Meet the candidates: SGA presidential nominee Benjamin Rizk shares platform, goals
Running on a platform centered around issues of equity, sustainability and wellness, Students, Unite! hopes to topple incumbent candidate Joshua Martin in the upcoming Student Government Association elections.
The party’s leader and presidential candidate, Benjamin Rizk, is a political science sophomore and former student fellow for Beto for Texas. Apart from increasing support for working students, improving access to health and wellness services and prioritizing campus sustainability, Rizk said his grievances with the current administration also motivated his decision to run.
“Frankly, the changes made to the election code amount to nothing less than blatant corruption,” Rizk said. “They were designed so that students are elected not based on their character or commitment, but through connections and money.”
Criticism aside, Rizk’s three-pronged approach to student government is centered around transforming UH into a self-sustaining campus where all students have equitable access to education.
Support for working students
As a school known for its large commuter population, Rizk believes that increasing support for students who work, both on and off campus, will go a long way in improving the experience these students have at UH.
Though the intent is to improve the lives of all working students, Rizk said that the first step towards that goal is raising the minimum wage for students employed by the University.
“A previous administration raised the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8,” Rizk said. “Research shows that raising it from $8 to $10 would bridge a lot of the gaps created by rising inflation and COVID-19.”
The proposed increase would mitigate many of the extenuating circumstances faced by low-income students, Rizk said.
In conjunction with raising wages for student workers, Rizk also wants to ensure all students have access to affordable housing.
“We have some students who are homeless, some who are couch-surfing,” Rizk said. “Making on-campus housing a more affordable option, or at least offering payment plans, would go a long way in addressing these issues as well as pushing UH further from the ‘commuter-school’ reputation.”
Health and wellness
If elected, Rizk hopes to expand access to campus services that support students’ mental and physical health needs.
In the wake of Wednesday’s tragic death, Rizk believes that more should be invested in resources such as Counseling and Psychological Services and the Women and Gender Resource Center.
According to Rizk, the University currently only has roughly 20 counselors providing for the mental health needs of over 40,000 students. This, he said, is grossly insufficient. As president, Rizk said he would address this imbalance.
“People wonder why we have a mental health crisis when we have 20 people serving a University the size of a large town,” Rizk said. “We need to increase funding so the University has the resources to find qualified counselors who will stay at UH.”
Currently, Rizk believes programs like CAPS struggle to serve students’ needs as a result of their lack of resources. Students have spoken with him in the past about CAPS failing to contact them for a follow-up, long wait times and a general lack of accessibility.
Though many of the programs Rizk wants to improve are funded by the Student Fee Advisory Committee, meaning their funding comes from a flat student fee attached to all students’ tuition, he said allocating more to one program does not necessarily mean taking away from another.
“It doesn’t always have to all boil down to a matter of ‘more for you, less for them’,” Rizk said. “If we invest more in things like CAPS and less into things like merch, T-shirts and wristbands, we could do a lot more with what we already have.”
While to many people, the term sustainability’ often equates to more recycling bins, for Rizk, it actually means the opposite.
Recycling and other sustainability efforts focused on reusing discarded materials, as opposed to simply using less, are a band-aid solution to the true core of the sustainability crisis.
“Recycling is like a big hangover,” Rizk said. “The cup you throw into the bin, the food you throw into the trash, no matter if it’s recycled or not, more often than not, it’s going to end up in the ground eventually.”
To that end, Rizk wants to encourage the University to invest more in reducing and less in recycling. This means cutting into the amount of waste produced on campus, from disposable utensils to University merchandise intended to be used only for a single event.
Rizk’s goal is not to campaign against recycling but to raise awareness around the practice’s efficacy and actual impact. In addition, Rizk also wants to install compost bins around campus and revitalize the now-closed campus garden.
“I remember my brother bringing me to campus and showing me the campus garden,” Rizk said. “It took me a little while to realize that since then, the garden has closed. Reopening it is another step in making our campus more sustainable.”