Record: Why did you decide to run as Co-Presidents?
Jake Weiner: We want to make sure the different groups on campus will not be left out to dry, fighting for their initiatives on their own. Individually, we each have a limited platform, but as one unit we can really make change. Many of these initiatives being pushed by specific groups not only affect those groups, they benefit all of us. When my friend tells me that our affinity group coalition conducted a multi-year study and recommended an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which is thereafter shut down, that’s when I want Student Government to speak up. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t felt like Student Government is involved in our lives. The roles are about more than expending whatever resources the administration allocates to them. We want to continue providing free massages and bringing in dogs for us to pet, but we have to go beyond just spending money. We have to make lasting change.
Parisa Sadeghi: I agree with everything that Jake said. I think, for me, I was disappointed several times throughout this past year at the number of student groups that were, as Jake said, fighting really, really hard for certain initiatives that they were putting a ton of student group resources, a ton of their own time, and a ton of their own labor into without getting the institutional support that those efforts deserve. Jake talked about the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; I’m a member of WLA. WLA’s Glass Ceiling Committee has been doing a lot of work on the disparity between women and men, and how they’re represented in Latin honors, for example. Why hasn’t the administration been lending more support to these types of efforts? As Jake said, that’s a great place for Student Government to come in, to boost those efforts, and to provide them with the resources that they need and pushing those even more than they already have.
Record: Why do you think you’re already qualified to be Co-Presidents as 1Ls?
PS: We both have leadership experience outside of HLS. But more importantly, as 1Ls who just got to campus, we were able to see the school through a fresh set of eyes. This past year, we’ve been exposed to a lot of different groups and have met a lot of different people who are representing various groups across campus. A year is certainly enough to figure out the amount that is going on at HLS that needs more support from bodies like the Student Government. I don’t think that a year is too short of a time for something like that. I also think that because we’re 1Ls, we have an enthusiasm, freshness of perspective, passion about HLS and excitement for this place that might be lacking in someone that’s been here for a couple of years and is also about to leave in a year. Part of why we’re running is because we love HLS and we want it to be as great of a place as it can possibly be. That level of enthusiasm is just heightened in your first year. We’re really excited to carry that into next year.
Record: You mentioned you’ve spotted some issues in the past year. Can you expand on that?
JW: The current Student Government spent the last year struggling to get simple things done, like getting staplers next to the printers. Members of that government are now running for re-election, claiming how that will be one of their big feats. This isn’t funny to me. Our campus is full of people that can get things done. The fact that this small thing hasn’t happened yet is absurd to me. That is an example of the type of things that inspired us to run. As for the staplers, if we’re elected, you will 100% have staplers by the first day of school next year. If I have to pay for it with my own money and then fight to get reimbursed, so be it. There are a few groups on campus that are really given a platform to make gigantic change. Student Government is one of them, and I want that opportunity to be taken advantage of.
PS: I agree with all of that. Jake mentioned the Office of Diversity of Inclusion, and that’s one thing that is a big part of our platform. We really want to see some more administrative, institutional support for that; as much as we can possibly give. Another thing that we’ve alluded to is that there seems to be a gap between what Student Government can do and what they actually do. This is definitely one of the issues that’s important to us. We want to use all of the resources and the connections that Student Government has to the utmost. We want to take full advantage of that, and we just feel like that hasn’t really been happening as much as it should be. The stapler thing is a really good example of that. That’s something that could happen, if there were the motivation and the desire to make it happen. We want to bring that kind of passion and proactive leadership to Student Government next year.
Record: So what do you want to accomplish in Student Government next year?
JW: Starting on day 1, we’re creating a formal committee to seek out and recommend diverse law professors to the hiring committee. We’re going to fight to have the university officially recognize Belinda Hall, in honor of the former slave of HLS benefactors who used the law to successfully seek reparations. We’re going to reform professor evaluations to emphasize the importance of effective teaching and not just base hiring and tenure on resumes. Hold us accountable. We’re going to stand up for the student body and dedicate next year to making sure that the law school is a more inclusive place than it was when we got here. We love this place, but much of our history regarding inequalities and discrimination is dark. I want our future to be bright. We are not there yet. We are not where we need to be. The Student Government is not another leg of the university administration. We don’t have to worry about profits or rankings. We’re here to fight for progress.
Record: A lot of the things you’ve mentioned have been articulated by candidates in previous years. Why do you think they failed, and what are you going to do differently to make these a reality?
PS: I’m not ever going to be able to read peoples’ minds or know exactly what happened that led to these initiatives failing, and I’m sure everyone has their own story to tell. However, I think something that sets us apart is that we have a really good combination of passion and total commitment to this, as well as a sense of practicality. I don’t think either of us is going in to this with any illusions about how difficult any of these initiatives will be to accomplish, partly because they’ve been tried in the past by very capable student leaders and they haven’t come to fruition. That’s got to say something about how difficult these tasks are to accomplish. But I think having that in mind, combined with our full devotion to this position, we have a really good chance at making these things happen, even if they weren’t necessarily successful in the past. The other thing I would say is that thanks to all of the amazing work that a lot of the groups on campus have already been doing, there’s already an incredible foundation on which to build. Both of us recognize that a lot of the work is already being done, and it’s about boosting up those efforts rather than starting anything from scratch. There are already coalitions working on these things. We need to acknowledge that and we’re just trying to provide whatever support that we can to the people that have already put in hours and hours and hours into a lot of this work.
JW: I’m just not sure that people in Student Government have fought for these issues, and that’s disappointing for me to say. We’re really out here, ready to put our necks out and fight for this, be dedicated, and really spend our lives trying to make sure that when we leave this law school, it’s a better place than it was. I don’t think whether these goals have been attempted and failed or not has anything to do with how achievable they are. This is something we can get done, we just need to have heart and we’ve got it right here. We’ve got two big ones ready to work.
Record: You already know that Belinda Hall was named by black students for one of the slaves who was involved in the founding of the law school. What makes you particularly well-placed to get the administration to recognize Belinda Hall? Do you plan to integrate the historical perspective of its association with black students into your plans?
PS: Like I was saying before, there are a lot of students and people that have already devoted a lot of time to this. I would never pretend that I’m the best person to do it. I think that if we were given this position, though, this is a priority. This gets back to what I was saying before, but the combination of passion and the recognition of how difficult these kinds of things are to achieve makes it likely that we would be able to succeed in this. Again, that is fully respecting the fact that these are hard, hard things to accomplish, and students have tried and have been trying to no avail. I think that our combination of passion, commitment, and respect for the efforts of people that have been trying to do this sets a good position to succeed on this particular issue.
JW: If we win, the first thing that I will do is go directly to Dean Manning’s office and say that this was the key issue we were elected on, and on behalf of the student body it’s time we honor this and name the area in honor of Belinda. If he says no, I will say, respectfully, right to the Dean, that we’re going straight to the media with the issue because we think it’s more than time that Belinda is honored and all those people who suffered for others’ profit should be honored by our law school. If the Dean accepts our proposal and changes the name on his own, we would be so glad and honored to write out an email of the full history of all the people that have fought for this change and to applaud the university for taking action. If they do not, then we will share the story of why we think it needs to be with the media and the rest of the university and we will keep fighting until our term ends.
PS: Going to the second part of your question, one thing that’s really important to us is recognizing that we’re just two people who would potentially be elected to this position, and there are a lot of people who would have a stake in these issues. By no means would we be trying to make decisions of how to, for example, integrate the history into the announcement of the name without talking to the people who have been and are direct stakeholders into the issue. I fully acknowledge that perhaps we don’t have the best answer to that question, but we would make sure to get it from the people who do, and that’s also really important to us. We understand that we’d be elected into the position, but that we have a duty to consult and to really listen to the people that have been working on these many issues for a long time.
Record: Going back to the student evaluations that you mentioned before: Student Governments in the past have emphasized faculty diversity and student evaluations, and yet we hear the same complaints over and over again. What’s different with you on this particular issue?
JW: I haven’t heard that that was pushed before, but that doesn’t change the way we feel about it. If people were already pushing for this and I hadn’t heard of it yet, it’s clearly not a priority. We’ll change that.
Record: What institutional barriers do you see at the school, and how do you plan to tackle them?
PS: One thing that I think is true of many institutions this large is that there are always a lot of voices, a lot of opinions, and a lot of really amazing, incredible ideas about how to make things better. But there are many layers that exist within the administration, and a difficulty of getting a message from the ground (the student body) all the way to the people that need to hear it in order to make a sort of concrete decision on it. A great example would be the naming of Belinda Hall. A lot of people feel really passionately about that, but sometimes it’s hard to get that message to the people that have the power to make the change. I think that’s one enormous obstacle. What we really want to do is to be listening to all of those voices, hearing all of those voices, and then not just letting those ideas pass us by, but taking them to exactly who we think would be the best person to make whatever change is being asked for on that issue. I think that’s something that Student Government is in a unique position to do.
JW: I think the way that we’re ready to fight is how we tackle these barriers. I’ve sent out a lot of cold emails, and I don’t often get responses. But when I show up with the reasoning in writing, and support from the student body, I have a feeling we can get a better response.
PS: We want to go straight to the source. It’s not just about sending the emails, but meeting with and talking to people, being persistent, not giving up and just leveraging all the resources that are available to the Student Government Co-Presidents. That’s often the only way to get around the layers we were talking about, and the institutional sludge that often gets in the way of actually getting things done.
JW: I spent a good amount of time working in the government, and I’ve seen how bureaucracy works. It can be tough in this law school. Whether we want it to be or not, it’s a corporation and they have things that they need to worry about, and it is a bit of a bureaucracy. So I’m not surprised that sometimes sending out emails doesn’t get things done. That’s not going to be our approach. We’re going to get reasons, and we’re going to get signatures, and we’re going to show up at doors with passion and with energy. We’re going to keep showing up, day after day. I have a feeling our results will be different because our actions will be different.
Record: We asked last year’s Co-Presidents what would keep them from taking a position in office back home in the middle of their term in Student Government. Given this year’s developments in Student Government, how would you reply to this? Would you leave if given the opportunity?
JW: I think there’s a detrimental effect to demeaning the importance of this role and how important the people here are, and the impact they can make when they leave here. This is a commitment. This is where my heart is, and this is something we really want to do, and we’ve been wanting to do now for months. We’re dedicated to this. I’m shocked that someone left in the middle of their term – I don’t know him, and he may be an amazing man, but that is certainly not an issue you have to worry about with us. You have our word; we’re here.
PS: I wouldn’t be running if I wasn’t one thousand percent committed to doing this job. To me, this wouldn’t even be a question for me. If I’ve committed to this, that’s it. Other opportunities don’t compete because I’ve already taken this on, and that’s the end of it for me. Like Jake was saying, I love this community and I love this school. It would be such an honor to serve the students of this school. I could never imagine giving up that incredible honor and the amazing responsibility that the students would entrust us with for whatever other calling there might be. This is my focus right now, and I intend to remain focused on it.
Record: You’re technically running separately, but you’ve very openly affiliated your campaign with Sarah Rutherford’s campaign for Director of Student Organizations and Journals. Can you talk about your plans around that and working together with her?
JW: When I reached out to Sarah, I did it because she’s the sweetest, most caring and passionate person I know, and I’m personally honored to be running with her attached to our ticket for her position. If she doesn’t win and we do, we love the other candidates for her position and would be ready to work, but we just wanted to show our support for Sarah from the start because we really believe that she will do an incredible job, and the school deserves to have someone like that.
PS: I have a ton of admiration for Sarah, and even in our discussions with her, she has inspired us so much. She’s involved in a lot of organizations on campus as well, and I think we have a really diverse set of experiences that we can each touch on. I think that makes us a really great team. I echo what Jake said. I think we just wanted to work with her because we personally think she would be an incredible Director of Student Organizations and Journals, and we think that her set of experiences, her ideas, and her passion would complement ours perfectly. We fully support her, and it should be fantastic.
Record: Is there anything specific in her campaign that speaks to your efforts, or something that you want to accomplish that you feel you might be able to do more effectively with her on your team?
JW: Her level of involvement on this campus is unsurpassed. She’s just so connected with so many people and so many different groups that I just felt she could really accurately and earnestly represent perspectives that I may not have the same level of background or experience working with. Just the huge amount of knowledge, responsibility, and experiences she brings to the table are invaluable.
PS: We’ve talked through a lot of the concrete initiatives that we mentioned with her, and I think we’re all on the same page in terms of, for example, working with various student organizations on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. That requires direct collaboration between the Co-Presidents, the Director of Student Organizations, and the student organizations that should be represented. Again, with the recognition of Belinda Hall, a lot of student organizations have been critical in that as well. A lot of our platform is really linked to student organizations, because that’s where the student body is putting in work on issues we think deserve institutional support, so we think her role will be really important to getting anything on our platform done.
Record: Is there anything you’d like to add?
JW: We just really care, and we don’t want to see another year go by without much progress being made. We really hope you’ll give us the platform to fight for you.
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