Boston University’s Student Government elected a new Senate Chair for the 2020-2021 academic year to replace Karla Leon, the current chair and junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, in a Zoom meeting Monday night.
Senate heard from two candidates: Sammie Casas, a sophomore senator in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Vincent D’Amato, a junior senator in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. After debating among themselves, senators elected D’Amato for Senate Chair.
D’Amato addressed senators first, emphasizing his passion for senate rules and guidelines, and his faith in senate’s ability to enact meaningful change on campus. He began his speech with a message regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the changing times require even stronger student leadership in the year to come.
“Our lives may be changed, but we will get through this, and with great leadership we as a senate can emerge from this stronger than before and embrace this new future set forth for us,” D’Amato said, “becoming the best that we can be and bringing forth the positive change to campus that it will need when we return.”
D’Amato spoke of his background as a co-chair of the Student Elections Commission and founder and chair of the Rules Committee. He said that both positions gave him valuable experience with forming and working on teams, as well as detailed knowledge of senate’s constitution and bylaws.
“Our constitution and bylaws have their flaws, and they have been prevalent over my first two years as a senator,” D’Amato said. “I set out this year to learn these documents, study and understand them as much as I could, and fix them so that we can be better as an institution. I set out, built a team, and together we made great progress, and I developed a greater understanding of our ruling documents.”
In her address to Senate, Casas also spoke of the constitution — though she discussed the rewriting of it. She said she hopes to create a senate constitution that will not require Senate to pass as many amendments in the future.
“I have seen a ton of constitutional amendments passed. We should be creating a document that stands the test of time, meaning senators need to rely more on resolutions,” Casas said. “How do we create legislation that will be there for the next generation of student government?”
Casas also said she wants to elevate the presence of senators on campus, and ensure the student body is aware of the work that student government does.
“I want you guys to be stopped on the street and have students say ‘hey you’re the senator of my college,’” Casas said. “You guys were put into these positions and I want to make sure students know that you’re making legislation that’s going down on campus every single day.”
Casas also said she believes there should be increased unity between the three branches of student government, and said her ideal relationship between Senate and the executive board as well as the judicial branch is one of close communication and cooperation.
“With every branch of student government, we need to rely on each other and be there to support each other,” Casas said. “I think that making sure that there’s a unity between all three branches is my main goal because that’s how we’re understanding what’s going on.”
Senators entered a twenty minute debate to come to a decision on the next senate chair. Several senators said they believed D’Amato’s knowledge of the student government rules and guidelines to be the most important consideration in who should fill the position.
“He knows the rules like the back of his hand, it’s kind of obscene,” Hayley Gambone, a senior senator in CAS, said. “I think that that’s really essential, especially given all that we’ve gone through this semester, having someone who knows how to put a process in place is really essential.”
Hessann Farooqi, a sophomore senator in CAS, agreed with Gambone, saying D’Amato’s past experience on the Rules Committee has made him especially prepared for the position.
“Understanding how the bylaws and rules work and being able to navigate those to get as much done for the student body as we can is really important,” Farooqi said, “and when it comes to rules I can think of no one better than the chair of the rules committee.”
Joanna Hsieh, a freshman senator in the Questrom School of Business, said she found Casas’ proposed policy agenda to take more of a long term focus, which she viewed to be a strength.
“[D’Amato’s] policies are more suited so that we can create more change and get stuff done next year,” Hsieh said, “but I so think Sammie’s policies are more of a long term foundation, and I think a lot of them did speak to me.”
Student body president Hafzat Akanni said Casas’ past experience working in the BU Student Activities Office should be taken into consideration by senators. She said that this experience helped her make connections in the administration that may be helpful when trying to implement changes on campus.
“I’d encourage you guys to reflect on the year and think about the things that could’ve been pushed forward better had Senate had a hand in with what administration is doing,” Akanni said. “I don’t take it lightly, working with SAO. As someone who worked for SAO my freshman and sophomore year, I think that it definitely gave me an upper hand to be able to deal with a lot of different issues within student government.”
Evan Teplensky, a freshman senator in CAS, said D’Amato had become a strong mentor for him throughout his first year in senate. D’Amato spoke of mentoring new members in his address, and Teplensky said he himself was evidence of that mentorship taking place.
“He’s done what he’s said in the sense of making new students feel comfortable to present their ideas, to move to the next step, to know what they’re talking about,” Teplensky said. “I didn’t know what I was talking about and there were a lot of errors along the way. [D’Amato] will not only do the role that is needed for a Senate Chair, he will excel at it.”
Senators elected D’Amato with 14 votes out of 24 total.