A new political party has formed on campus this semester and it plans to make changes in student government beginning this spring.
The Students’ Empowerment Party held its first official meeting on March 1 and they hope to gain enough momentum and votes to overtake the current administration, the Students for Change. The group consists of people from many backgrounds from upper class persons, underclass persons, and alumni. Recent graduate and alumni Michael Devan cites that the foundation of the Students’ Empowerment Party began late last semester after frustrations with not receiving promised funding from the student government for another group he was included with on campus, the Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee.
“We had our process in mind, we were a grassroots campaign and then after a while it seemed like there were no other options and that’s how Students’ Empowerment Party was born.” Devan said,
Difficulties stemmed from communication between the Participatory Budgeting steering committee and the Students for Change. William Novello, a senior and one of the founders of the Students’ Empowerment Party felt that the lack of communication between Students for Change and Participatory Budgeting left members of their organization with no other choice but to become a part of the political process.
“After all the times we tried to reach out to them and to keep communication between us, they were just clearly not responsive.” Novello said, “When communication broke down, we wanted to still be there for the students and we came to the conclusion that unless we decided to take the next step in pursuing this, we would never really see any of these initiatives recognized.”
The Students’ Empowerment Party presents itself as an alternative, offering a fresh and new perspective. They express the sentiment that the student body is frustrated with Students for Change and that there are conflicting views on the current student government. Senior Victor Yung acknowledges the conflict and wants to ensure students that the Students’ Empowerment Party will offer solutions.
“A lot of these problems, the civic bureaucracy, have existed here for a lot of years and the students know these problems exist and still nothing is being done about them,” Yung said. “We plan to change that.”
Though numerous members of the Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee are present in this new political campaign, the Students’ Empowerment Party wants to emphasize that they did not form out of anger or revenge due to the lack of funding from Students for Change. They feel that their campaign establishes itself as an open way to seek the change that students want to see on campus. Junior Jonathan Baron, one of the founding members of the Students’ Empowerment Party, wants all students to be involved with political process.
“Every student should have the ability to have their voice heard. They should be able to engage in the budgetary process, they should be able to engage in the governing process.” Baron said, “It should be all inclusive. No one should be left out based on whether they have a small club or a big club.”
Baron feels that communication could be better at Queens College, particularly regarding notifying students of events on campus and keeping students informed regarding what’s going on in student government and administration.
“One of the things we want to focus on is transparency. People should know what the student government is up to, people should know what the administration is up to, people should know what other clubs are up to.” Baron said, “Sometimes I see an event that is happening already on campus and I can’t go to it because it’s too late. We feel there’s a lot of students who don’t know about the clubs on campus here and that’s unfortunate.”
Opening up communication and creating a campus community is just one of the many items on the agenda of the Students’ Empowerment Party. Other items include providing services to students, whether that is more peer support or readily available school psychiatrists to speak with throughout each semester. They also want to focus on making CUNY more environmentally sustainable, with projects such as investing in solar panels and providing more recycling bins on campus. One of their missions will be to go beyond the borders of Queens College campus and work to eliminate tuition at CUNY.
“Our goal is to take away the hierarchal structure in the student association and distribute power more equitably amongst representatives,” Novello said. “We want to make student government more responsive to the needs of the Queens College community.”
Transfer student Liam Phillip has attended Queens College since the beginning of the spring semester and decided to become involved with the Students’ Empowerment Party because of the lack of action he’s seen on campus.
“If there was a party that was open to hearing students it would be good for the college. It would show that democracy is a feasible thing,” Phillip said.
Elections are approaching and the Students’ Empowerment Party hopes that their message resonates with the Queens College community and hopes that their vision for student government is the change students want to see.
“This is the kind of society you can have, this is the kind of campus you can have,” Devan said. “You can take it or leave it but we’re going to build it anyway.”