Progressive Voter Coalition: Executive Vice President Candidates


Editor’s Note: The Progressive Voter Coalition has since been disbanded by the USG Awards and Elections Committee. Click here for more information.

The Hullabaloo is reposting the answers as written by candidates and submitted to the Progressive Voter Coalition. These responses have not been copy edited by our copy team.

The Progressive Voter Coalition (PVC)’s goal is to advocate for progressive goals and values and ensure that the voices of students are heard with the same volume other powerful institutions. We are excited to present the PVC Questionnaire for the 2018-2019 USG Executive Board candidates. We contacted over 40 progressive organizations for questions they wanted to ask candidates and have included the most poignant ones below. All USG Exec. Board ballot candidates were contacted for responses and we have listed what we have received. Thursday, March 8th, the PVC will listen to oral presentations from all participating candidates and make a public slate of endorsements for each position. Candidates were asked to keep their answers to a minimum of 2-3 sentences. Answers are divided by position and candidates are listed in alphabetical order by first name. The PVC is an AEC-confirmed coalition and has been in contact with the AEC to follow standards and rules.

How can more funding be given to Multicultural Council (MCC) and Gender and Sexuality Advisory Council (GSAC) organizations on campus? If so, what would this process look like for you? (Gender Exploration Society)

Ella Helmuth:While the EVP is not directly involved in the organizational finance process, I commit to work diligently with student leaders, particularly in the Multicultural Council and the Gender and Sexuality Advisory Council, in any capacity. I would be glad to assist in connecting student leaders with members of the finance committee to help them maximize their budget’s potential.

Maya Vasishth: I have an extensive knowledge on the internal affairs of USG and I understand that in order to increase funding for an organization, the organization must demonstrate a need for greater funds through programming and organizational structure. I will work with the directors on the Cabinet and the Executive Board to co-program with these organizations, providing financial support to encourage the growth of their programming, and I will work with the Director of Communications to promote MCC and GSAC events to increase attendance and demonstrate well-deserved funding increases. In representing all students on this campus, I will use USG’s schoolwide presence to amplify and support the voices of marginalized communities by funding the organizations that offer such support.

Do you support the USG initiative to remove the racist namesake of F. Edward Hebert? Do you support a push for Tulane to recognize legacies of oppression and to reclaim its racist history? What would this process look like to you? (Students Organizing Against Racism)

Ella Helmuth:Yes. Tulane unfortunately exists with a shameful past of white supremacy and racism; of which contemporary assertions cannot be tolerated, buildings like Hebert Hall, Gibson Hall, Stanley Thomas Hall, and even Howard-Tilton Memorial Library solidify the these ideologies in brick. I acknowledge that there are institutional barriers inhibiting the removal of these. However, administrators must stand with the students who have so tirelessly worked on this initiative, or recognize that by not renaming these buildings they openly corroborate an institutionalized sense of marginalization and will be confronted as such.

Maya Vasishth: I support this initiative as a step towards creating a more inclusive space for learning on campus. In order to move forward increasing our focus on race and inclusion and promoting diversity within the institution, Tulane must continue to acknowledge its history of oppression and make significant steps to promote inclusion. This process should include USG pushing administration to hold events and speakers to educate students on Tulane’s history, and creating spaces for students to publically provide constructive criticism to the administration and explain the importance of prioritizing student’s needs over donors’ money. This semester, I worked closely with the Director of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence to plan the Student Forum on Race & Inclusion and I believe spaces like these which give students an opportunity to collaborate with other students and administrators to come up with innovative solutions are an imperative piece of Tulane’s steps forward.

When the “It’s okay to be white” signs were posted around Tulane’s campus, what was your initial reaction? How do you see this in representation of race relations on Tulane’s campus? (Students Organizing Against Racism)

Ella Helmuth:When I first saw these posters early in the morning: I was disgusted. I immediately contacted the board of the Hullabaloo, of which I was a member at the time, to ensure the matter received appropriate coverage and the investigation began as early as possible; I also removed the posters I saw around Weatherhead Hall. This event is proof to administration and our community that Tulane’s legacy of white supremacy is still alive and felt today.

Maya Vasishth: Seeing these signs made me angry and feel invalidated, as if my identity was being further marginalized and vilified, and the extra effort I put in to be heard is futile. I was also concerned for other students, because as a person of mixed races, I know I am far more privileged than some of my peers. I am concerned by how this was addressed by the university and by how numb many of our students are to these kinds of events. A culture change is needed so that more students understand racialized power dynamics—it has always been okay to be white, and advocacy for people of color is not the same as marginalizing white people. We need students to come together in support of far greater inclusivity.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, what do you think gun control should look like on Tulane’s campus? (Students for Justice in Palestine)

Ella Helmuth: I acknowledge that I am not an expert on the issue of gun control. However, the state of Louisiana prohibits the presence of firearms on college campuses; this law should never be overturned and the Tulane community, especially the USG, must make this abundantly clear. Student led efforts and demonstrations for gun reform, in addition to the new organizations created in response to the most recent school shootings, warrant support and engagement from the entire Tulane community.

Maya Vasishth: I believe the Director of Student Safety has done a good job this year creating more active shooter trainings and awareness around how to react to these possible events. Tulane now must shift the focus from reactive to preventative measures, and as Executive Vice President I would support any and all demonstrations in favor of stricter federal gun regulation, for that is where the true power of student activism lies. Tulane is already a gun free campus, but this institution can do more by continuing conversations and acknowledging the charged state of gun reform in this country.

Did you attend the Wave of Change Town Hall event? What do you think are the most crucial steps to reducing sexual violence on Tulane’s campus? What do you think were the shortcomings in the Wave of Change and climate survey initiatives?  What will you do to ensure the protection of survivors? (Muslim Students Association)

Ella Helmuth: Yes, I attended and posed a question about transparency to the administrators. What we are talking about here is changing the entire culture of an undergraduate population. What we can do is denounce sexual violence and rape culture when they occur, maintain an active dialogue with and assist organizations like SAPHE and One Love, support and engage with marginalized communities to ensure their needs are not ignored when it comes to sexual violence, demand support and resources from and hold accountable administration to take action and ensure that reporting processes are safe and just. We must ensure that the maximum number of students possible are trained in bystander intervention and sexual assault response. Wave of Change came across like a branding campaign and a celebratory pat on the back for administrators, but beyond the Town Hall they have failed to reach students about the next steps and have continued to be less than transparent with students about their action plans as before the release, within the task force set up by administrators. I commit to actively engaged in everything that I have listed above; my membership in SAPHE and observance of how sexual violence and the culture surrounding it plays out on this campus makes this issue a top priority for me.

Maya Vasishth:Yes, I attended the Wave of Change Town Hall and I believe that by holding the event in Kendall Cram, the university failed to acknowledge how passionate students are about this issue and failed to demonstrate their understanding of how many students have been affected. The university must continue to hold programming like this, better advertise resources for sexual assault survivors, and create research grants for students and faculty to implement and test their ideas for reducing sexual violence rates on campus. In order to ensure the protection of survivors, I will work tirelessly to make sure survivors are aware of the options available to them and to create more education for students surrounding how to support someone who has been sexually assaulted. There is no easy or obvious solution to this problem, but USG has the power to bring students and administration together to find a solution.

Do you think queer students at Tulane hesitate to come out of the closet? How can USG and Tulane help queer people feel more comfortable and visible? (Queer Student Alliance)

Ella Helmuth: Yes. I think a step in the right direction for USG would be to support the initiatives I am currently working on with QSA leadership to provide emergency housing and funding to students who may not be supported at home if and when they come out and hiring new staff that have a base of knowledge in this area and can serve as support for students who are struggling.

Maya Vasishth: It is the job of the Undergraduate Student Government to create a campus where each student feels respected, accepted, and safe. In order for Tulane students to feel safer coming out of the closet, students must show their support through attending LGBTQ programming, using appropriate language, and normalizing the spectrum of sexualities. USG can increase advertising of trainings to create a safer community to come out to and increase financial support for programming for LGBTQ organizations to create safe spaces which will hopefully spark a change in attitudes making the Tulane community more accepting.

How do you feel about the current dialogue on campus regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Should any steps be taken to make this dialogue more inclusive? If so, what specific measures can you commit to enacting while in office?  (Students for Justice in Palestine)

Ella Helmuth: The current dialogue on this campus is saturated with Zionist sentiment which, because of violent actions taken against pro-Palestinian student activists in the past, has existed in an echo chamber. SJP provides a space where the other side of the dialogue can be uplifted and Palestinian students don’t have to feel ostracized by the anti-Palestinian rhetoric that is so prevalent on this campus. I think that in the future, joint efforts and discussions could be attempted between the two sides. However, as it stands, SJP is an essential space for activists to educate themselves on the issue and take steps to improve the climate on this campus. There is no reason why SJP should not be allowed to exist on this campus: I vow to protect this organization, with the bylaws and the institutional integrity of the USG as a body standing behind me.

Maya Vasishth: Tulane has a larger representation of Jewish students than most other universities, which may steer the conversation in one direction. This is a complex issue that few people comprehensively understand and I think it is important to make a space to invite scholars to talk on both sides of the issue and let students of varying opinions listen and debrief. As an apolitical organization, USG can help foster that space for productive conversations.   

What is the difference between diversity and anti-racism? If elected, how do you plan to use your leadership position in anti-racist efforts? (Students Organizing Against Racism)

Ella Helmuth: The importance of diversity is legitimate, however it is often co opted as a buzzword to make it seem as though institutions are supporting communities of color even when they lack effective strategies to do so. Anti-racism is actively disrupting the systems and exchanges of racial injustice and understanding that diversity does not necessarily have a causal relationship with inclusivity and support. If elected, the USG will have zero tolerance for expressions containing micro-aggressions and the co option of the work students of color do on this campus, things which currently proliferate within the body. Representatives who engage in these behaviors are doing a heinous disservice to the students they represent and must be confronted and called in. I will also approach the constitutional review that comes with the job of EVP with a lens of inclusivity and justice, our foundational texts express to the student body who we are at the ground level and they have to be definitively equitable.

Maya Vasishth: Efforts in diversity amount to increasing the number of different races represented in an institution, while anti-racism is making an active effort to overcome biases that systemically oppress minority groups to create an equitable environment. If elected, I plan on implementing mandatory trainings for senators to educate them on systematic racism and institutional oppression so that they can begin working on initiatives to address the aspects that lead to this disparity. As Executive Vice President, I will work closely with the Vice President of Student Life and the Diversity and Inclusive Excellence chair to address the barriers to being equitably integrated into the Tulane community.

Some students feel that there is an unequal distribution of labor put onto marginalized students to address their own issues. If elected, how do you plan to address this precedent of tokenization? (Students Organizing Against Racism, Muslim Students Association)

Ella Helmuth: Student representatives, particularly those who run on platforms of anti-racism and inclusivity, must be held accountable by the executive board and engage in the labor they commit to by virtue of their election. I commit to connecting USG representatives with student leaders who are putting in the work on these issues and uplifting initiatives that come out of those relationships. Representatives must be of the mindset that sometimes supporting the student body doesn’t necessarily mean getting your name stamped on legislation or having total control of the project. The USG, particularly those representatives who do not work to incite change, needs to understand that it is not the only or even best catalyst for change on campus,. There must be a culture of intolerance for unaccountability, as well as the co opting of messages and initiatives presented by marginalized communities on this campus, and the tokenization of students belonging to those groups in an effort to make USG seem diverse and inclusive.

Maya Vasishth: These students are not alone in feeling this way and it will take an intentional approach to eliminate this issue, but it is possible. Through working with the Office of Academic Equity and the O, I hope to increase the number of students in the conversation to address race and inclusion on campus beyond those who feel directly impacted. I want to add an intersectionality class to the core curriculum so that students must learn about systemic oppression and the everyday privileges they take for granted. We must start these conversations on a larger scale across campus and ensure that students leave Tulane a more respectful and informed member of the community than when they entered.

What additional mental health services do we need on campus to supplement CAPS? What needs to change about the mental health culture on campus? (National Alliance on Mental Illness- 2017)

Ella Helmuth:While we have taken steps in the appropriate direction, CAPS must be more representative of students of color and those identifying as LGTBQ+. We should also have more group sessions targeted towards specific mental health needs so that students are better able to support each other. There also need to be resources more readily available, whether that looks like an expansion of CAPS or a new program, it takes far too long to get support on this campus. This campus widely ignores mental illness and does not consider it a top priority, fetishizing stress and busyness, and ignoring the fatigue experienced by marginalized communities who are forced to exist at an institution that does not support them. Mental health spaces on this campus need to be so much more inclusive. It is so difficult to make change when our campus does not even begin to recognize that change needs to be made.

Maya Vasishth:To supplement CAPS, I believe we need to add more group therapy options for male students and destigmatize the use of CAPS by providing more opportunities for student advocacy. I believe CAPS could also benefit from on call hours on the weekends or a method to connect students with resources on the weekends.

How do you plan to support the expansion of reproductive health resources for students on and off campus? (Students United for Reproductive Justice )

Ella Helmuth: I will support organizations like SURJ and encourage expansion of the resources in the Well and the Student Health Center. I have also discussed with an administrator plans to incorporate queer sex ed into a sexual education course mandated by the school and I will continue to pursue that initiative.

Maya Vasishth: Being a public health major, I understand the importance of education based health interventions. I hope to incorporate educational services in the student health center such as consultations for reproductive services and for sexual assault resources on campus and in the New Orleans community. The conservative political climate surrounding abortion dilutes conversations on women’s health and we need a more open dialogue about the services people need and how to get them in a conservative state.

Have you attended the LGBTQ Ally Workshop or Trans 101? What LGBTQ events on campus have you attended? If not, will you commit to attending one in the Fall? (Queer Student Alliance, Gender Exploration Society)

Ella Helmuth: No. I have attended the LGBTQ+ One Wave training, fostered relationships, and planned events with the queer women in Greek life. Yes, I will attend Trans 101 in the fall.

Maya Vasishth:I have attended the LGBTQ Ally Workshop, but I have not attended an event on campus this semester. I will continue to look for ways to support the LGBTQ community through attending events and trainings in the future, and encouraging many other Tulane students to do the same. I will commit to attending a Trans 101 workshop in the Fall and attending more events in the future.

Have you attended an Undoing Racism workshop in the past – if yes, when? How did it  change the way you act as a leader on campus? If you have not attended, will you commit to attending the Fall 2018 workshop? (Students Organizing Against Racism)

Ella Helmuth: Yes. The workshop made me consider the way I function as a gatekeeper on this campus, particularly as a part of the USG and in areas of sexual violence prevention. It made me feel more actively obligated to reach out to communities of color regarding things happening in the USG and beyond that impact them, as well as sharing essential safety related information that I might personally be privy to because of my involvement in sexual violence prevention on this campus. I was also motivated to examine the bylaws and practices of my other organizations, which I did, and took steps in my sorority to create a committee which will serve to evaluate our institutional practices and their implications.

Maya Vasishth: I have not attended in the past, but believe this training would be beneficial and will commit to attending the Fall 2018 workshop.

What strategies do you plan to implement to make USG itself a more accessible place on campus, especially for groups historically marginalized by this institution? (Students Organizing Against Racism)

Ella Helmuth:As I detailed before, micro-aggressions, tokenization, and the co opting of the efforts of students of color will no longer be tolerated on the USG. I will personally call in representatives who feel it is appropriate to engage in these behaviors and take action based on our bylaws if they continue to act in this way. I will also reach out to organizations that serve marginalized communities when legislation and initiatives that have implications for them are proposed. I will offer my total support to the MCC and GSAC orgs, and help them and their council chairs uplift their initiatives and navigate the bureaucratic processes within the USG. I will reach out to organizations and student leaders in these communities when opportunities for leadership in the USG become available. I will meet with senators twice every semester to ensure that they are getting the support that they need, feel comfortable in the space of USG, and are approaching their USG projects with humanity and equity in mind.

Maya Vasishth:I plan to establish positive relationships with minority heavy local high schools in order to increase interest in student governments before students attend college in the hopes of increasing representation without tokenizing students. I also hope to continue the conversations we started at the Race & Inclusion Student Forum by partnering with the O and the Office of Academic Equity to focus more money and attention to include more students in the conversation.

Why do you think the rates of sexual assault are so much higher for LGBTQ students? (Queer Student Alliance)

Ella Helmuth:LGBTQ+ sexual violence is widely ignored as an issue on this campus. Our offices are given insufficient funding and are vastly understaffed. We have almost no consent education, bystander education, or response education centered on us. The reporting process involves outing oneself to so many members of the Tulane administrative population, which can be traumatic and unsafe for closeted students. The majority of the student population and staff do not even consider this community when they think about sexual violence on this campus. This university has to support these populations if this is truly its “number one priority.”

Maya Vasishth: I believe that this issue does not get enough attention and many students are unaware of how high the rate is for sexual assault against LGBTQ students. I am willing to admit that I don’t have the answer to why sexual assault rates are so high, as this is a very complex, systematic social problem. I believe creating more conversations on non-heteronormative healthy relationships would be beneficial as this is often missing in secondary school sex education. Marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ individuals, are much more likely to be the target of violence and it is especially important that they have the support of student organizations like USG which can amplify their voices and make their experiences heard. I want each and every student to have a platform to express concerns they have and have the opportunity to collaborate for solutions and I will use my platform as Executive Vice President to encourage the university to hire the appropriate researchers and advocates for LGBTQ sexual violence prevention.

Do you have any plans to make Tulane’s campus more environmentally-friendly? If so, what are they? (Green Club)

Ella Helmuth: Not personally. I am woefully uneducated and uninvolved in this regard, especially considering that it should be a top priority for Tulane because of our geographical location and commitment to the city of New Orleans. I support the initiatives to Divest and push Tulane towards solar power, but I have not been personally involved in these efforts and would not want to represent myself dishonestly. Personally, I do engage in sustainable practices such as veganism, energy and water conservation, refraining from buying new clothes, etc. but I am not involved in any campus organization centered on these efforts.

Maya Vasishth: I plan to work with senators and the future Director of Sustainability to start incorporating glass recycling and composting into Tulane’s waste management system. I also plan to work with dining services to reduce waste in food packaging. I plan to reduce paper use in classrooms by encouraging teachers to only post their syllabi online and require online submissions for essays and lab reports. Follow up on the divest thing?

Do you believe that sexual violence prevention training (e.g. bystander intervention) should be mandatory for all students? (Tulane University Peer Health Educators)

Ella Helmuth: Absolutely. We can’t change campus culture if the same students are doing all of the sexual violence prevention work, everyone needs to be on board for this and trainings are the first step to dismantling the culture of sexual aggression that proliferates at Tulane.

Maya Vasishth: I believe sexual violence prevention training should not only be mandatory for all students, but it should be integrated into multiple facets of the curriculum including the core curriculum. Students will be more engaged and receptive to the information if it is presented to them multiple times in a way that they relate to. Utilizing the current project nine seminar to brainstorm these solutions will create effective programming for future years.