By Ülvi Gitaliyev
The following interview was conducted in person by Ülvi Gitaliyev on 01.02.2022. Parts of it have been edited or cut out for the sake of clarity.
Q: You ran once before in 2021, as a candidate for SGA president. Since then, what has changed and what problems still persist in Berea College?
EZ: Well, we’ve started to transition away from the issues being more pandemic-centred. Even though Omicron is obviously still bad and COVID is still a huge issue, it’s no longer quite the issue. The policies for students have lightened up a lot and have gotten more reasonable. A lot of that transition that needed to be guided by the SGA has already taken place. Now that there is a sort of return to normal, we’re also returning to normal issues. Those are things that people have been complaining about for a long time, but that were temporarily overshadowed by the COVID issue. Issues such as gender inequality and gender discrimination. There are some issues with the Labour Department; there are some issues in the way the SGA functions and how it represents students. I would say one of the big problems we’re still facing is the visitation policy.
There’s a real inherent difference in the way that men, women, and trans nonbinary individuals experience. Our systems and policies really reflect a binary understanding of gender, and they’re not respecting us as adults living in the 21st century. If you stand outside in the Blue Bridge gazebo in the fall semester when there are freshmen, you’ll look inside and you’ll see tons and tons of people going in and breaking visitation. That’s is allowed to happen because of the way that the community protects people who are breaking the rules and the way that enforcers are allowing that to occur. Whereas you go to a dorm such as Pearson in a fall semester, very few people there are seen breaking visitation. In male halls, we learn that the community is more important than these policies; whereas, in the female halls, people are learning that the rules, even if they don’t make sense and seem archaic, are more important than the community. So that’s a huge issue. There is also the issue of trans students having difficulty getting into the halls that they want to get into. And of course, these are things that the past administration, Obena’s administration was working on.
The SGA does not do enough to reach out to students and find out what they want us to do. We’re just sort of stuck in a little SGA bubble. We need to actively reach out and represent students. We need to be a force for change on this campus, not just a pool from which the administration can select a student for a committee here and there. We need to be a source of power, not just a source of legitimacy for the administration so they can say a student worked on this reform. Look at this. We hear you. The SGA exists. We hear you.
There are students in the MAC building who wake up at 05:00 a.m. every morning to go and work as FAs, and they have no choice in those hours. And they’re placed in that job as freshmen that disrupt their sleep patterns. It’s bad for their mental and physical health. It’s bad for their ability to engage in social networks on campus. It’s likely going to hurt their grades. There are students on the farm who have to spend lots of money buying work clothing to work on the farm because the farm is hard work. You need specific clothing for it. And that labour position is not providing them with the equipment they need to serve in that labour position. So, we need to be able to provide our labourers and our workers with the equipment they need to work their job so that they don’t have to pay for that very expensive equipment out of their own pockets.
There are other issues that I’m passionate about, but I trust in student activists to organize and raise awareness about those issues. I trust that we’re going to build an SGA that’s going to be active and responsible and work with those activists, not just taking what those activists say and saying “we’re the SGA, we’re going to work on this” and shutting them out, but instead letting them in and saying “we’re going to work with you on this, we’re going to build a coalition, and we’re going to approach this issue together”. So, like, I know that there are people right now working on dining reform, and I’m very interested in that, and I’m very interested in working with any activist groups that are working on an issue and really tackling that together.
Q: Last semester, you brought about a great change in the struggle for housing reform outside the SGA. Do you believe that change from the inside is more effective?
EZ: I have always believed that it needed to happen through a coalition of students and SGA because the SGA is how we change policy on this campus. I believe that the SGA needs to be working with students or it is just twelve students shouting into the void. The movement creates the impetus for change; it creates a mandate for the SGA. The reason that I and my presidential partner are running is so that we can be a part of that change from the inside and take all the experience and research and organization that we’ve done so far. This problem needs to be tackled so that we can do a complete reform because there is a committee created that’s going to write the reform and we want to be on that committee.
Q: Why did you and Connor Courtney decide to run together and how do you two complement each other?
EZ: Connor Courtney is one of the most competent, intelligent, and savvy people that I’ve ever met. I’m very much an idealist. I have a tendency where I’ll have an emotional reaction like what the heck? We need to do something about this. I’ll walk up to other people that I know who are involved in the SGA and I’m like we need to deal with this now. This is life or death.
Connor Courtney, he’s like, “now calm down about this. We need to think about this in a more rational way. We need to go with this step-by-step and in a pragmatic way.” But then other times he’s thinking about something in a very pragmatic way. And I’m like, “hey, we need to remember that we need to put this idealism in this. We need to have this emotion, which is what drives us because ultimately, it’s our ideals, which drive us”, and then we use that rationality and that pragmatism to sort of guide those ideals. This is not to say Connor is not an idealist because I know that he believes in change as much as I do.
Q: What were the successes and shortfalls of the previous SGA administration?
EZ: Successes? I think they did a good job taking in student concerns when a lot of students got together and were like “hey we’re upset about the parking issues on campus” or, “hey we’re upset about visitation issues.” I think the previous administration did a really good job responding to those and creating change there. I think the shortcoming was that it felt a little disorganized and some of their plans hadn’t been fully thought through or proofread. I think that they had their hearts in the right place and that they were working really hard, but I think it sort of suffered from a want of organization.
Q: The election is soon and many students are still undecided; do you have a message for them?
EZ: I would suggest you keep an open mind; do your research. Look at all the candidates; look at their platforms; look at what they’ve done in the past; look at what they’re planning to do in the future. How realistic is it? Is it something that’s going to help you and make this College a better place? And to make the best decision, you can align with your ideals.
Connor and Ezra’s manifesto can be found here.