After Penn Student Government elections in September, the Undergraduate Assembly internally elected its speaker, secretary, and treasurer to the 2020-2021 UA executive board.
The UA elected College and Wharton junior Janice Owusu as speaker, Wharton sophomore Carson Sheumaker as secretary, and College and Wharton junior Nikhil Gupta as treasurer. The elections took place at the Sept. 20 UA meeting, where College senior Mercedes Owens and College junior Mary Sadallah were sworn in as president and vice president of the UA. Owens and Sadallah hold the other two positions on the executive board.
Owusu, who is the first female UA speaker in 10 years, said the speaker sets the tone for how the UA will run every year. The UA speaker’s role includes running general body meetings each week, a task she said has been made more complicated this semester due to the virtual meetings and the need to accommodate members across different time zones.
Owusu said she will urge UA representatives to speak more with their constituents, especially first-year students, to better represent their interests to administration.
“We have a whole entire freshman class who has never stepped on Penn's campus and doesn't know what Penn is about, so we need to make sure we're reaching and understanding their issues as well,” Owusu said.
In order to facilitate more communication between students and UA representatives, she said she will promote the UA’s virtual suggestion box as well as the University and UA surveys to increase the student body's response rate.
Owusu hopes UA members will use the information gathered from these forms to better advocate for students' needs to administration, such as the lack of academic breaks. The University's decision to shorten the one-week spring break to two days prompted backlash from students who cited increased class workloads and concerns of mental and physical health as a result of the online semester.
“Our theme for the year is going to be respectively disrupting the status quo,” Owusu said. “If [administration] says something once, we’re not going to take that as a final word.”
Sheumaker’s role as secretary includes recording minutes and attendance at UA meetings and compiling the agenda for group body member meetings.
The secretary is traditionally in charge of the UA’s Thanksgiving and spring break airport shuttles, which are not running this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee that previously oversaw shuttle operations under the secretary has shifted its responsibilities to collecting student feedback about reopening campus, Sheumaker said.
Sheumaker, who is also the 2023 Class Board Wharton Chair, said he wanted to join the executive board in order to have a greater influence in the changes he wants to see implemented at Penn. He hopes to improve the competitive club recruitment process and add more dining plans to address the issue of excess meal swipes.
As secretary, Sheumaker said one of his priorities is to make first-time UA members feel engaged and part of the UA family despite the virtual set up. He also looks forward to increasing students' enthusiasm and interest with the UA after witnessing a decrease in the number of people running for UA positions this year.
“Most stuff on the UA was uncontested, so just making sure that the drive and energy is still there is something I wanted to make sure happened," he said.
For the new UA treasurer, Gupta’s main responsibility is overseeing the allocation of the UA’s $2.7 million budget in the spring and working with the six branches of PSG and students groups to ensure their funding needs are met.
Gupta added that he will also oversee funding requests from student groups that appeal to the UA for contingency funding throughout the year, and will serve as the UA’s liaison to the Student Activities Council which oversees more than 230 students groups at Penn.
Gupta said he predicts that the budgeting process in spring 2021, which allocates money to UA branches, Penn Labs, and the Medical Emergency Response Team for the 2021-2022 school year, will look different than the previous year due to uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and Penn's in-person operations.
“Even if we're back on campus, things could look like a very different normal, and I could imagine different clubs or different groups on campus would be having different requests," Gupta said.
Under the leadership of two women of color and working with a diverse UA body, Gupta said he and the UA will strongly advocate for marginalized groups, both at Penn and in Philadelphia. Gupta added that the executive board will prioritize placing cultural houses on Locust Walk, a longtime demand of the 6B — Penn's main minority coalition groups. He also pointed to Penn's refusal to pay Payments in Lieu of Taxes as a point of contention within the Penn community and is looking forward to discussing the issue with administrators.
“I’m really passionate about making sure that Penn is accountable for its footprint in the Philadelphia community," he said.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.