hill or Pearson for a lower price for students. What we want to do is convince those departments to transition so the professors are able to as well. We want to make sure we can transition into intro level with each department. Core classes every student is mandated to take is more of where it’s going right now. There are quite a few textbooks that are for introductory classes that Rice and a couple of other universities use.

TC: Are you going to continue working on the free pads and tampons initiative you began last year?

WZ: Yes, I actually hope to finish that before this administration ends. I have a meeting with Facilities very soon.

TC: What does the process look like?

WZ: Right now, the trial looked really successful and promising. Our director of research, Dean Suchy, did that research. One thing that we know is that we’re in negotiation with the Student Centers to make this happen indefinitely, but that’s not my main focus. It’s great if the Student Centers decide to do it, but my focus is to make it school-wide. We plan on meeting with the vice-chancellor of Facilities, David Oliver, and the custodial manager soon.

The SGA presidential debate became contentious at times. | Justin Cross/The Cougar

TC: During your campaign, you stressed that SGA needs to be transparent, but what does that mean? Why do you have to be transparent?

WZ: It’s one thing that everyone did this election, and that’s because people started to feel like we weren’t really doing a lot — then the administration starts to get frustrated because we are. But, I think it’s our fault because we didn’t really advertise what we were doing as much as we should have.

We accomplished a lot in this administration that people are not yet aware of. We plan on doing some kind of PR launch very soon, but it’s not enough to do it at the end of an administration. It has to be a constant update to tell the student body, “Hey, your concerns are being heard,” so they have confidence in student government and they continue to tell us their issues and their problems. They don’t feel like change is coming out as they’re telling us their concerns, so they don’t feel like they can come to us again. It’s an issue of consistently updating and being transparent.

TC: You campaigned heavily for a new CAPS facility, but what sort of power does SGA have to actually make that happen?

WZ: Contrary to popular belief, SGA actually has a lot of power. The stadium was partially pushed for by Charles Haston’s administration — we have the power to, in Charles Haston’s words, “move mountains.” There’s no way the University can even justify CAPS right now; they’re squished into half of the Student Service Center; they have one group therapy room for 13 sessions; they’re not wheelchair accessible. Their building is just absolute trash. So to bring up a plan for a new building, I think administrators already know. It’s more about “Do students need it?” And they need to hear the voice of yes, students do, and yes, mental health should be prioritized.

It is very possible that we can get a new building. The University is getting a new health building, but that building isn’t going to include CAPS because they’re two different departments. So that’s also a huge problem — prioritizing physical health over mental. I don’t think it’ll be hard to convince them there’s a need. It’ll be hard to convince them that we need to do it.

TC: Some on social media alleged that Spirit RED cheated to win the election or that it was rigged. How would you respond to that?

WZ: It’s pretty funny, but first and foremost, rigging the election is not possible. The election is overseen by an administrator who has no weight in it at all — the election results weren’t shown to anyone, she kept those to herself. There’s no way that any sort of rigging could happen. The second thing is that saying that undermines all the work the team has put in.

On the surface level, it looks so easy like, “Oh look, there’s all these people handing out fliers,” but there’s a lot that goes behind it. Finding your people, finding your team — there was one week where I had 45 meetings. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it and a lot of motivation and behind-the-scenes things that people don’t really see. So constantly, for three days straight and for weeks before that, meeting with organizations and campaigning made it look easy. But we definitely did not rig the election.

TC: What will you continue to work on from the 53rd Administration?

WZ: Meal plans, definitely. I think Shane did an incredible job with meal plans. A lot of things are about to come for students. It’s tremendous work for one year in office, so I’m excited to be able to continue that work.

TC: What is one thing, if accomplished, that would make your term a success?

WZ: Getting METRO Park & Ride to work with us and have UH students park at those locations and bus in. That platform would be huge in changing how parking works at UH.

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