Views from the 704: Newly Elected SGA President Alex Soltany ’18 and Vice President Malia Dickson ’18

Ethan Ehrenhaft –

What was the most challenging aspect, for you two personally, running for SGA President and SGA Vice President?

Alex Soltany (AS): It’s an extremely time-intensive, energy-draining and anxiety-inducing process. It also takes a lot of time away from your friends, who are supporting you every step of the way, and it takes away time from your studies. I asked a few of my professors for extensions and they reminded me that although this (race) is a very important time in my life and the life of the school, that you’re still here for academics. Academics are your number one priority. Being able to manage that time adequately during these past nine days and before has been extremely difficult and the hardest challenge by far.

Malia Dickson (MD): Campaigning, by nature, is a really challenging process. You’re putting yourself out there to get open feedback and criticism from anyone, which can be uncomfortable at times, but that’s just how the process goes. You put so much thought and heart into your platform so you just really have to prepare for anything, all the while trying to remain some semblance of a social life and, of course, academics.

What was the idea behind your campaign slogan “for all of us”?

AS: I said in the debate itself that it’s extremely difficult to think of a slogan, a slogan that you feel really defines you and your running mate appropriately. We struggled with it a lot but ended up choosing “For All of Us,” and I’m really happy we did. I really feel like between Malia and my separate identities and the people and spaces we involve ourselves with around campus we’re really primed to make that claim more than anyone else. Everything that Malia and I have done for the school through SGA, from the moment we got on, has been wide sweeping change that has affected every student, whether it’s been the meal plan, laundry service, sexual misconduct policy change, or the new parking and wellness center proposals, everything we’ve done has really affected every student on this campus. Many of our (campaign) points affected every student on this campus, as well, and we hope to serve as bridges for the student body moving forward, given the national climate and the polarization you’ve seen of our citizens.

You had six major campaign points. Which of these do you seek to make your priority for accomplishing upon assuming office?

AS: We’ve already been talking to administrators about the six platform points. Malia and I wanted to make sure that before the campaign even started that administrators had seen our platform points so that we could make sure what we were presenting to the student body was in fact feasible and that the way we were going to go about achieving the points was feasible as well. We’ve already been working hard to get a substance abuse counselor and plan to hire one for the fall semester. That’s something Georgia Ringle was extremely excited about and also Dean Shandley. In the coming weeks we look forward to working with them and solidifying this. We want to make sure we have the proper resources for students. Approximately 25% of our students may have a substance abuse issue so it’s absolutely unacceptable not to have a counselor to help solve this issue. The steps are already in place and we’re going to make sure it gets done. The next thing we’ll probably do is tackle this parking situation. Malia and I have a very strong relationship with David Holthouser, who’s in charge of Physical Plant. He’s excited to work with us on addressing student concerns about parking on campus, especially this semester considering the influx of cars.

MD: Like Alex said, we wanted to make sure that all of our goals were feasible before presenting them publicly, so we made sure to talk with the administration beforehand. We are really looking forward to getting started, and I think the first order of business we would like to continue with is the substance abuse counselor.

Recently Davidson has faced serious sexual assault problems, the most pro led being the arrest of Ward Coleman. What specific strategies, aside from those mentioned in your campaign, do you think we should utilize to help prevent further assaults?

AS: Besides reexamining our sexual misconduct policy, which we’re going to continue to do every three years, we’re going to rm up our bystander training program at Davidson. Malia and I are excited to talk to Dean Shandley more about some plans he has that are in place. The student body will hear more about these plans later. We’ll also talk with the Rape Awareness Committee which will serve as an important resource for us, because we don’t have all the answers. This is a serious problem at Davidson and to think Malia and I have all the answers is silly.

MD: Like we said many times during our campaign, nothing can get done without collaboration within the SGA body and also with other student groups. RAC and the Student Health Advisors have done a tremendous job on campus already on this, and like Alex said, they will serve as an important resource for us looking forward, especially on increasing bystander education training.

With the Black Lives Matter movement coming to campus in full force during the first semester, it has become very apparent that some minority groups feel marginalized and isolated on campus. Do you think lack of diversity is a serious issue at Davidson and if so, do programs like your “Cats for Cats” initiative seek to address such a problem?

MD: I think Davidson has made progress just in the past two years to increase diversity, which is a great start. But that is just a start, as diversity takes many forms. We spoke with Dean Gruber about the Cats for Cats initiative, which he is excited to work on with us, especially in light of the call for more diversity on campus. As a school, we really need to make sure that we stay true to our commitment to diversity which is what Cats for Cats aims to do.

In the wake of the now-infamous Trump executive order regarding immigration from the Middle East, what can you as President do to make sure students from affected countries and Muslim students feel welcome and safe on campus? Alex, how has being a second-generation Iranian-American affected you during this process?

AS: We’ll work with a variety of student groups that feel marginalized both on campus and nationally, such as the Muslim Student Association, and continue to promote their events. In terms of undocumented students here as well, President Quillen has done an incredible job working with them and getting them legal counsel. The administration has provided adequate resources to make sure the students are taken care of. What I’ll do is make sure that the administration continues their commitment to those students and provides them the necessary resources. Also, for me this is a really personal issue not just because I know students here on campus that are facing these issues but I also have family here that are on student and work visas and their lives and their futures in the United States are in jeopardy as Iranians. I’m excited to be in the position I am now to promote my culture and the cultures of the Middle East in general. I think it’s really important to provide avenues for students on campus to share each other’s stories because we are facing big national problems that go beyond the Davidson bubble.

What will you do to help increase transparency and help students feel like SGA truly represents their voices?

AS: We’re going to push the new initiative structure so that not only each senator understands and feels like they are an adequate and effective member of the body but we’re also going to involve non-SGA members in the process so that they can understand what we’re doing and feel like they have the tools to enact change on campus. I think what’s really important in my role and Malia’s role is that we have our six ideas and we’re excited to realize those ideas but there are so many more issues we face here on campus. We want to provide our students with the resources they need to both identify and address issues with our help.

MD: Another order of business that we want to address within the SGA body that will aim to transfer out to the student body is for direct involvement and action on projects and more community outreach. Our goals cannot be accomplished by just one, two, or even three people; these are group efforts. Additionally, we want to make sure that everyone knows that SGA meetings are open to the student body for attendance. You do not have to be in SGA to come to them and provide feedback or input.