The process of approving committee and Senate seats caused debate last week after a freshman was selected to represent sophomores and graduate seats remained vacant.
The Replacement and Agenda Committee completed more than 50 interviews to fill 20 vacant Senate seats and 21 committee seats Oct. 10. After R&A recommended candidates to the Senate, all 21 committee seats and five Senate seats were filled Oct. 12.
The committee seats included chairs and members for the Information and Communication, Budget and Appropriations, Judiciary, and Rules and Ethics Committee. Senate approved students for the seats Public Health and Health Professions, Business, Sophomore and two Freshman. However, some senators were dissatisfied with the picks.
Minority Party Leader Gabrielle Adekunle, a member of the Replacement and Agenda Committee, was one of them.
“There were many who were approved that I absolutely agreed with and other choices that fell more than short to me,” she wrote in a text. “Especially the decision to keep the graduate and graduate family and housing seats open.”
The Graduate and Graduate Family Housing seats remained vacant after less than five applied to fill the positions. But Adekunle wrote that she feels as though two graduate students that applied were more than qualified to fill the position.
“As someone who advocates heavily for proper representation, leaving these seats open and denying graduate students two voices that could speak for them feels beyond inconsiderate,” she wrote.
There are more than 13,000 graduate students at UF and nine vacant Graduate seats. Many graduate students, including Reza Esmaeli who applied for a Graduate and Family Housing seat, are concerned about 40 percent of graduate housing being torn down in UF’s student housing plan. Concerns like housing are some of the reasons senators want to see more graduate student representation.
Spencer Gorelick (a District D, Change) spoke during last Tuesday’s Senate public comment to plead for more outreach to get graduate students to apply. Without proper representation, he said, the Senate is lacking the voice of thousands of students with unique issues on campus.
“The adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink may be true,” he said. “But if you lead 13,000 horses to water, at least nine of them will drink.”
Another debated appointment was the Sophomore seat. Students who wished to apply for the seat had to have more than 30-60 credits to give them a sophomore standing. The seat is now filled by freshman Donald Webster, who received the most votes from R&A and Senate.
Webster did not respond to requests for comment.
His ideas included building roofed storage for bikes on campus to prevent weather damage. He also mentioned getting more TV screens or a digital billboard to disseminate information around campus.
“I was taken aback by him,” Majority Party Leader John Brinkman (Sophomore, Gator) said in the Senate meeting. “I thought he was an amazing candidate, he really seemed to want to help others in a meaningful way.”
Adekunle, however, believed his ideas fell short and lacked an action plan to get them done.
“I think that we can all agree that bike repairs and having a roof over them is great,” Adekunle said. “But I think that there are more important things to focus on first.”
Jonathan Stephens, Adekunle’s top pick, also applied for the sophomore seat.
Stephens, an 18-year-old UF food sciences and agricultural education and communication freshman, came prepared with five action plans for each piece of legislation he hoped to advocate for. Although it’s his first semester as a full time student, he attended UF part-time last semester through an internship and has 50 credits.
His first proposed initiative included allocating money through the Budget and Appropriations Committee to the Field and Fork Pantry or other community organizations to combat food insecurity on campus. He also planned to follow through with Gator Party’s platform point to be able to transfer unused flex bucks, an optional debit amount on Gator 1 cards, to students in need.
“I think, overall, it's not about why I didn't get it. But how can I move forward from this to help use my influence as a leader within UF to really help push for change,” he said. I hope to continue that throughout my years within this college.”
As someone who has had to use the resources at the Field and Fork Pantry before, Adekunle felt as though his snub from the Sophomore seat only exacerbated the lack of representation within the Senate.
“Every appointment that was made placed members of one party into power,” she wrote. “We should be working to build a more fair student government instead of playing power politics.”
There are still 15 open permanent Senate seats including one for District E, Arts, Dentistry, Medicine, Veterinary and Graduate and Family Housing. There are nine open Graduate seats.
Contact Allessandra at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ainzinna.
Allessandra is a third-year journalism major with a minor in English. In the past, she has covered local musicians and the cannabis industry. She is now the Student Government reporter for The Alligator. Allessandra paints and plays guitar in her free time.