Kenny’s Experience Comes with Vision
Amidst the mass of student campaigns plaguing our inboxes and Facebook feeds leading up to this week’s elections, one student’s vision for the Student Council Presidency, and the future of the University, stands out to us as cause for action.
Sarah Kenny exemplifies a dedication to justice; throughout her service at the University, she has advocated for students’ rights and their ability to make a meaningful impact at the University. Her current endorsements include the Minority Rights Coalition, The Inter-Fraternity Council, DREAMers on Grounds, and the Black Student Alliance, among others.
I talked with Kenny about her work with StudCo in the past, her views on the University’s current issues, and the secret to great hair.
AJ: You’re running for Student Council President. Why does the University of Virginia need Sarah Kenny right now?
S.K: In a tense period of time, rife with uncertainty on a number of issues at the University and the greater community, UVA needs an effective and collaborative bridge between administrators and students. Throughout my three years with the Student Council, I have cultivated meaningful relationships with both students and administrators who have helped me accomplish goals in the spheres of public service, fair housing and leasing opportunities, and support for marginalized communities.
Now we face questions like: What does student self-governance mean in our 200th year? How can we ensure that the Board of Visitors prioritizes diversity in vetting candidates to take on President Sullivan’s role? How can organizations such as DREAMers on Grounds work with Susan Davis and the Office of the Vice President and Chief of Student Affairs to tailor resources to those individuals they support? What do we need to do to defend Access UVA?
I am not only the sole candidate who has been thinking about these pressing and imminent matters facing UVA in the coming months, but…
I am also the sole candidate who has already begun work on how to best advocate for students in each of these critical conversations.
AJ: Can you tell us more about your campaign slogan “Equity Matters, Experience Matters”?
S.K: I am aware of the anti-institutional, anti-traditional school of thought that many students on Grounds profess. While I understand the motivation behind this school of thought, I embrace the philosophy that radical change often comes from those who champion reform from within flawed institutions.
In regard to “equity matters,” I am also cognizant and open about StudCo’s exclusive and unrepresentative history. Abraham Axler set out to remedy the barriers to inclusivity as President two years back through his recruitment policies, and Emily Lodge set out to bring together an unprecedented number of student leaders on a regular basis through the Presidential Senate. If elected the next president, I will expound upon the noble work that they began as my objective priority. Whether fighting for student input in the Strategic Investment Fund review process, or disseminating knowledge about legislation in the General Assembly,
StudCo simply cannot operate effectively if it is not accurately representative or relevant.
In regard to “experience matters,” I firmly believe that the leader of this 350-person organization, one that represents 22,000 students and serves as an agency organization, must have the trust of the people who execute the work of the organization for it to even have a chance of running effectively. In my five semesters of attending and leading Student Council meetings, as well as building relationships as a committee member, committee chair, and the Vice President of Administration, I have developed a profound institutional knowledge not only of StudCo, but of the avenues for change at this University.
AJ: Tell us more about your term as Student Council’s Vice President of Administration last year. What were the issues that most concerned you when you entered office?
S.K: After running for VPA, I sat down with the chair of University Board of Elections and expressed my concern about the effects of uncapped campaign expenditures and the long election cycle on mental health, financial strain and the ability of all students to compete for one of these positions. I have worked alongside the UBE this past academic year to advocate for a shorter election cycle to address the University’s inability to involve itself with campaign finance law.
I spent the year investigating how best to address landlord and leasing issues, and established a Peer Housing Advocates program that is beginning work this spring to bring landlords to grounds in panels, advertise free city inspections, work with students at housing fairs, and provide resources as a bridge between HRL and student signing contracts.
A few of the other projects I headed during the term include creating a a Bicentennial Committee to better collect student opinions regarding the upcoming 200th anniversary of the University. I also spearheaded StudCo involvement in the planning and execution of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Town Hall. I brought a diverse array of speakers to our General Body meetings, such as the University Police Department, and the Financial Services and Library Council. And I led StudCo co-sponsorships for GreenDot, Safe Space and UndocuAlly training.
AJ: Seems like you accomplished quite a bit. Where did Student Council fall short last year?
S.K: Due largely to insufficient training and preparation of the representative body and general organization, we isolated many individuals in the minority community after a vote [that failed] to establish DREAMers on Grounds as a CIO. The representative body also did not meet regularly, and we were not legislation focused, but programming focused, which is not our core purpose. We didn’t do enough outreach, nor did we have an effective onboarding process for members. We did not always follow up resolutions with actions, nor did we work to develop more student’s relationships with administrators.
AJ: I want to take a few moments to ask you about some of the issues facing the student body today. AccessUVA, a program targeted for cuts by proposed state legislation, is critical for maintaining a diverse student population. How do you plan on protecting it?
S.K: If elected, I will establish a legislative advisory committee comprised of our StudCo state affairs advisors, the Board of Visitors’ student member, the StudCo Director of University Relations, the StudCo Chair of the Representative Body, the College Democrats and Republicans presidents, and the Vice President of Administration. I will meet with this group on a biweekly basis to discuss state legislation that could dismantle AccessUVA, among other critical foundational elements of UVA that we would be trusted to safeguard. This group would allow us to be on the offensive about harmful legislation and mobilize students through petitions, letters, phone calls and other organizing tools, rather than on the defensive.
AJ: Student Council doesn’t have a regular meeting place on Grounds. Do you think that needs to be addressed?
S.K: Absolutely. I tried to get us to meet in the Rotunda at the beginning of this semester, which will not be possible, but I’ve been experimenting with us gathering in larger meeting spaces so that more students can attend our meetings. If we want students to attend our meetings, we need to be consistent in our location. The Source has been challenging to work with as regards consistent locations, but I plan to work with Dean Groves to secure a large and consistent location. We also don’t have an office like UJC and Honor do on the 4th floor of Newcomb. While the President and Vice Presidents have offices in the PAC, we lack a space for our representatives to meet with constituents. Emily Lodge is in discussions about this issue, and I plan to continue advocating for a space for our organization.
AJ: How do you plan on improving the transparency of Student Council operations?
S.K: We have begun filming our meetings and posting them on our website this past year, and we have always published our meeting notes on our website. Our newsletters have also shifted to solely StudCo-focused material this past year, which has allowed us more space to the student body to shed light on our initiatives. The proposals that I plan to push to build off of these steps are a) a regular blog about ongoing projects b) an opinion column in any news publication that’s interested in featuring the upcoming legislation for the week c) publicizing legislation to the University community the week before it goes to the floor to allow students a chance to engage with its stipulations ahead of time and d) invest in boosting our Facebook posts that share our filmed meetings.
AJ: The Minority Rights Coalition is hosting a debate on Tuesday at 8 in Nau 101 between you and your opponent, Kelsey Kilgore. What should we expect from Kenny vs. Kilgore?
S.K: I am honored and excited to have received the MRC’s endorsement for Student Council President. As evident in my platform, issues of diversity, equity and inclusion that the MRC exists to advocate for will be the premiere focus on my administration. You can expect to hear more about my proposed initiatives at the first such event that I have ever seen take place at UVA. I am looking forward to the debate and hope that it is live-streamed and well attended!
AJ: Now I have to ask, what on earth did you eat for breakfast today?
S.K: My sister, Megan, and I stove-cooked a hearty bowl of oatmeal with bananas, cinnamon, honey, and walnuts. Megan is a 1st year at the University, so we take the opportunity to catch up and eat a meal together when we can.
AJ: When you’re not stove-cooking oatmeal, who do you look to for breakfast options and other important life decisions?
S.K: Ever-spunky, smart, and sassy Anne of Green Gables sticks with me as a childhood heroine! I’ve always adored both her books and movies. A humble character full of integrity and ingenuity, Anne showed me early on the value of standing up for oneself and others even if it’s not the popular or easy thing to do.
AJ: What is the secret behind your hair?
S.K: Moroccan oil.
AJ: Is there really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
S.K: As a past Irish dancer, how could I question the ultimate quest of the leprechaun? Of course there is.
AJ: Why are UVA dorm names so suggestive (i.e Woody, Gooch, Balz-Dobie)?
S.K: Why do the UVA people successful enough to have buildings named after them have such provocative names?
AJ: If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would we use?
S.K: Lemon Tahini. Mediterranean food is my favorite and I like to think I’m a bit zesty.
AJ: Yikes. Where’s the sunscreen?
S.K: Usually not behind my ears, despite my father’s constant reminders whenever we’re out exploring together.
Sarah, thank you for chatting with me and sharing your ideas for the StudCo Presidency and the future of the University. The Declaration unofficially endorses you with a side of zest.
AJ Bakhtari is a second-year who is a Platinum member of Club Penguin.