Students race for top Student Government spots in first contested race in two years
For the first time in two years, UTD’s Student Government chose its leadership through a contested election. Although two tickets entered, only one finished on top.
Adam Richards, an electrical engineering senior from McKinney, said he was inspired to join SG while serving as the president of Rainbow Guard, an organization that promotes LGBT rights and visibility on campus.
“That’s where my activism really kicked into high gear,” he said. “I saw that Student Government could really make a difference in the lives of LGBT students.”
During his time on Senate, he worked on a resolution to protest Texas’ string of anti-LGBT legislation, helped create the Preferred Name Policy for transgender students and is now promoting an LGBT Rights Ordinance for the City of Richardson.
After assembling a team of senators from various activist groups on campus, Richards secured endorsements from organizations such as College Democrats, Democratic Socialists, Rainbow Guard, Pride and the Forum for Autistic Empowerment. His campaign primarily revolved around issues such as diversity inclusion and accessibility.
Because of SG’s restrictions on candidate eligibility, Richards said he was unable to find a running mate for the election. Despite this setback, he still ran without a vice president.
On the other side was the “United as One” ticket, headed by finance and accounting junior Akshitha Padigela as the nominee for president and biochemistry freshman Joey Campain for vice president.
Padigela became the candidate for her ticket when the original nominee, Rebecca Tjaja, had to back out after another commitment came up for her over the summer. Still, Padigela expressed a deep passion for SG.
“It’s been something that I’ve been doing since freshman year. It’s the very first organization I joined,” she said.
For Campain, the current treasurer, his desire to run stemmed from his wish to carry out the ideas for progress he has for the university.
“I’ve just seen that there’s a lot of projects and ideas that I have that, as VP, I can implement all of these with better resources and give more of my time to make sure that all of these projects are accomplished and finished within my term,” he said.
A major component of Richards’ platform was a commitment to overhaul maintenance on campus.
“When I do report something, sometimes it never gets fixed,” Richards said. “(Problems) sometimes are fixed — otherwise, they fall into the black hole of bureaucracy.”
He said the issue of campus maintenance affects handicapped students, in particular. Because of the heavy construction, Richards says, disabled students have an extremely difficult time navigating campus.
“One of my friends has cerebral palsy and he’s in a wheelchair,” he said. “Any time he’s gone to the Accessibility Office to complain, the Office has told him, ‘We’d like to do something for you, but we can’t because we have to give six months notice before a construction project starts.’”
For “United as One,” one of the big goals of the ticket was to bring the different groups on campus under one umbrella.
“The very first item on our platform is uniting leaders around campus and it’s what we based our ticket name as ‘United as One,” Campain said. “We want a united campus, we want communication to be upheld throughout the campus and — as president and vice president — we wanted to meet with all the student leaders throughout the campus to not only tell them what we’re working on, but also to get feedback on what they want to happen around campus.”
Even with all of the idealism that comes with election season, however, the harsh reality of how college elections work struck home to Padigela.
SG elections have always struggled to get a high turnout and this year was no different, with only 7 percent of the student population actually participating in the election. Padigela said it was incredibly frustrating to go up to people and tell them to vote, only to see them toss the materials she would give them about voting just moments later.
“It’s the frustration when you can tell that students don’t really care enough,” she said. “And even if you tell them, ‘Hey, these are things that we’ve done in the past. These are things that directly affect you. These are things that we want to work on. These are things that the other ticket wants to work on.’”
She said there are several reasons why people may not vote. However, she noted people may not realize just how stressful all the work for the election is for those who are running.
“It’s not just, ‘Let’s hand out flyers,’” she said. “It’s someone has to make the flyers, someone has to go print the flyers, someone has to go pay for the flyers, someone has to distribute the flyers to every single member. We have to go plan when people are going to go talk to people, all of that kind of stuff.”
For Richards, although he was tackling serious issues that affect a large number of students on campus, he said it was also important to run a light-hearted campaign and draws inspiration from the Rotnofsky/Mandapalu campaign, a joke ticket that won student government elections at UT Austin last year.
“I don’t want to get lost in the drama that can surround politics. I want people to know that running for office can be fun and rewarding,” Richards said. “It’s an experience in and of itself.”
For Richards, the most rewarding part of his campaign is seeing how students can feel empowered, as members of underserved communities are seldom given access to positions of authority. Richards said he finds comfort in knowing that his campaign will spark a change, regardless of the outcome of the election.
“Even if I don’t win the election, knowing that at least a few of my senators will make it onto Senate and knowing that they’ll be able to effect change is really meaningful. That’s what this is all about,” he said. “This is bigger than me. This is a sustained movement for change.”
After the Race
On March 25, the results of the race came in with Padigela beating out Richards 1,133 votes to 521. Since Campain was the only candidate for VP, he received 1,419 votes.
Despite his loss, Richards said he remains hopeful about his ideas and platform.
“I hope the winning party is willing to implement at least some of Progress UTD’s platform, especially as about half of my ticket did make it onto Senate,” he said. “Those proposals are…necessary things that SG needs to do to become relevant to the student body.”
As she prepares to take the helm for SG, Padigela said she will talk to her predecessors, current president Caitlynn Fortner and vice president Grant Branam.
(I’ll be) talking to Caitlynn and Grant … and figuring out how they want to transition into the next year, what they want to push forward for and make a general plan of things with Joey that I want to focus on,” she said.
Additional reporting by Esteban Bustillos