On Wednesday, Rachel Williams, who served as the president pro-tempore of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico, was elected as the new president of the undergraduate student organization. Williams snagged the position from incumbent Isaac Romero and ASUNM Sen. Colt Balok.
The Daily Lobo spoke to Williams about her priorities during her presidential term:
Daily Lobo: What would be the main focus of your presidential term?
Rachel Williams: I want to make sure that I keep everything kind of open because, at the end of the day, I am the undergraduate student president. But everything is dictated by them, so if something comes up that needs my full attention, I will make sure that I ask questions. As far as right now and the direction that I am going, it’s really just about creating… this greater collaboration across campus.
DL: One of the biggest issues surrounding ASUNM this past year was the representation of students, especially with the issue about the solvency of the Legislative Lottery Scholarship. How do you concretely plan to ameliorate that problem?
RW: Isaac works so hard in making sure that the Lottery scholarship is solvent. He was just doing everything that he could, and it was unfortunate that that happened. But it became clear that the students wanted their voices heard in a greater way. I can use what Isaac has done correct and some things that didn’t quite go as well for my advantage. I want to make sure that students voices are heard in all big decisions that have to be made. What do students want to see on campus?… I want to make sure that I hold town halls as often as possible and outreach to the senators and to the greater campus community. There just needs to be greater collaboration.
DL: This semester, the state Legislature found a solution that will preserve the lottery for at least two years, but it’s not going to be a long-term solution. Going into the future, what suggestions do you have for a long-terms solution for the lottery?
RW: I’m really happy with the direction senators are trying to take right now. The creator of the scholarship, Sen. (Michael) Sanchez, is currently looking for alternative sources of funding. I’m completely all for that. I don’t want to make any broad statements of what I want to see happen, because I really haven’t done much research, and I know that’s completely necessary… It’s definitely not going to be something that I sweep under the rug next year, and it is very nice that it’s not going to be pressing in my presidency.
DL: A year ago in the spring semester of 2013, there were a couple of sexual assault incidents on campus. Do you think that during the past year, the campus has become safer, and what will you do to ensure that the campus is safe for students?
RW: I just had one of my constituents talk to me about an incident that happened to that individual. We are improving lighting on campus and we are having conversations with the organizations that have a role in it, such as the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and the Sexual Assault Response Team… It still happens on campus, though, but I think that this direction that we’re going is very good. But it’s very important not to say that it’s not an issue.
DL: There’s been a push for more universal restrooms on campus. How are you helping with that initiative?
RW: I am actually sitting on the Universal Restrooms Working Committee. Right now it’s kind of a collaboration between (Queer-Straight Alliance), ASUNM, the Dean of Student’s Office and a couple of the resource centers. Right now we’re just trying for a pragmatic approach. We’re looking at it from what we can do this year and what is simple. We’re looking at single stalls, we’re looking at changing signage. We have scheduled meetings with the dean and we will work with the dean to encourage them to make it a summer project.
DL: Some people have had questions about ASUNM’s financial transparency in the past. How do you plan to improve the transparency of the student organization?
RW: As a former finance chair, I know the inner workings of the Finance Committee. It’s just a huge job that after you send all the emails to student organizations, the last you kind of think to be doing is posting all the money (online). I think if we start making a conscious effort… it’s going to be something that starts changing just because we’re thinking about it. I’ve even thought about using the bulletin boards outside of the ASUNM office to post what the Finance Committee is doing. Also, we really would like to incorporate what money is going where on the ASUNM blog. That’s probably something that we’re not going to be able to set up until the summer.
DL: The ASUNM president sits in the Student Fee Review Board, which involves a lot of interaction with the Board of Regents and a lot of decision making about where student fees go. How do you plan to be an effective member of the SFRB?
RW: I’ll actually be the chair of the SFRB because it rotates every year between ASUNM and GPSA. I have a lot of learning to do. I have a lot of review to do with current members because I want to make sure that I am doing it correctly. I’m planning on having a Skype date with (former ASUNM President) Caroline Muraida because she’s in China right now. I just want to reach out to as many people as possible just so I am an effective leader… I’m looking forward to working with Texanna (Martin), too, the GPSA president who had just been elected.
DL: This semester, the regents did not decide to increase tuition. How do you plan to keep that trend going in the future?
RW: It’s really great that it happened. It just needs to be a conversation that needs to happen over the year, instead of just having the SFRB saying, ‘No, we don’t want to increase student fees right now’… We are so thankful that they didn’t raise tuition, and we just keep reminding them. We can have friendly conversations rather than conversations with animosity… It needs to be a positive dialogue between the two sides.
DL: There have been a couple of racist incidents in the dorms on campus this semester, which might raise a question about inclusion. How do you plan to prevent this kind of incidents from happening again, and how do you plan to make ASUNM more inclusive?
RW: I want to give a shout out to our Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre. He has created the Civil Campus Council and has introduced the Civility Speakers Series. He’s really started opening the doors to having dialogue between potentially opposing sides who have different opinions and asking those hard questions. We can have positive interactions about this topic. I plan to work really closely with Tomás next year during my term.
DL: There’s a resolution to urge UNM to divest from companies involved in human rights violations that failed to pass the ASUNM Senate two weeks ago. Do you support divestment? Why or why not?
RW: The idea of having an oversight committee on what UNM is investing in is because students don’t really know. We don’t have any say on where the University puts money. So, in that aspect, I completely agree that we need to have some kind of oversight on where UNM is putting its money. As far as the specifics, I can’t really say that I’m 100 percent for the resolution how it came through because there were a population of students that were uncomfortable with the larger movement. At any point when a population of students is still uncomfortable about something, it needs to be reconsidered… Right now, I would like to see a more general resolution and more collaboration between the two sides.