On Friday, May 4, The Daily sat down with outgoing 2017-2018 Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) executives Justice Tention-Palmer ’18 and Vicki Niu ’18 to reflect on the past year’s experiences and challenges. As president and vice-president respectively, Palmer and Niu also spoke about their accomplishments and words of advice for the incoming executives for the 2018-19 school year, Shanta Katipamula ’19 and graduate student Rosie Nelson.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What prompted you both to join the ASSU executive team?
Justice Tention-Palmer (JT): Joining exec was the culmination of many different paths. I was on the undergraduate Senate my sophomore year, where I gained a lot of knowledge about how the school works at an institutional level, as well as how the ASSU functions and can enact change on a big scale. Then, in my junior year, I was a freshman RA (resident assistant) and I got a very proximate understanding of the problems faced by students. Exec and the ASSU gave me a unique opportunity to work on these problems with students and administrators.
Vicki Niu (VN): I did not see this in the cards. I was never on Senate, I had never really done student government at all, but I was friends with Justice. He called me one day and he said, “Hey, do you want to go for exec?” At the time, I said, “No, not really,” but then I thought about it and I realized it would be an opportunity to learn new things and to exert influence on issues that matter a lot to students. It’s a really unique position and I’m really glad that I said yes.
TSD: What were some particular things that you wanted to change coming in?
VN: Our term actually coincided with a lot of changes happening in the University, so whether that was being able to provide input to the long-range planning process or getting to work with a relatively new President, Provost, Vice President and Provost of Student Affairs — all of those were opportunities to shape the way in which those processes and offices interacted with students. In particular, we did a lot of work on community center funding. A lot of this was actually done by our cabinet members and Senators.
JT: All that credit definitely goes to the cabinet members and the Senators, because they were the ones on the ground working. We helped build relationships so that they could all do their work better.
TSD: What were some of the challenges you faced while being ASSU executive leaders?
JT: It’s really easy to set goals when you’re campaigning, but you don’t really know what’s going to come up during the year in terms of campus-wide issues that the ASSU has a responsibility and obligation to deal with. For example, conversations about speakers on campus and inviting guests, or other national-level issues and how they affect people within the Stanford community. I think all of those presented challenges that needed to be addressed immediately but were very hard to predict.
VN: A lot of it is balancing being proactive versus reactive. One of the of the benefits and drawbacks to the job is that there are no requirements or expectations, which can be hard because your role is very amorphous. That was definitely a challenge but something that ended up being really great because we got to see a lot of different processes happen and work on a lot of different issues.
TSD: What were your biggest achievements?
JT: There were so many things that the cabinet did. I am so proud, and I want to really emphasize that they were rockstars. Our biggest achievement really was building a great cabinet spring quarter of last year. All of those individuals do such amazing work, like Zina Jawadi ’18 and Bryce Tuttle ’20, who led the opening of [the Abilities Hub] in the fall. That was a really powerful moment where the disabilities community felt like they had a lot more visibility and space on campus. I was really proud of our sexual violence co-leads, where there was Rachel Green J.D. ’19, who is a law student who worked on all sorts of policy change. We also helped the Campus Climate Survey group, and [Green] helped to amplify student voices in that space.
Our Institutional Change Workshop with the Provost’s office and Lily Zheng ’17 M.A. ’18 … was [also] a huge undertaking and several months of work from Vicki, myself, a couple senators and the Provost’s office. A lot of our accomplishments were making connections between students who were already doing good work and helping them be more effective.
VN: We saw our role largely as being able to amplify voices, or leverage our voices with regards to the administration. There are so many great activists and advocates already doing work on a host of issues, and so our strategy has largely been to organize those folks in ways that [is] more productive. This included, for example, building coalitions around sexual violence, community centers [and] the disability advisory committee, and making sure that when we interface with administrators, the work is centered on how we make sure that those issues are solved going forward.
TSD: What were your favorite parts of being executives? Do you guys have any memories in particular to share?
VN: Midnight breakfast! It was incredible. I served the omelettes with cheese at the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons.
JT: Yup, midnight breakfast. We were in the roaming posse. We got embroidered jackets, and that was really fun. I served the bacon. That was a really fun moment. Also I think the Abilities Hub opening in the fall was a huge achievement.
VN: Another is when we presented to the Faculty Senate in the fall. We talked about a lot of issues that students face, specifically how low-income students and students of color don’t always feel welcome or represented enough in their spaces, and why that’s important in terms of what our University stands for. It was really powerful to see what an impact this had on faculty. Being able to shed light on student perspectives in ways that folks in the University hadn’t considered before, those moments were all really valuable.
TSD: Do you guys have any advice for the incoming ASSU Executives?
VN: Focusing on building a great team is definitely pretty huge.
JT: This institution is all based around people, and so much of it is devoting time towards building relationships and empathy between different parties who are very disconnected otherwise. I think it’s true within the student body, between students and faculty, between other parts of the school and within different subsets of all those populations, too. A huge part of it is strategically building empathy.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed.
Contact Ruth-Ann Armstrong at ruthanna ‘at’ stanford.edu.