Vaasavi Unnava: give students chance to be exceptional

Gutierez and Unnava’s (respectively, left) campaign staff included Designer Bettina Chou (top center), chief of staff Olivia Roy (bottom center), public relations manager Srishti Jain (top right), and Zach Newman (bottom right). (credit: Courtesy of Srishti Jain) Gutierez and Unnava’s (respectively, left) campaign staff included Designer Bettina Chou (top center), chief of staff Olivia Roy (bottom center), public relations manager Srishti Jain (top right), and Zach Newman (bottom right). (credit: Courtesy of Srishti Jain)

The experience of being elected Student Body President has been surreal and exciting. Now it’s time to make the change we promised during elections.

The platform that Aaron and I put together stemmed from a question I heard my sophomore year: ”Why don’t Carnegie Mellon students become leaders?” It was an interesting question because the facts back it up — while our students have the highest salaries upon graduating university (higher than Harvard and Stanford, at the very least), after 10 to 20 years we find ourselves working with lower salaries than our Ivy League counterparts. They’re leading the companies where we may work middle management. In our entire history, only one alumnus has joined the United States Congress (we have over 100,000 alumni).
What’s the deal? Why is this happening?

I don’t know if I have a clear, solid answer. But what I do know is that the most successful, interesting students here they are the ones who have chosen to own and control the way they change the world rather than perpetuate the stress culture or stigma around struggles of mental health.

Student Body Vice President Aaron Gutierez and I created the President’s Initiative to build an infrastructure where this sort of attitude was normal instead of exceptional. By moving the Board of Directors (a meeting of student organization executives) to the beginning of the year, we can set a yearly agenda for social change that all of us can take ownership of, from Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention, to mental health awareness, to academic integrity.

The magnitude of the ways that we can make change through this is awesome. Scotch’n’Soda could team up with Mobilization Of Resolute Feminists (MORF) to do an interactive play on sexual assault and restrictive gender roles in society. Inter A Cappella Council (IAC) could team up all the a cappella groups to show how music plays into race relations. Robotics Club could work with area high school students to increase the number of applications coming to Carnegie Mellon from underprivileged areas.

These are just my own ideas, so they’re not even the best ones. There is so much possibility for change — real, intentional change — and Aaron and I can’t wait to help that happen.

Just as much as leadership is about doing innovative things in the spaces we occupy, it’s about us having the information to ask real questions about our campus community. That’s why Aaron and I want to give students the information to actively question the world around them. So we’re pushing for transparency, both from Student Government and from the University’s finances.

Our current budgetary allocations process can be more transparent. There are so many questions that float around our budgetary process: How are we investing the endowment? Where does the money from our donations go? How do we decide how much money each school gets?

Students pay to attend Carnegie Mellon, but the simple frustration we express at not really knowing how anything works is easily solvable. There should be a regular state of the finances, where we explain how the endowment works, how the budgetary process occurs, and some basic rules for determining budgets. The question we should be asking is not “Why is our tuition so high?” but rather “What spending do we really need?”

We need to be actively involved in the conversation. That’s even more true for Student Government. When a prevalent issue affects the campus community, it should be easy to access one’s student government representatives to make change. Students shouldn’t be left in the dark about what their student government officials are doing for them. That’s what we’re here for.

Aaron and I will continue to work with The Tartan to make our voice and our agenda as public as possible. However, we know the necessity of Facebook in the university media infrastructure — we plan on making a “To StuGov with Love” Facebook group, where students can talk about the pressing issues that need fixing on our campus. More than that, we want to be physically present for you, holding our constitutionally mandated office hours in the most public parts of campus. There shouldn’t be a boundary of access to make campus better.

We are so excited to be elected your Student Body President and Vice President. To be voted into office during such an emotional time at Carnegie Mellon was a truly humbling experience. But to get all of this done, we need some help from you.

Without your help, care, and engagement, our platform is empty. It is built on the existing skills and infrastructures of our campus today and, while it’s hard, I believe we have the capacity to make it a reality.
As said in the Bee Movie (a film I’ve seen dozens of times), “According to all known laws of aviation, there’s no way a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to lift its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway — because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.”

We have the capacity to astound. I am now lucky enough to sit in a position to witness greatness as it happens. So, I say honestly and truly, my heart is in this work. I cannot wait for this coming year.