While the end of the school year is a busy time for many students whose thoughts are focused on finals or graduation, newly-elected members of the Associated Students of Whittier College (ASWC) are already thinking of the 2016-2017 school year ahead. Newly-elected Vice President Sofia Dueñas is one of many Senate members in this position. Earlier in the week, Dueñas provided insight on both the campaigning process and next year.
Park: What was the election process like for you?
Dueñas: It’s been a really tough year for us. I was fully expecting to be thrown into a highly competitive campaign season. But lo and behold, both President Rashid and I ran un-opposed, which has its own challenges because, according to ASWC code, we still do not “win” the election even if we run unopposed without 51% of the votes. Campaigning took a bit of a turn. We did most of it through social media and word of mouth, which came out to be effective. I was nervous in general, I think most people would be, but in the end it was exciting and even more exciting to have the support of many senators on the current table.
What was your involvement in Senate this past year and how will it help you in your new role this upcoming year?
I served as the Academic Affairs (AA) Council Chair this past year. I am the sole representative of AA on the Senate table. My position was incredibly new and innovative and came with a variety of challenges. My role was to facilitate the creation of student councils in every academic department across campus, which means working with deans, faculty, students and various levels of administration.
It was an incredibly challenging, yet successful year. We ran elections for three departmental student councils, two of which had never existed before, in some of the largest departments on this campus. Those included: Political Science, Business Administration and Kinesiology (KNS) and Nutritional Science. So working in that position with that many faculty members and students prepared me and challenged me adequately to take on this new role. The role of VP is to lead the Senate table and inform them, and do a lot of outward-facing work as well and I think my Academic Affairs position had a lot of that involved in it. That’s when I decided that I was prepared to make the jump.
Was it a difficult choice for you to make?
It was definitely not an easy decision. As I thought about what my goals were as both a student and senator, I realized that I would be able to better accomplish those goals as VP. In terms of impacting the image of Senate and how it operates, as VP I have a lot of autonomy to do that. Whereas in AA, I only have enough support to do that in the realm of Academic Affairs.
Giving up my position was bittersweet, and I will be going from a voting member to a non-voting member, which was one of the most challenging points from me. As it stands as VP, I will have less of a voice because I’m not a voting member. But in talking to the people around me, I was convinced that VP was the best direction to go in.
Who were the main people who influenced your decision?
I had been approached by a couple of senators that thought that my skillset would lend itself well to a position within the Senate Executive Board. I had spoken to President Rashid at the time, who brought my name to the table originally as the AA Council Chair. Before that, I had no experience with Senate. I didn’t know what this body was doing. I knew they were doing important stuff, but I wasn’t aware of the bill that created my position or what that position does. So I consulted with him and he challenged me to go for it, at that point, this was the conversation that sparked something within me and I decided to pursue it.
How do you balance schoolwork with ASWC?
It takes time. Senate has its weeks where it’s incredibly challenging, like this week where one of our meetings went for five hours. Being a Senator is a lot more than sitting on the tables on Monday nights. We have committee meetings, I have my governing body meetings, others meet with their constituents and it is different for everyone, but it is a huge commitment. So, while that can be incredibly challenging, at the end of the day we are students first and senators second. We would not be here if we weren’t excelling academically and there are GPA requirements we must adhere to. I recognize that there is a place for my work in Senate, but first and foremost, I am a student and scholar and must dedicate myself to that. That is the best way of balancing it out — realizing what needs to come first. It is a game, no one is perfect at it, and I think that the senators around me are going through a similar situation. We’re all kind of in it together.
What are your primary goals going into next year?
Strengthening committees. As a Senate, we have a variety of committees that do a variety of different work i.e.: student feedback, campus relations, etc. All of these play a vital role in ensuring that Senate is responsive in serving the student body and approaching different issues. Anyone can serve on a committee — it’s intended to be a collaboration between the public and Senate. As it stands right now, there are very little members of the public serving on committees. So one of the things I hope to accomplish is to increase this. Committees are extremely powerful and can do amazing things. Ensuring that they are set up for success and having continued membership is mainly where my goals lie.
Do you have a message you’d like to get out to the student body?
Get involved! Senators are always looking for students who are willing to provide feedback and make their voices heard. We are here to listen and represent every one of you. The more information we have, the more powerful of an organization we can be. Hopefully as this year comes to a close, we’ll have an opportunity to get some feedback in order to make some great changes here at Whittier College.