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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Meet the candidates running for the Spring 2021 executive ticket

Gator, Change and Keg Party have candidates running for Student Body president, vice president and treasurer positions

Executive candidates for Change Party, Gator Party and Keg Party
Executive candidates for Change Party, Gator Party and Keg Party

Here are the Spring 2021 Student Government Executive Election candidates. Students can chose from three parties -- the Change Party, the Gator Party and the Keg Party -- on Feb. 23 and 24.

Presidential candidates

Change: Wynton White

Wynton White switched to the Change Party this Spring after previously serving as a Gator senator in Summer 2020 because he believes many Gator officials see the opportunity as a resume-builder instead of a way to help students.

White, a 22-year-old sports management senior, was motivated to run for Student Body President after being shocked at the lack of action in Student Government. 

“Time after time, students came into Senate and they advocated, they told personal stories, and they weren’t listened to,” he said. 

He believes minority voices should be better represented in SG, something he can help achieve as a Black man, he said. 

He said his time working for the Gators football team as a defensive student assistant coach taught him how to navigate college life on the schedule of a student-athlete; his experience working at places such as Rec Sports UF helped him relate to students who also have to balance work and studies. 

White’s said his first priority is traffic safety. He intends to advocate for the state to give Gainesville control over University Avenue, an idea he said came from Florida Not One More, a student-run traffic safety advocacy group. He will also advocate for a tunnel underneath University Avenue and a sky bridge connecting midtown with the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, which would alleviate the high-pedestrian traffic around University Avenue, he said. 

White did not elaborate on how he would specifically advocate for these changes or the practicality of building this new infrastructure. 

Change would work on a comprehensive process to address the COVID-19 pandemic, White said. 

As Student Body president, he would also advocate for student antibody testing to potentially exempt those with antibodies from biweekly testing and encourage them to donate blood. Change also plans to enact a marketing campaign to enforce mask mandates and ensure students act responsibly when going out to bars or restaurants with friends, he said. 

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Sarah Duval, a long-time friend of White’s, said they've been close friends since a high school debate competition at Harvard University, when he impressed her with his performance. 

Harvard was his first out-of-state tournament, which are usually more difficult than local tournaments. Despite this, Duval said White performed much better in his event of Lincoln-Douglas debate than any of his teammates expected. 

Since then, she said their friendship developed and strengthened even as Duval moved to Washington D.C. to attend American University while White headed to Gainesville. She said White was always a great teammate, and one of his traits she remembers the most was his commitment to the craft.

“He’s one of the most hard-working, ambitious, creative people that I know,” she said.

Gator: Cooper Brown

If elected as Gator’s Student Body president, Cooper Brown said he would be the first Pathway to Campus Enrollment (PaCE) student to serve in the position.

“I really just want to show PaCE students, Innovation Academy students, transfer students, 

 non-traditional students, that you are just a part of the Gator nation as any other student and that you can leave your mark,” he said.

Brown, a 22-year-old agricultural education communication senior, joined SG Senate Spring of his freshman year. 

Yvonne Brown said she always knew her son was a natural leader.

“He knows how to work hard for what needs to get accomplished,” she said.

Brown’s leadership extends to all ages. In his free time, he coaches a children’s baseball team. After they won a game during a challenging season, he drove home with a big smile on his face.

“Cooper is the coach,” Clayton Stein, a 22-year-old food and resource economy graduate, said. “He is not someone who will yell at you from the stands; he is down to get dirty with you and feel the weights of a loss with you.”

Stein said he met Brown during fraternity recruitment and became his ‘big brother’ in Kappa Sigma. 

He described Brown as dependable, saying he always works alongside other SG members and his fraternity brothers and is present behind the scenes to get things done.

“He really wants to get to know people and understand their needs,” Stein said.

Brown said traffic safety is one of his priorities. He emphasized the importance of the Student Body president’s role in serving as the only student vote in the Board of Trustees, which is responsible for the effective use of the university's resources.

Brown said he will use his position in SG and the Board of Trustees to work with the Florida Department of Transportation advocating to increase students’ safety.

He said his administration is committed to enhancing the overall student experience through Accent, Student Government Productions and Cabinet events to alleviate the pressures that come with being a student during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The role of Student Government throughout the pandemic should be to still bring students together in a way that is safe,” Brown wrote in an email.

In accordance with his campaign hashtag #CountOnCoop, Brown said he wants the Student Body to not only see him as an advocate but also to count on him as a friend. 

“I am hoping that students really do feel comfortable approaching me about anything, whether it is a problem we can find a solution for, or if it is simply building a genuine friendship,” he said.

Keg: Michael Ackerman

Michael Ackerman said the idea to create a new Student Government party came to him three years ago when he met Braeden Allen and Benjamin Haut while doing keg stands at a party. And so, the Keg Party was born.

Ackerman said the three were freshmen with big aspirations and ambitions coming into college and decided they wanted to run for office. Now, three years later, they are.

Ackerman, a 21-year-old finance senior, is one of the founders of Keg Party, the new party running for the executive ticket this Spring. Ackerman is running for the Student Body president position.

“The most important thing about us: We’re fun,” he said. “We like to pride ourselves on the fact we are all new to Student Government and a very people-centered party.”

As a new member of SG, Ackerman admitted to not being familiar with all the policies and responsibilities that come with the position. He also said he is “somewhat” familiar with the Board of Trustees, the university’s final authority body in which the Student Body president serves as the sole student vote — a responsibility Ackerman would be assuming within a week, if elected.

Keg has not released an official platform yet, but Ackerman said the party’s main focus is to provide student stimulus checks — or “stimmy” checks as advertised in the party’s campaign. The party is also advocating for more alcohol sales on campus.

“If you go to the Reitz Union and want some Pollo Tropical, what’s stopping you from getting a beer alongside it,” he asked.

Ackerman is also advocating for safely reopening fraternity houses and parties on campus while following COVID-19 safety guidelines. He believes the university has done a good job at keeping students safe but would like to implement plans to safely speed up the reopening process.

“Our goal is to make college life fun and normal again as quickly and safely as possible,” he said.

Jane Ackerman said her son has always excelled at everything he does, and knows this is no exception.

“He has very strong convictions; however, he is very open-minded and willing to listen to all sides,” she said.

Vice presidential candidates

Change: Matthew Rodriguez

Matthew Rodriguez’s involvement in student organizations is all-encompassing

When his sister asked him what’s new in his life, he began to explain his involvement with the Latin American Summit and his current campaign to be Student Body vice president. When she pressed him for information outside of his academics, he replied, “This is my life.” 

Rodriguez said representing the Student Body fearlessly will be one of his top priorities if elected as vice president under the Change Party. 

“We were elected to represent every student on campus,” the 22-year-old UF public relations senior said. “Whether they look like us or believe the same things as us or come from the same backgrounds, they’re still a part of the Student Body.” 

Rodriguez, who’s from South Florida, said he doesn’t want students to be afraid of or intimidated by SG. He said he wants his constituents to feel comfortable confiding in him and trust that he will represent them well. 

Rodriguez, who is currently a Gator senator, said he switched to Change because, over the Summer, he realized the Gator Party didn’t align with his morals.

Rodriguez said he first pushed back against the party after Branden Pearson was nominated to Internal Affairs Agency Head. As a member of both the Latinx and LGBTQ+ community, Rodriguez said Pearson’s history of racism and homophobia impacted him personally. Rodriguez also received negative feedback from Gator after drafting a resolution urging UF administration to end the use of prison slavery in UF’s agricultural operations, he said.

“I argued with my own party day after day against things that I thought truly were detrimental to the student body,” he said. “It was me at the forefront without fear of any retribution.” 

Rodriguez’s sister, Jennifer Rodriguez, said her brother has always been extroverted and passionate — two things she said make him the best person for the vice president position. 

She said she had always been in awe of Rodriguez’s ability to connect to people. She recalled how he struck up conversations with distant relatives, even when they had seemingly nothing in common. 

“Matthew follows his heart, through and through,” Jennifer Rodriguez said. “If there’s a dream or a goal in mind that he truly, genuinely believes in, he’ll pursue that with all of his heart no matter what stands in the way.”

When she was in college at UF, her roommate Joselyn Rivas was an SG vice president under the Swamp Party, she said, so she has seen the kind of dedication the role requires.

“I know for a fact that Matthew has it in him,” she said.

Gator: Faith Maniti

One of Faith Maniti’s favorite stories is “David and Goliath.” She particularly likes its theme of “desirable difficulties,” which emphasizes the hidden advantages one can access while overcoming an obstacle in life.

Maniti, who lost her mother right before she began high school, said she strives every day to follow in her mother’s steps to be kind and help others in some capacity. Maniti moved to the United States from the Philippines when she was 7 years old with her mother who wanted to give her a better education.

“Watching my mom and the strength she put in as a single mom, no college degree, bringing us to where we were out of nothing, is something I try to be every day,” she said. “Nobody wants to lose a parent, but it’s a matter of how you react to it that can control the course of your life.”

Maniti is a 20-year-old political science junior running for Student Body vice president. As an Asian American woman, Maniti is passionate about contributing to the representation of minority groups in policymaking.

One of Maniti’s main projects aims to increase diversity and inclusion in the university by assigning student organizations to different cabinets. These cabinets would be responsible for advocating for the organization’s needs within SG and helping students find a good fit for them.

Through this, she hopes to facilitate the process for students to find an organization they identify themselves with and create a better understanding through each organization of different student experiences on campus, to make them aware of realities outside their own bubbles.

“This position at the end of the day is a title, and at the very core of it, every part of my job is just to be here, to be accessible and to serve,” she said.

Evelyn Veras, a 24-year-old UF Law student who was SG multicultural cabinet director as an undergraduate, is one of Maniti’s closest friends and a mentor. 

Veras’s favorite memory of Maniti was during the Gamma Eta Sorority recruitment process when she first saw Maniti’s potential to serve the student body as a leader.

Veras said Maniti is naturally the center of attention. However, she was surprised to see Maniti take a step back in a conversation with a group of girls during chapter recruitment and encourage them to share their opinions and insights.

“She wasn’t compromising her leadership, she was not shining away from it, but she was spreading it to other people,” Veras said.

Keg: Braeden Allen

Braeden Allen is running for Student Body vice president because he feels the current Student Government system is not representative of the Student Body.

“Student Government at UF has been inaccessible to the average student for a while,” Allen, a 22-year-old environmental science senior, said. “I mean, it is my fourth year here, and I am still not sure of what happens in that place.”

Allen said his decision to run in this election was very spontaneous, as he and the other two party members decided to register a few days before registration ended.

Among the Keg Party’s plans, Allen said he wants to work to get rid of the two-factor authentication policy to log into UF sites, such as Canvas and One.UF. 

“That is so annoying,” he said. “We would love to get rid of that.”

Allen said while he has no SG experience and is not familiar with the codes and procedures, he is willing to work with his party to learn more about SG and prepare to take over the position.

“If given that power, we would use it to be upon the average student, not representing the Greek life or a section of the student population -- but representing everyone,” Allen said.

Richard Georgia, Allen’s fencing coach, said Allen is selfless and wants to help people without ever expecting anything in return. Georgia said during Allen’s time as a summer camp leader, he would talk to shy kids to make sure everyone felt included.

“Braeden has a way of making people comfortable,” he said.

Treasurer candidates

Change: Amy Nicholas

Amy Nicholas never set out to be a politician.

In high school, Nicholas worked with the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge to write grants and create programs within the community. Her friend and roommate Madison Hillgruber said Nicholas has always been interested in the beauty of nature and the environment.

Now, she’s running for Student Body treasurer. The 20-year-old natural resource conservation and political science sophomore joined the political scene after she learned about the lack of representation in SG. 

Last summer, the Black Student Union asked Senate to execute demands such as changing building names tied to racist people like J. Wayne Reitz and Steven C. O’Connell, requiring diversity training for administrative faculty and instating a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech. When Nicholas learned none of BSU’s demands had been met, she decided to join SG.

“You will be asked one day what you did to fight injustice directly, and I would hope that we all have the ability to say that we create positive change,” she said.

If elected, Nicholas said she intends to increase funding for the UF Counseling and Wellness Center to further develop individual and group counseling and create multicultural group counseling opportunities so every student can feel represented. 

She would also advocate for changing the names of buildings such as the Reitz Union

named after J. Wayne Reitz, a former UF President who supported segregation and anti-LGBTQ+ movements at UF — because they don’t represent the marginalized communities of UF. Nicholas also wants to make the university more accessible for disabled students by installing more ramps and advocating for the addition of a cabinet to represent disabled students in SG. 

Madison Hillgruber, Nicholas’s roommate and close friend, said Nicholas is always looking for opportunities to learn. Hillgruber works with children with autism and learning disabilities and said Nicholas turned to her to make her running platform more accessible and inclusive.

“She really cares,” Hillgruber said. “She genuinely wants to see change, and she wants to see the university succeed.”

Gator: Giovanna Mompremier

Giovanna Mompremier wants to dismantle the belief that Student Government is not for people who look like her. 

Mompremier, a 21-year-old UF public health graduate student, said she would use her position as Student Body treasurer to be an active representative for those who may not be represented in the current SG system. 

“My goal is to make sure that my power and influence are rooted in my culture, my Blackness and my hard work,” she said. 

Mompremier is a Haitian American woman and daughter of immigrant parents. Augustin Mompremier said as a child his daughter was always looking to do extra and volunteer. 

Mompremier also wants to ensure all students and organizations are able to obtain adequate funds from SG.

As BSU’s treasurer, Mompremier said she had experience from the student organization side of the funding system. She said she worked closely with the SG budget system and studied the funding codes to better understand them and provide equitable funding to different organizations.

“I am here to serve you — the Student Body as a whole,” she said. “Your demands and needs are important to me, and it is my responsibility to cater to those.”

Mompremier referenced the strong impacts COVID-19 has on many students’ financial situations and said she wants to work to make the SG funding system an accessible resource for the Student Body.

To accomplish this, Mompremier plans to update the Docutraq system, a system student organizations use to request funding, and expand the SG printing sites to more areas on campus.

Gator began advocating for expanding printing services in Summer, asking UF Information Technology for a printing lab in Norman Hall by the end of Fall.

Vanessa Nevy, a 21-year-old advertising senior and one of Mompremier’s closest friends, said  Mompremier always stops to listen to the people tabling at Turlington Plaza, something she thinks represents her heart and care for people.

“She cares about what anyone has to say,” Nevy said.

Keg: Benjamin Haut

Benjamin Haut doesn’t believe Student Government has used its $22 million budget toward students’ best interests. 

That’s why the 21-year-old business administration senior and member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity is running for the Student Body treasurer position with the Keg Party.

With a budget that large, Haut said he would like to see more funding coming from SG back into the pockets of students. He said not many projects are advertised and available to the average student, except for the rent relief that “no one knew about.”

However, the 2020-2021 SG budget includes funding for student organizations and resources such as membership to campus gyms, student entry to the Harn and Florida Natural History museums, and guest Accent speakers. 

He said Keg is still working on the specific funding projects and plans they will focus on.

“I want to feel that some kid who just got into UF and had this great idea can find funding through SG to turn that idea into reality,” he said. “And that is just not the case right now.”

Haut said he wants to make sure students feel like they can talk to them openly and freely, without being scared of sharing progressive and innovative ideas.

“We are here for students,” he said. “We want the people who feel like they don't have a voice to be heard.” 

Jared Meiselman has known Haut since high school and said he is one of the nicest and down-to-earth people he has ever known. 

Meiselmen, a 22-year-old history and political science senior, said Haut is always looking to help people, whether they ask for it or not. He said Haut has the habit of helping people fix their form while exercising at UF Southwest Recreation Center.

“He is always looking for his next move to make a difference,” Meiselman said.

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Sofia Echeverry

Sofia is a news assistant on The Alligator's university desk. This is her second semester at paper, where she previously worked as a translator for El Caimán. 


Carolina Ilvento

Carolina is a second-year journalism major with a minor in sustainability. In the past, she covered stories and events for WUFT, and she is now reporting on Student Government for The Alligator. Carolina loves to do yoga and go to the beach whenever she isn't writing.


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