Last week, the Editorial Board interviewed the two candidates for the USG presidential elections, open March 3–5. Today, we share with you our interview with Josh Crow. This is the full transcript, with all questions and complete answers included.
The Daily Campus: What is the most impactful lesson you have learned at UConn so far and how has that prepared you to be President?
Josh Crow: I think the most impactful lesson I have learned at UConn so far is that there’s nothing better than having a strong community behind you and really just a strong group of friends behind you to get you anywhere you need to go. That seems like a very cliché lesson, of course, but there is actually something to that. Here at UConn we’ve struggled with that at times, at building that greater sense of culture, at feeling like we’re more than just the groups we are a part of, but actually a greater sense of being Huskies, and I think that that right there is the reason that lesson is most applicable to why it prepares me to be the President, because really what I want to do is to build that sense of community, to use student government as the nexus where we bring all these different groups and different people together so they can interface with each other, talk to each other and we can build a community that works for us, not just during the times we have problems, but when, you know when things are going well as well.
DC: What do you see as the current relationship between USG and the administration, and what would you like to change about that relationship?
JC: I think it depends on what part of administration you look at. We tend to treat administration as a monolith as administration tends to treat the student body as a monolith but it’s not and neither are we. So what I mean by that is that there are administrators like the Dean of Students who we have very fruitful relationships with, Elly comes to our executive board meetings all the time and talks about plans they are implementing and takes our feedback. Compare that to something like parking services, we don’t get a lot of traction with them. So, it really depends on what part of administration you look towards. Something me and Alex are hoping to do is prioritize the good relationships we have, thank those administrators for the good ones we have, and frankly start calling out the administrators who have bad ones with us, so there starts to be a pressure for us to move towards a system where everyone works with us. Right now, to characterize USG’s relationship as the question asked, I think we’re a little deferential at times, and in some cases that can be a good thing when we have administrators who’ve built up trust with us, but we shouldn’t be deferential to the ones who haven’t, and we think that’s where we could see improvement.
DC: Is parking services your main one?
JC: It’s one of them, but not the only one. I mean, it’s easy to call them out, but also part of it is we’ve never pushed them to come to the table, we’ve never been like this is something we’re serious about. We may have brought up some concerns, but we’ve never pushed them really hard on that, we’ve never shown our willingness as a student government to take on the burden. Something Alex and I are talking about doing is a parking appeals assistance program where we would help students appeal their parking tickets. [The Daily Campus] ran an article that pointed out that 50% of the parking tickets that get appealed get overturned, but such a small minority of students appeal the tickets. So something like that could force parking services to the table, and maybe we could get something done in the long term.
DC: So you have been the Speaker of the Senate for two terms now, why has that not happened?
JC: Absolutely, that’s a perfectly valid question. So, last year, I put most of my efforts focused internally, and to explain why that was, it was because USG was in a really bad place at this time last year. Our Senate was comprised of about 15-20 people and we had lost almost everyone from my year, the Fall of 2017, because we had a really bad year that year. So, most of my focus as Speaker last year was not only getting people in but training them up to the point where they could build ideas as well. This year is when I’ve started to prioritize things on the outside, most of the time I focus on increasing representation as speaker, because that’s what I have direct purview over as speaker. The reason I haven’t pushed for things such as parking appeals assistance is one, because we wanted to flesh it out more and two, because the president and the executive branch are the ones primarily responsible for enforcing those and my relationship with the executive branch hasn’t always been the best. I wanted to be sure we were the ones overseeing it when it was put in place.
DC: If you had to only pick one issue to focus on, what would it be and why?
JC: So I touched on this in the beginning with the first question, and that would be building that more collaborative culture, trying to bring together — and that’s what all presidents say they’re going to do — but actually attempting to use USG as a nexus to bring Greek life, to bring cultural groups, all the tier III’s, most of the tier II’s, all these groups we should have relationships with and have the means to build relationships with, we can reach out to them and bring them to the table. Once they’re brought to the table, they inherently give us an advantage as well because we have contacts and we can work with their groups and it also allows groups to work across platforms in places where connections may not already exist. A lot of the times when those connections exist, they exist on an individual basis, that is to say that this year USG has developed a more positive relationship with the cultural centers than it has in past years, but that’s in large part due to the fact that the people handling those interactions are people from those centers, and the worry is that when they leave, those relationships will go away because they are not structural ones, they are individual ones. It’s about building those structural ties.
DC: What does that look like?
JC: Well, part of it is currently right now, Alex and I are working on a piece of legislation called the Plan to Enhance and Encourage Representation in the Senate, PEERS for short. We have ex-officio seats in our senate, and right now there’s ten of those and they’re non-voting, this legislation would increase that to 15 voting and it would go to right now the five cultural centers, the International Students Council (ISSS), Diversability, the Native American Cultural Program, just various organizations, Greek life. So that’s the first step is getting representation and voice in the Senate and that’s been my primary focus this year, but it goes beyond that. That’s the first step, is getting them in the setting, but it’s also including them in the conversation, asking what their opinions are. I mean, one of the things I’ve been able to do as speaker is realize this position relies a lot on facilitation. I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else on this campus. It’s all about being there and knowing when you see good ideas and incorporating those in and giving people credit as they carry those forward.
DC: How would you measure and define success in concrete terms for your administration?
JC: This is actually one we’ve talked a lot about. We want — this is very ambitious — but we want by the end of next year for everyone to be able to point to something and say USG has done that for me. Right now, we are going around talking to a lot of groups, and the first question we always ask is “What has USG done for you that you can point to?” There hasn’t been much of a positive response in that regard. So focusing on those programs as executives that target the issues students care the most about. I think in the past USG has been a little unwilling to carry those types of things forward, as in when administration says no, or we’re not like we’ll take care of it, we’ll pick up the tab. I mean we have a million dollars a semester that’s worth something, building more unilateral programs as necessary, and that’s something I’ve supported as speaker.
DC: You have more experience in the upper levels of USG than the other candidate. How do you think that’s prepared you to take on the presidency?
JC: Well, in general of course, I have been able to work with administrators, I have been able to be in these meetings, I’ve been able to write legislation and build those connections. But most importantly, I know how to deal with student government, as does my running mate Alex. Which sounds like a silly little thing, but for anyone who has any experience with the student government, you know it can be frankly a pain in the ass to work with, and that’s a huge learning curve for somebody who has no experience inside the organization to overcome, something I hope to do and Alex hopes to do is we can take our experience to help streamline that process and make it easier to digest for people outside, and that’s honestly the biggest place I think [my experience] comes in. Especially with working with the senate, that’s something that a lot of presidents have struggled with and that’s something we would not struggle with as much given our roles in that branch.
DC: What kinds of legislation and student advocacy are you developing or coordinating at the moment, and how would you continue if you were elected?
JC: First and foremost, something we’ve been able to get a lot of traction on that a lot of people support is the loosening of the RHA restrictions on Spring Weekend. The idea that any other weekend on this campus, you can go almost wherever you want provided you follow the general rules, but then for that one weekend it’s completely shut down because ten years ago there was an admittedly terrible tragedy but one none of us even really remember due to your young age. Why should we have to suffer the consequences of that? So that’s one of the first ones we’re looking into, and we’ve gotten a lot of reception on. Second one, parking appeals assistance program. That’s a big one, we’re looking to help students bear that burden of parking assistance, we’ve even looked into perhaps covering parking tickets during particularly egregious circumstances because we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that at times Parking Services has been unwilling to acknowledge when extenuating circumstances would necessitate a forgiveness of a ticket. So that’s definitely a second one. We want to continue programs that already exist that directly benefit students, things like tampon time, which is USG’s continuous effort to place tampon dispensers in all the restrooms on campus for female-identifying, menstruating individuals for free. We also are looking into supporting the water bottle refill station effort, which is something we’ve been working in conjunction with Take Back the Tap on doing, which is where we pay for water bottle refilling stations to be constructed in all the dormitories. We’re looking at working with members who have been working in the mental health community on building something like mental health peer support groups, which would work different than crisis groups the USG has tried to push for in the past, in that they would serve more as collaborative, basically pop-up communities where you could go and talk about your day and the things you struggle with and hopefully provide some sort of comfort at a level that we can provide as students so that CMHS can focus its limited resources on the things it can. Most of those things are focused on using USG’s time, money and resources to directly impact the problems. That’s not to say we don’t want to work with administration and we don’t want to work with them on these projects, it just shows a willingness for us to put our money where our mouth is. And the way we could do that is to use our experience in the senate working with people collaboratively, working with the people pushing those projects, getting them the money they need, getting them the people they need and also when it comes to bringing those voices to the table, as we talked about earlier, they can help with those projects as well especially if they support them or have their own in mind.
DC: This next question comes from an Instagram follower: USG’s recent elections have been marked by very low voter turnout. In last Fall’s senate races, only 5% of students voted and several seats were left vacant. How do you plan to increase turnout and student participation in student government?
JC: Well the first step is what we’re trying to do this election, which is get people personally interested by going and talking to them, and that’s something we hope to carry forward. Something USG has been trying to do with its elections is build up its own base of followers when these communities already exist on campus to tap into, all we need to do is actually listen to their concerns. If we start interfacing with groups like the cultural centers, with Greek life, with all these disparate tier II groups that we have the contact information of, voter turnout is going to go up because you’re frankly much more likely to follow through if the president you know and like says hey, remember to vote today rather than this organization you barely know saying hey go vote today. The second part of that is no one votes in USG elections because USG doesn’t do anything controversial. Seriously though, we don’t do anything controversial. Even when you are looking at something I’ve tried to change in the senate but is difficult is the fact we pass legislation almost unanimously, because it’s never on things we fight about, because all we do is publish these statements of position, which are an important part of the puzzle, but we should be fighting over where we want to allocate our money, what we want to spend our resources on, we should be pushing for those things. You start getting those conversations going, and I guarantee you voter turnout is going to go up because people are going to have a personal stake in the election.
DC: Many undergraduate students feel powerless or voiceless against the decisions of the university. What do you have to say to them and how specifically will you advocate for all undergraduate students?
JC: I would say, first and foremost, that I’m sorry you’ve felt that way, and that we’ve all felt that way. Even as I acknowledged earlier, I have had a position of power in the speakership, and it has been difficult at times to continue doing that because of how frustrating it can be to try to broach these problems and address these solutions. And some of these problems are so monumental they affect our country or our state or our world as a whole, so the question then becomes how do you make change, and the answer I’ve always found is you try to make it on the individual level, you try to focus on what you can change. Yourselves, your community, what we do as Huskies. So what we’re trying to do in reaching out to those groups and being those facilitators that we’ve been so far is making people at least feel like they have a voice, even if all we do is shout sometimes, at least we have the ability to do that. We can amplify each other’s voices. An example I always point to is look at the success the Graduate Student Union has had in the past few years being able to assist out graduate students. And granted, we’re not a union, but that type of thing is what we could be if we optimize what we do and we focused on what we got more feedback on what we want and what people want, we could get up in the administration’s faces a lot. They know they can take things from undergrads, because at the end of the day all that might happen is we’ll complain about it for a little bit then we’ll move on, so that would be the thing we’re really trying to change. Bringing those communities together, we bring ourselves a staying power that really doesn’t currently exist in the undergraduate life.
DC: How do you plan to include people from very disparate groups, like people from different schools, or especially students from regional campuses?
JC: This is a really good question, and something I really look forward to doing. I was fortunate to in the fall at the HuskyEngage summit to interact with the current Hartford student government. I would be very much in favor of reaching out to the other student governments as well, especially because when it comes to something like the appropriations hearings and testimonies we’re doing this coming Tuesday [Editor’s note: this interview was conducted on February 16th], that affects all of UConn, not just us up here at Storrs, so building those relationships before those problems hit is instrumental to our success as a larger institution and is absolutely something we should pursue and will pursue if we’re elected.
DC: If at some point during your term, the university plans to host a controversial guest speaker, how would you respond in the event that members of the student body called for that speaker to be banned from campus?
JC: That’s a really good question.
DC: It’s familiar to us here.
JC: No, for sure. I remember, my freshmen year was the year that Lucian Wintrich was invited, and like everyone remembers, the shit that ensued, excuse me. But I believe that, if you go back to that sense of community, sense of community, listening to those individuals who are aggrieved, hopefully we would either know them personally, or know people who know them, through the presidents of their clubs and stuff like that. We can talk to them about what specifically is upsetting them, I have found that talking to people individually creates that spirit of empathy. And really what we try to do, I think, would be to facilitate some sort of meeting between the individuals who are upset and the groups who are bringing controversial speakers to then be like hey, this is actually affecting people on campus. It’s a lot harder to bring somebody who you know upsets people if you have to tell people to their face that you’re going to do that. It’s very easy to sit over in your echo chamber and say oh, we’re going to upset this group, or oh, we’re going to piss off this group and we’re looking forward to it. When you have to look those people in the eye and say the same thing, that’s a lot harder to do. So that’s what we try to do, if god forbid, there was no compromise to be had there, nothing that could be worked out, you just could not see eye-to-eye, then we would do everything we could to soften the impact on those affected communities by working with them collaboratively to — this goes back to the whole mental health thing — providing those spaces, providing those peer support groups so people feel they’re welcome on this campus.
DC: After the various racist incidents on campus last semester, and the big debate over the two students who were arrested, how will you make sure you run USG as an explicitly anti-racist organization that stresses diversity and inclusion?
JC: So first, I think everyone can agree that what happened was atrocious and should never happen on this campus, but unfortunately we can only look to ourselves and what we can do. I can tell you that personally, I will always work to create an environment that’s as welcoming as possible. Something that I’ve done as speaker is make sure I have one-on-one meetings with literally every single senator. There are 60 of them, so it takes a little while, but what that creates is an environment where every single one of my constituents feels like they can come to me and talk to me personally and tell me when there are problems. It also creates a collective spirit of togetherness, everyone in that body is not looking to upset other people or offend other people because while they may disagree on things, they’re friends. So, internally, and this would actually go more to the role of vice-president, my vice-presidential candidate Alex, but something I would definitely support her in would be creating that environment where people feel comfortable inside the organization and feel like the organization inside is in fact an anti-racist one. And that way, that spirit ends up spreading to the rest of the student body, because if we don’t hold those opinions internally, we’re not going to represent them externally.
DC: So you see the role of president vs. vice president as you working externally and her working internally?
JC: As per our documents, that’s how they’re defined. I actually see it as more they both have their roles externally and internally. Something we’ve learned this race is there is a president and a vice president of the student body and then there’s a president and vice president of USG. As the president and vice president, you hold both those roles but they are not the same thing. While constitutionally speaking, I would be charged with handling more of those external things, Alex has her own ideas and her own projects she wants to push externally and I would of course support her in those, and internally, given my experience as speaker, I have things I want to contribute, meetings I want to have with people, so it’s more of a give and take and a collaborative relationship than the one strictly defined as in the documents.
DC: Considering the two recent on-campus suicides and the generally stressful nature of college life, how would you address mental health and is there anything that you might add to what President Katsouleas has proposed?
JC: First and foremost, I think the JED Campus initiative that is currently being worked on that President Katsouleas shouted out in his email is something that is an important start, and something that USG actually pushed for under the leadership of our student services chairperson at the time, Derek Pan. Something that was actually pointed out during our meetings was it was really trashy that they hadn’t bothered to point out that it was those students who had been the one to push it. In fact, at the time they were pushing it, the administration was not at all interested in doing it. It took significant effort for us to get that to happen, which I think goes to show that what we try to do with mental health and with any issue in general, is you got to keep pushing on it. You have to show that this is something worth pursuing. Whether or not we like this, this is something that will better the university and make them more competent. Some things we want to personally push, like we talked about, the peer support groups are a very big one. We’re also talking with some senators now about potentially creating mental health training that tier II leaders would be able to take, to rely on those communities that already exist inside our campus, so that we could begin building those connections. There was that mental health conversation at PRLACC that night, and what always struck me was that everyone talked about what had supported them, what had helped them out was their friends, their group that they were a part of. I’ve been there too, I’ve had those struggles, USG was that group for me, those friends for me that when I was in really not good places I could go to, and they were there for me. So these communities already exist, so we can rely on them in the short-term. But in the long-term, there can be no solution that we produce alone. It has to be one that is done on the university level and the state level. A lot of those things are things we’ve talked about ad nauseam. More funding, more staff, but it also comes in the form of specialized staff. Something we’ve talked to our mental health people talk about is the fact that not a lot of the staff are currently trained to do different types of therapy, talk therapy is the one they almost always offer, and while that is important, there are others to be offered and that should be offered. But it really all just comes back to the fact that there is not enough money and it doesn’t seem to be a priority. I don’t think it should take the death of two students for that to be a priority. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure it remains one.
DC: Tier II organizations often complain that funding is difficult to receive through USG. Do you have any ideas for improving this process?
JC: Something we’re currently working on is upgrading the funding system. It doesn’t work for the groups, it literally doesn’t work for the funding staff who need to handle the request, they hate the system too. Nobody likes the system as it is. Its inefficient, its old, so rebuilding that, retooling that is the first step. A lot of the reasons our policies are so strict, like the six week deadline, is because of how slow the system is on our end. If we rebuild that system, we can look to drop the deadline down to four weeks or two weeks. I know recently we’ve also instituted rules about variances and second chance funding, which makes the process much more forgiving and frankly human, but given the nature of how jammed up the system is, we couldn’t allow for variances to be given in cases where groups missed the deadline, which is the biggest reason groups miss funding for. So if we improve that system, that would be the second thing we push for, so variances could be given if you missed the deadline. In general, working with the comptroller and the funding supervisor to make sure we make the process more human and easier for everyone involved, because right now it’s terrible for the people outside, it’s terrible for the people inside, it just doesn’t work.
DC: It’s pretty common knowledge that you and [vice presidential candidate] Alex are dating. How do you think that this will impact your governance?
JC: So Alex and I, first and foremost, decided we were going to run together before we were dating. That was not part of the paradigm at all. In fact, when it came to our attention that this was going to be something that we were going to pursue, that we needed to have a conversation with ourselves about how our professional and personal lives are going to affect each other. It was a difficult conversation to have, but we did have it and we’ve actually come to the conclusion that those things are entirely separate and will always remain entirely separate. Alex and I have not always had the best relationship. This is getting incredibly personal, but this is the nature of what we’re doing. There was a period of time last year where we did not like each other at all and actually personally could not really stand each other, but professionally retained that professional commitment to work together as a senator and a speaker and were able to accomplish good things together. It’s because of that time period where we struggled together we know that, god forbid anything does happen, which we don’t plan on, we can continue to operate as student body president and vice president regardless of what happens on the personal side of things. And, as another quick note, that separation almost has to exist for our benefit as well. If every time we went out to dinner, we talked about USG stuff, we’d go insane. So it’s not just for the benefits of the students but also for us.
DC: Give us your pitch. Why should students vote for you?
JC: I think people should vote for Alex and I because we’re genuinely trying to make the student body better, and I don’t think anyone is running because they’re not. It’s been brought up to us a lot that we’ve been in USG a long time, and USG’s had problems, and don’t you represent those problems by having that experience, and we say no. Because while we have insider experience, we have outsider ideas, specifically along the lines of bringing USG into a role where it’s willing to take on a lot of these things more unilaterally when necessary, take that into a direction it hasn’t really gone before, continue to support those ideas. And I think because of our willingness to reach out to groups, which we’re going to continue to do, not just during the election period but if we’re victorious afterwards as well, is to breed that sense of community. We can talk a big game about how it’s terrible that there’s no greater identity of what it means to be a husky on this campus, but if we’re not the ones who are willing to go out there and build it, why would we bother running. That’s why people should vote for us, because we’re willing to put in the time and effort, paid or unpaid, to get this done, to make sure this happens because this is what matters for all of us.