Barbara Samaniego and Raheela Ahsan on health and safety

Credit: Aisha Han/Junior Photographer Credit: Aisha Han/Junior Photographer

Zeke Rosenberg (senior staff, The Tartan): Why did you decide to run, both individually and as a team?

Barbara Samaniego (junior economics and professional writing dual degree, student body presidential candidate): Since freshman year, I have been seeing several problems with the cultural climate of the school, and they are mostly due to student unity. This leads to other problems such as students not feeling that Carnegie Mellon would adequately address their needs, an apolitical atmosphere surrounding the student culture, and in general, people’s needs being neither addressed nor heard by the administration. I approached several people for running mate because I wasn’t sure whom to choose, but I decided on Raheela because we work well together; we’re good friends; and she’s an excellent speaker and had really similar visions to mine for the school.

ZR: And, Raheela, what made you decide to join?

Raheela Ahsan (sophomore economics major, student body vice presidential candidate): This was partially due to my previous work experiences. I have a huge interest in politics and have been keeping up with the elections. Last summer when I worked with my congressman, I noticed the disconnect between the average citizen and how Washington, D.C. makes laws and how little citizen input there is. I realize now that it’s my second year here, that I see the same things exist at Carnegie Mellon, especially when I’m seeing my tuition increase, but I’m not seeing where it’s going. I’m seeing all of these amenities that Carnegie Mellon offers and advertises, but I’m not seeing students utilize that. There is discord between the students and the separations within the student body that I personally have been a victim of and I would like to see that changed.

When Barbara came to me with her platform, I agreed with a lot of the issues she was advocating for and so I chose to run with her.

ZR: What do you bring to the table as a team? How will you be able to work together to bring about your desired reforms?

BS: Raheela and I are friends. We know each other pretty well and we like working together, so it’s easier for us to coordinate since we know each other so well. It’s easier to plan and flesh out ideas because I’m not afraid of criticizing anything Raheela has to say and Raheela always offers me constructive, positive criticism.

It’s so much easier for us to build on ideas this way because we are running as students who actually care, not as two huge social powers that want to get many votes and offer arbitrary concepts that don’t really address any needs. We are people who have been reaching out to the student body to understand what they need changed, what they want changed, and we’ve been working on it as friends, candidates, and concerned students, not as political figures.

RA: To further what Barbara is saying, it’s also important to recognize that both of us come from different backgrounds. I have more of a math and technical background, and she has more of a literary background. We both have very separate experiences, and we know different aspects of the student body. This has allowed both of us to reach out to a lot of different people and, cumulatively, these are things that we’ve pulled. From our different experiences, we’ve noticed that these common themes were apparent in all these different social groups. That’s what we wanted to change because this is clearly not an “x-specific” issue, this is a Carnegie Mellon-wide issue and complaining about it day after day isn’t enough. At some point, you do need people who are going to advocate for that change and so we figured why not let that be us.

BS: I started talking to people within the English department who are professional writing majors that aren’t really present on the social scene and only really talk to other professional writing majors, and they were telling me about these problems that they were seeing with the school — an apolitical atmosphere, their voices not being represented — and I asked my graduate student friends, they said “undergraduate student politics don’t even care about graduate students, we don’t know what to do with our kids, we want to reach out to you but we have no way of doing that.” These were issues that we saw all across the board and Raheela talked to her math major friends and they said the same thing.

I initially wasn’t sure if I was going to run because I had all of these ideas and I was trying to push policies through other means and through just advocating for them. I decided to run because I had a set of policies that were very specific for a student body president to set in motion.

ZR: Let’s talk about policies. There are some that struck me as difficult to enact from the presidency. The first is Health Services. Affordable service and better hours is a common goal, but how do you plan to actually pursue that?

BS: That’s something we have to petition. We have to petition for a more effective use of Carnegie Mellon health insurance. Instead of that insurance going towards things that are unnecessary such as waiting room water cups, it would go towards free STD testing, free birth control, stuff like that, which students actually need.

RA: I know that health services, at least in the past year, has seen a change. They hired a new desk attendant and reshaped it.

BS: However, there should be a good reallocation of the funds that Health Services has.

RA: We want to be able, as president and vice president, to talk to administration in seeing whether we can get med students from the University of Pittsburgh as part time jobs or some off-time nurses who can’t work weekdays to come in on weekends so that even if we have limited hours at Health Services on the weekends, at least it’s open, because currently it’s not.

BS: So there would be at least one person to walk in and schedule an appointment with. Even an EMS student could sit there for five hours; you could pay them by the hour; Pitt students could view it as an internship, things like that. That’s a simple way of figuring out if that student needs further medical assistance or if that student just needs Ibuprofen. I’ve had to call EMS on the weekends because I had a concussion. They just sent me straight to the hospital, which is completely unnecessary and really expensive.

RA: The pressing issue is the cost; maintaining it, getting workers in on the weekends. I personally don’t think that’s a big issue because it’s not that there’s a shortage of funds being allocated towards Health Services. That’s one of the biggest things everyone’s tuition includes — insurance and student safety. A lot of that is allocated towards Counseling and Psychological Services and multiple other things and both of us personally feel, since we both have studied economics, that there probably is some throwing away of funds on useless things when you could channel them into working hours for keeping the facilities open on the weekends. You would have to go through the administration, but that would give us more power as Student Government president to do that.

BS: That was also one of the big reasons we wanted to push for Entropy+ being open 24/7. I know that if you pay with a credit card, then the university loses money, but we want to push for them to allow students to pay with cash and get some discount on it and then, because of the money that the school would save with that, they could have Entropy+ open 24/7 so that students would have access to medication on campus in a central location and food in a central location. If students are sick at 4 a.m. and they need to get Ibuprofen or a fever reducer or they have allergic reactions and they need Benadryl, they have to be able to go somewhere on campus to get water, Gatorade, Tums or whatever to feel better. They just do not have access to anything like that until 7/11 which is all the way in Oakland.

RA: You have to go to Rite Aid either towards Pitt or towards Squirrel Hill], both of which you have to take a bus to and buses stop running at 2 a.m. If it’s cold outside, no one is going to go so you would just rather suffer until 6 or 7 a.m.

ZR: Let’s talk about the expansions you want to make for dining; you want to add options that are Kosher, Halal, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.

RA: These are various ideas.

BS: We’re reaching out to various cafes across the Pittsburgh area to have some sort of cheaper deal, like Gluuteny has a deal with Carnegie Mellon where they can have gluten-free products and it’s relatively inexpensive for Carnegie Mellon. The one problem we accounted for is the CulinArt deal so we would reach out to CulinArt and see if they have any of those products and if those products can be expanded.

Our main effort is reaching out to the cafes to actually make sure that there are some food options like that. What we saw as a great barrier to unity in dining not having enough food options is that not having the food options that students need is physically separating students from that eating location and not allowing for there to be [a] central place for everyone to be able to have food. Personally, I’m lactose intolerant, but it’s hard for me to find food without lactose, so I just eat it anyway. That’s not a big problem, but it surprises me how students can possibly find anything on campus if they have to eat dairy-free or gluten-free.

RA: Elaborating on the dining point more, Carnegie Mellon is already in partnership with a halal butcher in the Oakland area and a kosher butcher as well, which is why we have kosher options. I feel like the Kosher push was probably due to the influx of Jewish students that we have and AEPi’s influence because I don’t think Carnegie Mellon on it’s own would just grant kosher options to everyone. For example, Carnegie Mellon has very limited halal options — they have cold cut sandwiches and Rice Bowl serves halal meat — but they have this halal meat coming in from a certain butcher. It would just be a matter of going to them and asking them to increase the amount that they donate or give to Carnegie Mellon from, say, 10 percent to 15 percent. Similarly, Gluuteny itself is an incredible bakery, but they give us all their packaged, sad products that sit in Entropy+ and no one wants to eat.

We want to negotiate to see if they could bring in fresh baked items or provide the dough so that someone can bake it at CulinArt. An issue is that while CulinArt is cooking all this food, all they have to do is swap out different ingredients. The food can continue as is, but you just have to swap out ingredients to maintain accommodation for different diets. This would just mean supporting local businesses here and getting them to supply their ingredients.

BS: That would be the same price if not cheaper because these businesses are local and they would be selling directly to the university.

RA: Especially the imports that CulinArt has to do for their food.

BS: In general, we found that the options we have here that are halal and are kosher are very expensive, so we’re looking at bringing the cost of those down as well so the cost of those options at least equals the cost of other products.

ZR: Expand on exactly what “make #CMYou the best it can be” means.

BS: There are a lot of people at CMU with a lot of ideas and we want to make sure that all of those ideas and voices are adequately heard, represented, and able to be represented. When all of the student body works together to ensure representation, then this school is the best that it can be because these are the concerns and the voices of all of these students.

RA: Making something the best doesn’t exclusively mean changing it, it could also mean making the current product more efficient. There are currently resources and amenities that Carnegie Mellon itself offers that students are unaware of. An example would be more utility of the Career and Professional Development Center, which literally helps you write your resume and analyzes it for you and based on different majors, they give you a different format and template. They also help you write cover letters. You can go get headshots taken in the [Cohon Center (CC)]. You also have access to 3-D printing. There is access to amenities at Carnegie Mellon that students aren’t aware of and your tuition pays for things that you don’t even realize you should or could be using.

BS: There’s such bad publicity of everything for people not in Greek life and for people who are international because they just never get to hear about it because it’s all done through social media, Greek life, and organizations. There’s no central place for people to talk and be aware of the services that Carnegie Mellon offers. This is why people are so upset over the fact that there isn’t a place to have help for academic services and there is, but no one knows about it.

RA: There would be a two-part plan, making Carnegie Mellon the best would be improving your current situation and then also changes that we want to implement.

ZR: Is there anything else you might want to add?

BS: Another big one that directly addresses student unity is the graduate student mentorship program and graduate student representation on cabinet. We want to inform our cabinet with graduate student representatives because a lot of the needs of the graduate students aren’t being heard and addressed. In general, the graduates feel very separated from the undergraduate population as though they don’t really have a central place. They have a lounge, but it’s not like the [CC] Black Chairs. They have problems with places to put their kids during the day and parking and none of those needs are getting addressed by Student Government or pushed towards the administration because they are so left out and forgotten at the school. This is a huge pool of people who, if we bring into our community more, could help us in return. A lot of people at Carnegie Mellon don’t understand what they are doing. They might need guidance, support, and a mentor to look up to even if they are not in Greek life or an organization or a mentorship program. A graduate student population that exceeds the undergraduate student population means that each graduate student could be paired up on a voluntary basis and then serve as a mentor for the an undergraduate student’s time at Carnegie Mellon. They would have someone to automatically be friends with and to look up to and ask questions.

Another big portion of our platform was sexual health at Carnegie Mellon.

RA: Our main focus is probably student health and safety.

BS: We were looking into various ways of decreasing the rate of sexual assault, which has been growing at Carnegie Mellon for the last three years and having an anonymous support network where students could reach out to and get help with if they are sexually assaulted and make the process of reaching out and reporting sexual assault easier. We do have a system right now [but] it’s not fully anonymous and they do reserve the right to press further action and investigation [so] they don’t remain anonymous to that person. If there was an anonymous hotline that people could call outside of CaPS — because they don’t actually answer — it would greatly benefit those students.

RA: Other candidates such as Mike and Olivia’s platforms are centered around issues like this and mental health as well but, unfortunately, they haven’t offered specifics as to what they might fix or what they were going to do, they just pointed out problems.

Personally, as someone who has been a victim of sexual assault, the reporting of that is flawed. Firstly, everyone tells you to go to CaPS, so when you go to CaPS you have to sign up. Then you have the assessment meeting, which is completely useless because you just want to talk to someone and have it resolved right away. Finally you schedule the actual meeting and then it’s a different person and in my experience, I had to go out of my way to remain anonymous. They have a semi-private obligation to report. It would be somewhat anonymous until the charges go through, but then they would have your name on it. I know with CaPS, it’s not anonymous at all, which is a very awful situation because I know other people who have been in worse situations and that creates a lot of difficulty in reporting and taking care of that.

We have Campus SafeWalk and we have the Survivor Support Network (SSN). A lot of people don’t know what those are and a lot of people did not know SafeWalk was a thing. We spoke with our friend who was on SafeWalk for two years and he said he never had to walk anyone home because no one requested it.

BS: I find that really weird because a random person has stalked me down Fifth Avenue and I feel like if I had known that such a service existed I probably would have called them instead of calling my friend. It’s so weird that these services exist but students don’t feel safe. They feel scared of reporting because of this apathetic cultural climate and they don’t want to report sexual assault cases because they don’t want to get the fraternity in trouble, they don’t want friends to hate them, they don’t want to be viewed as slutty or drunk or a bitch or anything like that. They always are and that’s a Carnegie Mellon-specific problem and a climate-specific problem.

That can only really be fixed by student unity. We can try to implement these policies but we’re really going to push for a more unified campus.

RA: As well as support and understanding. Moreover, we also spoke with the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and IFC said they have made things a lot stricter with frat parties. Even so, people don’t understand that amnesty is an infinite-usage policy. I know that when I came in as a first-year my RA said that I could only use it twice, which is completely false. People don’t understand how amnesty works and amnesty literally saves lives; that’s the point.

BS: People don’t understand how that program works. They never want to call because they don’t want to get their organization in trouble.

RA: They would rather be passed out with a chance of dying on their couch rather than get amnesty called on them. Campus police is there to support you. They’re not going to cite you for being drunk. There are a lot of things at Carnegie Mellon that currently exist that you just need to publicize them and make it clear what Carnegie Mellon is here to help you do and what is it not here to help you do.

ZR: I’m going to ask a question about something you said way in the beginning of that. After writing an article a month or so ago about mental health issues, a group approached me that was working on an anonymous support network for people with mental health issues. A common problem with these is that peer-to-peer and anonymous networks can put people in situations they aren’t emotionally equipped or qualified to handle or even people who want to use the network maliciously. How will you ensure this support network is safe?

RA: Student senate has been working on an anonymous hotline program starting this summer that you can use if you just want someone to talk to, which I think is an incredible idea. We’re not thinking of an Alcoholics Anonymous-type sit in a circle and talk about your problems and xyz happens program. The problem is confidentiality and liability issues, which could create so many problems. If you’re twenty and I’m twenty-one, honestly, I don’t trust you to not tell people about my problems. What we were thinking was somehow implementing a policy change. When I go to CaPS or speak with my advisor, professionals would be open with reporting. They sometimes don’t let you know if they’re reporting. That’s happened previously. I believe students have dropped names and then the person they meet with says they mentioned something. If that was against my wishes, then why did you do it? You’re violating your policy and my trust in you as my therapist.

CaPS itself does not have professionals to accommodate for these needs and ideally you want to say hire better people but obviously that’s not something we can fix. We want to see if we can push for SSN or for CaPS in having some sort of voluntary anonymous policy.

BS: More so SSN because CaPS has all of these issues with liability of the school and they have to fill a certain quota and are not really able to do anything at all for anything so we want to make this student run and create a shift in the paradigm of student culture.

RA: Or at least student support and understanding that it’s okay if you go talk about your problems and what happens because the professionals aren’t going to hurt you, they’re here to help you.

BS: At least if someone comes out saying “I was a victim of sexual assault,” we want people to not blame them and say if was their fault, they were too drunk, they did this, they were dressed provocatively, which seems to be very Carnegie Mellon-specific.

For the Health Services cost, we would also like to offer victims of sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking support through a medical clinic so we want to offer them free Plan B, free STD testing, which isn’t offered and you have to pay for it along with a medical examination, which is ridiculous in my opinion. Not only has this happened to you, but you also have to pay for it, which is completely unfair. It’s not looking out for the students.

RA: If you don’t have Carnegie Mellon insurance, a lot of the issues that you can go to a clinic for, if you go here to Health Services, you have to pay exorbitant amounts. For example, Plan B is really expensive and also STD testing is expensive, it’s between $60 and $80 but a clinic is significantly cheaper, sometimes as low as $25 for STD testing. I understand you want to pay lab fees and stuff but sexual health is important, we have to watch out for STDs, we want to find a way to lower the cost of that.

BS: We also want to have more awareness of sexual health at Carnegie Mellon; we don’t think that’s addressed here at all. I went to an all-girls school so I didn’t really understand anything about sexual health until I got to Carnegie Mellon and we had AlcoholEDU and there was some stuff about relationship violence but it was very underplayed, unserious, and uninformative. It’s just something students need to know about when they come into college.

RA: I was on the opposite end of that spectrum, I also went to an all-girls school, but my school was a single-gender environment so we were very open with talking about sexual health and relationship violence and things like that. I grew up with sex ed knowledge way beyond my peers. When I came to college, people didn’t know anything about condoms and safe sex and getting tested. A lot of people are misinformed about that.

All these issues we have brought up, alcohol awareness, SSN, the current amenities that exist at Carnegie Mellon, our solutions to all of these is basically that we want to have a reorientation program. You have freshman orientation, but there are five billion things happening at one time. You’re not just worried about all these things because there are classes and dorms and people and friends in the way. We want to have something implemented after, end of sophomore year and beginning of junior year, so midway through your college career, where everyone takes an online course like AlcoholEDU and looks through it. We need awareness that all these services exist. Your tuition is covering these costs and this is exactly everything offered. Because people’s experiences from their freshman year to their junior year are crazy different, things that you never even expected — like sexual assault help, who ever even thought of that when they were 17 or 18 — are more important things now that you’re 20 or 21.

ZR: Is there anything you want to add before we’re done?

BS: To wrap up, all of these link back to student unity and all of them link back to creating a better cultural climate at Carnegie Mellon, helping students understand each other better, helping students see more services that are offered, breaking down physical barriers that divide students, and creating more collaboration across disciplines both physically and through our cultural climate.

ZR: Alright, then. Thanks for your time!