For the first time since 2016, more than one person is running for president of the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU.
James Madison College General Assembly representative Abii-Tah Chungong Bih and ASMSU Vice President for Student Allocations Dylan Catalano have both announced their candidacy for student body president, hoping to succeed Mario Kakos in the 2020-21 school year.
Kakos and his predecessors, Katherine “Cookie” Rifiotis and Lorenzo Santavicca, all ran for president unopposed, the last contested election being Santavicca’s first term in 2016.
“Running for president of ASMSU is a life altering decision,” Kakos said. “I know in the past, even from my election, there was concern that it wasn’t contested ... I don’t think people always acknowledge what it takes to fill out an application and then to come to terms with yourself that you are going to run for this position.”
This year’s candidates both have different stories that led them to run for president.
Bih is an international student from Cameroon, who said she dreamt of joining the student government before even knowing where Michigan was on a map. Prior to being a JMC representative, she has served as Vice Chair of the Academic Committee and an ASMSU representative to the University Council.
Catalano began his time at ASMSU as a member of the freshman class council, later serving on both the student allocations board and the General Assembly. As vice president for student allocations he served as chair of the Student Allocations Board, which allocates funds for registered student organizations, as well as Council of Racial and Ethnic Students and Council of Progressive Students, or CORES and COPS, groups.
Catalano said two candidates added value to the position.
“I always believe that contested races are going to one make the two candidates, in this case, for the position fight that much harder to prove to the General Assembly, to prove to the MSU students that we are worthy and ready for this job,” Catalano said. “And then that made me enjoy it so much more because I constantly remembered that there was four other people who wanted this job. So that really instilled in me the mentality and the drive to really take to utilize every single day I had in my position.”
Catalano ran for VP for Student Allocations last spring against four other candidates, securing the position by just four votes over his closest opponent.
Despite Catalano’s position being contested, oftentimes spots end up given to the sole person who ran or are left empty, because no one else decides to run.
“A lot of people left positions open just because they felt they we're not good enough or they felt like other people were better than them at those positions,” Bih said. “And then I'm not going to minimize that fact, because I know that it takes all the strength in the world to declare candidacy to yourself first, before declaring it publicly and so I just hope that maybe from my campaign, people would see that It's important to shoot your shot anyways.”
As to why the last few elections have not been contested, Kakos can only speculate.
“Every year there is an election, whether it be opposed or otherwise, there are rampant rumors about who is running for president,” Kakos said.
Sometimes candidates are interested in the position, but might not be all in for it or they see another viable candidate who could run, he said.
Both candidates said prior to running publicly they had to come to terms with running themselves, advice Kakos gave to them before announcing.
“I think it's so amazing to see two (representatives) running for president because it just speaks to the amazing capacity and the amazing impact that this organization has on people,” Catalano said. “I know me and Representative Bih both have spoken greatly to what ASMSU has done for our personal lives.”
In addition to what it means to ASMSU, the candidates see having a choice in who gets to be president shows the democracy in the organization.
“This is really about showing the student body that elections are and can be democratized, that positions are democratized and nobody is entitled to any position,” Bih said. “So for me, this is much bigger than just me running. This is about proving to everybody that ASMSU can be a democratized system, when no position belongs to anybody. Nobody is a gift gatekeeper to any position and as long as it is your objective to serve and to empower and to uplift student voice, you actually should be able to have access to that position as well.”
The candidates have been reaching out to the newly elected General Assembly members and are preparing for their election April 15 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.
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