Two graduate students are running to become the next president of the graduate student government in an election that runs (online) from April 1 to April 4.
Graduate and professional students at the University of New Mexico will select either Muhammad Afzaal or Sara Gutierrez as the next president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association.
“Are you prepared for your whole life to change?” asked Andrea Abeita to Afzaal during his pitch to the council at the March meeting, referring to the responsibility and stress that she said comes with the job.
Afzaal is studying community outreach and planning and Gutierrez is studying public administration.
Both candidates have limited experience with GPSA.
Afzaal said he volunteered for a few days under the administration of Glenda Lewis, whose term ended in 2017. Gutierrez said she became involved in GPSA during the appropriation process for World Affairs Delegation in February. During that meeting, the chair put out a call to the gallery for new members to fill vacancies on the finance committee — Gutierrez volunteered.
“I saw an opportunity to get more involved and really saw some stuff that needed work and change,“ Gutierrez said.
However, both candidates said they have experience with student government and student organizations.
Afzaal was involved in student government at his undergraduate school and Gutierrez’s group WAD uses parliamentary procedure in competitions.
Both candidates said engagement — within GPSA and among UNM graduate and professional students, especially those on north campus — is among their top priorities.
“Lomas is the dividing line,” Gutierrez said referring to the perceived divide between north campus and main campus. She said changing that engagement would be a step in the right direction.
“We want to rethink engagement,” Afzaal said, adding that he wanted to set up meet and greets between academic departments and GPSA. He also said it is important to inform students about what GPSA does and how it can be of use to grad students.
Within the council, engagement has also been a struggle this semester. For example, in the March meeting, Kyla Charlee, acting as council chair, said the former Legislative Steering Committee Chair Texanna Martin had stepped down. Sara Samani was unanimously appointed to fill the position. However, only one council member volunteered to be on the committee. Without a quorum, the committee can’t meet and pass legislation, per state law.
Back on north campus, which houses the UNM Health Sciences Center and the School of Law, Afzaal said he would consider hosting outreach events in order to engage and inform those students about what GPSA does.
“There’s kind of a stereotype that those not involved in GPSA see. I didn’t really understand what GPSA did, I just knew that I’d get the emails and they’d have events occasionally,” Gutierrez said, adding that she believes a lot of students aren’t aware of what GPSA has to offer.
Afzaal also highlighted the president's role on the Student Fee Review Board. The next GPSA President will not only be the chair of the board, but will also sit on the Budget Leadership Team, another major board that helps decide how tuition and students fees are spent.
“We would like to make sure that there (is) transparency in those resources and fair and equal distribution,” Afzaal said. He added that he wants to make sure students knew how much each department received.
As for turnout, “it’s a crapshoot,” said Election’s Committee Chair Gregor Hamilton.
The results of the election will be available on April 5.
Justin Garcia is a staff reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers student government. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @Just516Garc.