Unprecedented election

When the ballots are cast on March 17 and 18 to decide who will stand as leader for the St. John’s student body, the result will be the election of either a Trinidadian or Haitian female as Student Government president, a first for the University.

“In my 22 years at St. John’s, I don’t ever remember there being a woman and a woman [running against each other for Student Government president],” said Dr. Jose Rodriguez, the University’s dean of students.

But while the selection of either Daphné Vanessa Pierre, of the R.I.S.E. platform, or Dana Lezama, of the S.E.R.V.I.C.E. platform, can say only good things about the evolution of the Student Government and of government in general, the campaigns have not been without controversy.

R.I.S.E. stands for “Reaching Higher. Inspiration. Student Services. Empowerment,” while S.E.R.V.I.C.E stands for “Serving. Enthusiam. Reliability. Vision. Integrity. Commitment to Excellence.”

The glass windows of Montgoris dining hall were painted on Sunday night in advertisement of the S.E.R.V.I.C.E. platform and, although Lezama and her ticket followed the necessary steps to receive permission from the University, Pierre had two issues with it. The first was that paint covered too much of the windows, not allowing for the advertisement of her platform, as well as the campaign of Chenele Francis who is running for Junior Senator as an independent.

“It’s not so much a complaint, as an observation,” Pierre said. “I hope that in the future of student government, they can have equal advertising space.”

But, according to Lezama, the dining halls are fair game when it comes to advertising and she does not believe rules were violated.

“We came with a plan to paint the windows and left with painting almost the entire downstairs,” she said. “The fact that the [advertising] guidelines aren’t as clear as they should be leads to error.”

Current Student Government President Lawrence King said that an election committee meeting will be held on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

There was also some controversy as to whether or not Lezama was eligible for her desired position because she is recognized by the University as a Manhattan campus student, according to King. A petition highlighting this was being circulated in Marillac cafeteria on Tuesday, but Pierre said it was not at all associated with her ticket.

But Lezama, who is the current SGI treasurer, was elected last year without issue and King said that the elections would be open to Manhattan campus students this year because they pay the same Student Activities Fee as their Queens counterparts.

Both candidates have similar leadership experiences, but a different focus regarding what they want accomplish as president.

Pierre, a junior government and politics/finance major, talks about the “empowerment” of the student body and building a more cohesive St. John’s student community.

“I used to be a commuter, but now I live on campus,” she said. “I’ve seen both worlds and I’ve seen they’re very similar and we need to try to empower them all together.”
Lezama, a 4th-year risk management and insurance major, is focused on SGI’s responsibility in guiding the student organizations toward becoming more unified. She said that students often get overwhelmed and, although they would like to get involved in campus activities, they become inundated with too many unclearly presented options.

“It’s a matter of informing and guiding them,” she said of the campus groups. “We are their governing body and we must play a more active role in guiding them.”

The full platforms for both tickets are available to all students on the Student Government page of the St. John’s University Web site.

But in spite of its historical context, past history shows that SGI elections are simply not on the minds of the students. In fact, every student interviewed by the Torch did not know either the candidates’ names or how to cast their vote in the elections.

“I wouldn’t say I know anything about it. I couldn’t tell you the difference between the R.I.S.E and the S.E.R.V.I.C.E.,” said freshman Jacki Scott. “I feel like I would vote if I knew how it would affect me.”

According to Frank Jerome, the Student Affairs Business Analyst, 633 students voted in last year’s elections. Lezama’s hopes of the voter turnout breaking a thousand still leaves the number at a 6.73 percent of the undergraduate population.
Manhattan campus student Robinson Muir was unaware that he was even able to vote this year.

“I think someone was yelling something [about the elections], but I wasn’t paying attention,” he said.