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UPUA’s 14th Assembly Kicks Things Off With Five Hours Of Internal Elections

The University Park Undergraduate Association’s 14th Assembly held its first meeting Wednesday night, sticking around in the HUB for more than five hours to elect internal leadership.

Now-washed-up former president Cody Heaton made a brief appearance to swear in new president Laura McKinney and vice president Jake Griggs. All of the other reps were sworn in shortly after, and just like that it was time to get down to business.

Open Student Forum was dominated by concerns over how the Community Representative for the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Caucus, Avinash Saraiya, was elected.

At-Large Representative YuNa Choi explained how the APIDA Caucus election was rushed in an attempt to ensure there would be an elected representative by the first assembly meeting. As such, voting for APIDA candidates took place over GroupMe. More than 200 people ended up joining and leaving this group throughout the election process, people texted their friends to vote, and others still changed their votes numerous times, Choi said.

“What happened in this election was the epitome of tokenization. It was extremely disappointing to see the disrespect of the APIDA community and how our seat was being used as a proxy for the 14th Assembly internal elections,” Choi said.

Two other individuals expressed disappointment over how the APIDA elections were handled, urging that some sort of action be taken concerning the seemingly unjust election.

Former Outreach Committee Chair Beryl Bannerman also spoke during Open Student Forum, encouraging members not to let the bad taste of the APIDA elections get in the way of the 14th Assembly’s mission or the overall purpose of UPUA.

“These are not tokenized positions and we’re all here for diversity, equity, and inclusion, for the good and betterment of Penn State students,” she said.

McKinney delivered her first official report as president, congratulating new representatives and sharing her excitement for the future.

“I look around the room and I see a lot of potential and it makes me really excited to be here,” McKinney said. “I am confident that we will have meaningful discussions throughout the 14th Assembly and that everyone in this room is dedicated to making the lives around you better.”

Speaker Election (read: where things get interesting)

As is customary for the first meeting, the Assembly held elections for its speaker as well as committee chairs for Academic Affairs, Student Life, Facilities, and Governmental Affairs.

Three candidates were nominated for Speaker of the 14th Assembly: Chelsey Wood, Tom Sarabok, and Tyler Akers. Each candidate was allotted five minutes to speak and 10 minutes to answer questions.

Wood, the current College of Education Representative and former Academic Affairs Chair for the 13th Assembly, outlined her plans to enact change in UPUA. She mentioned reevaluating the process of cross-filing, making it practice for the speaker to present policy changes a week before voting on them, gathering a group of objective representatives to analyze the internal governmental structure of the organization, and promoting more communication with the Outreach Committee. Wood also made it clear that she would sit down with every newly-elected chair and representative and work alongside them to set goals for the year.

Sarabok, the “dark horse, grassroots” candidate, emphasized the fact that the UPUA needs immediate change, including a new respect for the organization’s representatives. He made the argument that representatives of the Assembly are commonly “viewed by those in power as tools for a platform to be completed.” Sarabok also mentioned that there is clearly a division within the UPUA, citing evidence in the fact that more than fifteen individuals did not endorse the presidential ticket in last week’s elections. He expressed his vision for unifying the Assembly around the singular goal of improving student lives. Sarabok also asserted himself as the only candidate to endorse making Outreach a standing committee.

Tyler Akers, the former Student Life Chair of the 13th Assembly and 2018-2019 Student Fee Board chair, illustrated his vision for building UPUA to new heights. He emphasized his number one goal of ensuring that “all members of the organization feel respected, not belittled or bullied.” Furthermore, Akers noted his desire to develop a strategic plan over the summer for UPUA, so that members can look toward the future rather than simply focusing on what is happening today. He mentioned implementing weekly speaker workshops and utilizing his connections with administrators and faculty at the university to get things done.

After each candidate spoke, the Assembly engaged in a heated discussion that lasted for nearly half an hour before a secret ballot vote that left Sarabok victorious.

Committee Chair Elections

Eberly College of Science Representative Diego Santos ran unopposed for Chair of Academic Affairs and, of course, was elected. He served as Vice Chair of Academic Affairs under Chelsey Wood during the 13th Assembly.

At-Large Representative Marlowe Galbraith was elected as Chair of the Facilities Committee over two other nominees, Alexis Burke and Tyler Ladzinski. Galbraith’s platform involved working more closely with Outreach and Sustainability to hear as many student voices as possible. She said she also hopes to change committee structures and implement new collaboration sessions among members of UPUA.

Zachary McKay coasted to victory as well, running unopposed for Chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee. In this new position, McKay plans to encourage greater collaboration among the Pennsylvania Association of State Related Schools (PASS), utilizing joint capital among these institutions. He also hopes to see greater service by the UPUA within the borough, supporting various projects, such as adopting a highway and advocating that the Board of Trustees implement a permanent African-American Studies location on campus.

Finally, Jacob Klipstein was elected as Chair of the Student Life Committee in yet another contested three-candidate election. Klipstein plans to focus on mental health initiatives over the next term, citing the need to do more about the current crisis that exists on college campuses everywhere. He also made it clear that he’ll be a champion for student healthcare, ensuring that services like STI testing are free and accessible to the entire student body at Penn State.

Ben Cutler was confirmed Chief of Staff and the meeting finally adjourned at 1:17 a.m. Thursday. If this is any indication of what future meetings of the 14th Assembly will be like, we surely have a long year ahead of us.

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About the Author

Rory Pelella

Rory is a sophomore from Binghamton, New York and one of Onward State's News Editors. She has been bleeding blue and white ever since her older siblings decided to create a family dynasty in Happy Valley. She loves anything Penn State (especially Yallah), the Yankees and Giants, and a good old fashioned New York slice. Feel free to email her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @rorypelella.

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