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Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Meet your candidates for Student Government’s Spring elections

Gator Party, Change Party candidates are running for Student Body president, vice president and treasurer

Students can vote for 50 Senators, the Student Body president, vice president and treasurer in eight polling locations across campus on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23. Here are the candidates representing the executive tickets for the Gator and Change Parties: 

Gator Party Candidates

President: Lauren Lemasters 

Lauren Lemasters went from being among 50 students in her graduating class to possibly overseeing a student body of 57,000. 

The 21-year-old from Jacksonville is studying criminology, psychology and leadership in her fourth year at UF. 

This year, Lemasters is Chief of Staff to Student Body President Cooper Brown. “In the Chief of Staff role this past year, I've gotten to see everything under the sun having to do with the Executive Branch,” she said.

While the Gator Party platform won’t be announced until Monday, Lemasters said she wants every student to have an enjoyable experience at UF..

While she has enjoyed her time at UF so far, she understands it’s not the same for every student.

Lemasters is also involved with Florida Blue Key, Young Leaders Conference and her sorority Alpha Delta Pi.

Lemasters’ mother, Dawn, described her daughter as a supportive leader who does not do things with the goal of being recognized. When she cares about someone or something, she said, Lauren doesn’t change her mind.

“There's that old adage that nice guys finish last,” Dawn Lemasters said. “Sometimes that's not true. Sometimes the nicest people are the people who can accomplish big things.” 

Lauren Lamasters said a mentor of hers often asks “what do you give a damn about?” Her answer: the University of Florida. 

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Vice President: Daniel Badell

As a first-generation student, Daniel Badell found his place at UF through leadership programs and involvement on campus with organizations like the Hispanic Student Association. 

The 21-year-old political science, international studies and economics junior wants to use his role in SG to empower and further develop these opportunities for others. 

“The experience that you get here is so unique,” he said. “Not only rigorous academically, but there's this huge involvement culture of just giving back.”

In SG, Badell serves as Transition Division Chair. During his sophomore year, he was the First Generation Affairs Cabinet Director. 

Badell enjoys the flexibility SG gives him to pursue his ideas, like establishing the First Generation Leadership Program and First Generation Student dorm, which opened in Fall 2021.

“I think a lot of times when we do take risks, we're scared of the outcome,” Badell said. “Nine times out of 10 it's welcomed and it's encouraged and you're empowered to do so, and our administration will be a reflection of that.”

Fifteen years ago, Badell and his family fled his birthplace of Cuba to move to the United States. When he arrived at UF during Summer B, he took part in UF’s PROMISE program, which helps first-year students transition to college. There, he found a community. 

He also joined HSA’s Mentor Leadership Program during his freshman year where he met Kevin Trejos, 22, a master’s of science in management student.

“He's not someone who's okay with good enough,” Trejos said, “He's someone who will break the status quo, who will work harder and seek out any opportunity he can to help out other people.”

While Badell has focused many initiatives on first-generation and Hispanic students, his role as Transition Division Chair has given him a birds-eye view of issues on campus and expanded his involvement, he said. 

He worked on creating a task force for the food justice initiative and advocates for administration to hire a director of advising, which affects students’ mental health, he said. 

Badell also serves as the Vice President for Gators for Israel. In Fall 2021, he joined Florida Blue Key.

On Jan. 26, when Badell was announced as the Gator Party’s VP candidate, he reminded students “si se puede,” which translates in Spanish to “yes, it’s possible!”

Treasurer: Sierra Kantamneni 

On-campus organizations made UF feel like home for Sierra Kantamneni. The 21-year-old information systems junior is running for treasurer to give a voice to the groups that gave her a sense of belonging. 

If elected, Kantamneni wants to fight for diversity and inclusion, close gaps between organizations and student leadership, inform students about funding processes and help update the docutraq system that SG and organizations use to track financial requests, she said.

Kantamneni feels she has found her voice as an Indian-American student through SG and organizations like the Gamma Eta Sorority and the Indian Students Association. 

On move-in day, she was hit in a hit-and-run car accident, leaving her physically and emotionally distressed. Kantamneni said she experienced imposter syndrome and felt out of place. She was used to the diversity of her hometown in St. Petersburg.

“I remember I was looking around my dorm and I'm like: ‘Why am I the only one that that looks like me?’” she said. 

Kantamneni is Chief of Staff to Student Body Vice President Faith Maniti, a role she credits with instilling a sense of belonging that she wants to promote for other organizations.

“Whether it's their cultural organizations, professional, we have a lot of them, so somewhere, there's a home for you,” she said.

Kantamneni won a sophomore Senate Seat in February 2020 and sat on the Budget and Appropriations committee from March 2020 to February last year. 

During her time as an SG senator, she helped author legislation like SSB 2020-1014, a resolution that recognized Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month. 

In the Indian Students Association, she served two consecutive years as the Community Service Chair and has been a mentor and mentee in the association’s freshman leadership program. 

She also served as the Vice President of Administration for Gamma Eta last year and is now the Executive Vice President for the chapter. 

Kantamneni’s fellow sorority member Isabella Campbell, 23, a fifth-year UF industrial systems engineering student, said that Kantamneni is passionate and a good listener. She often comes to Kantamneni for advice, Campbell said.

“She's way younger than me, but she's a leader,” Campbell said. “She's someone I look up to.”

Change Party Candidates

President: Gabrielle Adekunle 

Gabrielle Adekunle wants to remove barriers to access for resources and prioritize safety and sustainability. 

A 21-year-old junior studying political science and business administration, she’s also the Change Party’s Minority Leader in the Senate. She is a District D Senator and oversees the party’s eight Senators. 

As a Black, queer and femme individual, she understands what other people have to go through to feel represented, she said. 

“I'm one of the two Black people in Senate,” she said. “So I understand what it's like to be a minority in spaces.” 

Adekunle ran for a class Senate seat with the party in Spring 2021 but did not win. She served as a Summer Replacement Senator in Summer and won the District D Seat in Fall. 

In Senate, Adekunle has authored legislation like SSB 2022-1002, a resolution that recognizes a Gainesville initiative for zero waste. Adekunle also authored SSB 2022-1003, a resolution commemorating Black History Month. She is working to create a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Adekunle advocates for party platforms like increasing the Later Gator Bus Service and expanding SNAP services. UF and Gainesville’s Regional Transit System have been affected by pandemic-related shortages that have decreased these services.  

Outside of SG, Adekunle founded Take Action Florida, a social justice organization that recently organized a protest for more blue lights on campus. She formed the organization with her freshman year roommate, Catalina Loaiza, a 21-year-old criminology junior. 

“When I see her, I just know she's meant to be a leader,” Loaiza said. “This girl is just completely determined to try to fix these situations for so many different types of people, and I think that's absolutely impressive.”

Vice President: Dayanna Peek

Dayanna Peek wants to focus on creating programs and resources for marginalized students.

Peek, a 20-year-old international studies and public relations sophomore who uses she/they pronouns, said they want to focus on direct representation and accessibility.

“I don’t want to be just a figure lurking in the shadows that only comes out to large scale events,” she said. “I want students to look around, look on campus, and be like: ‘Oh, that's my Student Body vice president right there.’”

If elected, Peek would work to include more gender neutral restrooms on campus and improve accessibility for students with disabilities, they said. 

In Fall 2020, Peek was selected as the director of social justice for UF’s Inter-Residence Hall Association. They helped found the Lavender Living Learning Community, UF’s first gender-neutral housing option, where they are now a Resident Assistant. 

Peek also helped lead the Writing on the Wall project where students painted words that had been used to harm or marginalize them on bricks, followed by a ceremony and conversation about racism and discrimination.

Ryan Wilder, a 22-year-old UF graduate and Change Party founder, asked Peek to get involved with the party in 2020. 

“The second you meet Day, you have a friend and someone that will fight for you,” Wilder wrote in an email.

Peek was selected as the Change Party’s candidate for the Beaty Tower Senate seat in Fall 2020 and ran for a sophomore Senate seat the following year. They did not win either position. 

Despite the losses, Peek said the party noticed their campaign efforts and wanted them to hold a position on the executive board.

In Spring 2021, Peek served as the party’s deputy social media director alongside the party’s current president Cassidy Campbell.

Treasurer: Kenya Warner 

Kenya Warner became involved with the Change Party during her second semester on campus. Her roommate was on its executive board and told Warner about the party’s platform.

One of the Change Party’s platform points has been increasing resources for UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center, something that inspired Warner to slate with the party for a Senate seat.

The 20-year-old computer science sophomore is originally from Parkland and attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. When Warner came to UF in 2020, she was frustrated with mental health resources on campus, like months-long wait lists for an appointment with the CWC. 

“I felt like as a student, mental health is something that needs to be prioritized, especially coming to a top five university,” Warner said. “That was a big reason of me wanting to get involved in student government.”

Though Warner didn’t win the Senate seat, she became involved with the party and is its current treasurer, which she has served for three semesters.

She has combed through SG’s budget to see where funding could be improved to support initiatives like the party’s platform point to increase blue lights on Frat Row, she said.  

Monique Miquel, 20, a sophomore studying political science and economics, introduced Warner to the Change Party. Miquel, Warner’s roommate, described her as intelligent, qualified and able to see things from many perspectives.

“I’ve always admired her breadth of knowledge,” she wrote in an email. “Even though we are the same age, I see her as a role model.”

Aside from her work with the Change Party, Warner is a member of Swamp Records, a student-run record label that promotes artists in Central Florida, and works on an artist team and Spotify Team.

Contact Maia Botek Contact her on Twitter @BotekMaia.

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Maia Botek

Maia Botek is a third-year journalism major and Spanish minor covering student government this semester. Maia is from South Florida and enjoys the beach, spending time with her friends and learning about the environment in her free time.

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