What makes you the best fit to lead the student body?
Justin Etzine: Since I first joined student government almost three years ago, I have seen the impact and relevance that student advocacy and self-governance can have in bringing changes that benefit the student body. However, that impact has not always been consistent.
I’m running to be your next Grand Marshal because I believe I am the best fit to lead the student body to both maximize this impact in the coming year and solidify this impact as a consistent benefit to the students for years to follow. I understand the importance of simultaneously supporting a student-run Union, advocating for the interests of students, and maintaining productive and respectful relationships with administrators.
During my tenure as the chairman of the Senate’s Student Life Committee and Web Technologies Group over the past two years, I have tested and developed my ability to inspire other students to channel their passion and lead charges to bring changes that improve the overall student experience at RPI. I believe I am best equipped to take these efforts to a Senate-wide implementation.
From working closely with the past three Grand Marshals, I have seen firsthand what approaches are most effective in advancing student priorities. My platform is a reflection of these observations and experiences, and it forms a detailed schematic for how the student government will further student interests.
What qualifies you to hold the position of Grand Marshal?
Justin Etzine: I have had the distinct honor of representing the RPI student body as a member of the Student Senate. I have served as a Class of 2018 Senator and a member of the 2018 Class Council for three years, where I have had the opportunity to advocate for student interests and resolve concerns. I have also served on a number of student government committees over the course of my involvement.
As chairman of the Student Life Committee, I have guided the committee in pursuing and achieving meaningful progress and have seen its membership grow to over 30 passionate students, Senators and non-Senators alike. We have seen successes in our project and initiatives, such as in our partnership with the Counseling Center to enact changes guided by student feedback, our efforts working with the administration to introduce new study spaces across campus, and our advocacy for the reintroduction of multiple entry points for residence halls.
As former chairman of the Web Technologies Group, I lead the group in the re-envisioning of the elections service, which has provided candidates a level playing field for promoting their campaign and platforms online. Furthermore, we worked to stabilize and restructure WTG’s infrastructure, accompanied by a multi-year plan for the future, to ensure that the group can continue to provide helpful, free services to the student body without interruption.
Outside of student government, I am currently a resident assistant for Barton Hall, where I have been able to share my passion for RPI with my residents and other first-year students when beginning their first semester. I have also been involved in RPI TV, where I served in the roles of Facilities and Equipment Manager and Business Manager from January 2016 to February 2017, which provided me with the ability to coordinate the organization effectively and understand the club officer-student government relationship. Earlier in my time at RPI, I had the privilege of serving on the Editorial Board of The Polytechnic , where I was able to guide one of the oldest student newspapers as Managing Editor. Finally, I recently became a trainee of RPI Ambulance, where I am proud to support to my classmates in times of need.
I have been heavily involved in many areas of student life at RPI. When coupled with my experience as a dedicated member of student government, I believe that these experiences have given me the wide perspective needed to effectively serve as Grand Marshal.
What do you think are the incumbent Grand Marshal’s strengths and weaknesses? What would you do to improve upon them if you are
Justin Etzine: Paul has worked hard to promote a sense of “directness” in the Senate; if he feels that a topic needs to be addressed, with administrators or otherwise, he is not afraid to relay the concerns and student opinions across as directly as possible. Paul has also made substantive efforts towards “cutting the red tape” of the Senate by advocating for senators to embody that similar directness.
I believe that, in pursuing this candidness, Paul sometimes can appear as unprofessional to those who are unfamiliar with his personality. He does provide the disclaimer of not taking his jokes seriously, but it can lead to some seeing the Senate in the same light as the jokes. Paul has proven his productivity and seriousness when needed, but sometimes his comments can reduce productivity and turn people away from the Senate and its committees.
As Grand Marshal, one of the areas I plan to build upon is blending Paul’s efforts toward candidly representing student opinions with an increased focus on ensuring professionalism and proactive communication. From my involvement in student government, I have learned how student advocacy can be tact without the core message being diluted.
Name three short-term and three long-term goals that you have for the Student Senate.
Justin Etzine: In the short term, I plan to focus on resolving three widespread student concerns. Firstly, with Sodexo’s contract up for renewal in the coming months, I will work with Hospitality Services, Sodexo, and the Senate’s Hospitality Services Advisory Committee to ensure that any concerns students have with on-campus dining are resolved for the upcoming year.
Secondly, I will work with the Office of Student Living and Learning to assist in the review of the second-year and upperclassmen housing process to ensure that the process can run as smoothly as possible in coming years. Furthermore, I plan to advocate for the reintroduction of the room retention option for upperclassmen.
Thirdly, I will address the recent concerns involving Greek life. Two changes made to the Greek housing arrangements, involving housing for the Summer Arch semester and a minimum grade point average for living in a Greek house as a sophomore, were not introduced in accordance with the Greek Commons Agreement. I plan to advocate for the ability for Greek students to live in their houses year-round, with the requirement they are in good standing with their houses, which the policy currently permits.
In the long term, I will promote the importance of establishing two positions of the Board of Trustees reserved for recently-graduated alumni. These alumni would have graduated within one decade, and they would be able to provide insight based on their time at RPI.
Additionally, I will advocate for both the reinstatement of policies that provide the Union with an auxiliary service status and the adherence to the Rensselaer Union Constitution . I believe that the hiring of a new director for the Union is the first step towards this, and promoting the advisorial relationship between the director and the vice president for student life will be vital.
Finally, I will establish a long-term plan for the Senate to stabilize the body’s ability to effectively advocate for student rights and build constructive relationships with administrators. This will entail revising procedures for transitions between terms, along with improved documentation and data retention.
These plans are just some of the goals I intend to fulfill during and beyond my term. My platform can be found in full at www.justinforgm.com/platform!
In your own words, what do you feel are the roles of the Grand Marshal and the Senate?
Justin Etzine: The Student Senate is the representative and legislative body of the Union, given its authority by the Rensselaer Union Constitution. The Senate represents students in student rights policies and decisions, pursues projects to improve student rights, and serves as the collective voice of the student body to the administration. The Grand Marshal, first and foremost, leads the Student Senate and the Union as the chief representative of the Union.
The Grand Marshal works with committee chairs and Senators in executing the Senate’s mission to represent students, advocate for their interests, and pursue positive change for their benefit.
However, the role of Grand Marshal extends far past its responsibilities on paper. The GM is expected to be the respectful, collective liaison between the student body, the faculty, and the administration, so the GM should act with poise and optimism in representing the student body. Furthermore, the Grand Marshal must be a known name and face on campus that students feel comfortable approaching—in person or otherwise—with any question, idea, or concern.
What does the student-senator relationship look like? What should it look like?
Justin Etzine: The relationship between the student body and the senators is one of service and representation. The Senate serves as the collective, representational voice of the student body, and, as such, senators should make sure that their statements and actions as senators are reflective of their specific constituencies’ views.
Ideally, the senator role should fuse thorough student representation with ideas, passion, and initiative to enact change for the benefit of their constituencies. As Grand Marshal, I will push the current senator role closer to this ideal. I will ensure that senators are voting based on their constituents’ views and best interests, and I will enact changes to the senator responsibilities to promote frequent collection of student views.
Finally, senators are, of course, still students, and they can use this as a tool to regularly poll their classmates for opinions and views. Senators should be both recognizable and approachable in their roles, so that constituents feel comfortable sharing feedback with them directly.
What does the senator-administration relationship look like? What should it look like?
Justin Etzine: Throughout my time in Senate, and from what I have seen from past terms, I have noticed a fluctuating trend between two approaches to the Senate-administration relationship. One emphasizes strong administrative relationships, potentially at the expense of representing student concerns if and when they arise, and the other takes a more aggressive stance towards the administration in advocating for student ideas and concerns.
I believe neither approach is the best means of productively advocating for and delivering on student concerns and initiatives. My achievable vision for the relationship between the Student Senate and the administration is an amicable and respectful working relationship, which includes mutual respect for the roles and responsibilities of both parties.
Currently, some senators express apprehension in supporting motions, resolutions, or petitions that take a definitive stance on an issue, especially those on topics that are considered more controversial. I believe that there is an inherent difference between standing by a prevailing opinion of our constituency and acting disrespectfully or even aggressively toward administrators. The latter should not be considered appropriate, but the former has valid purposes and, if handled with tact, can catalyze collaboration, compromise, and positive change.
To achieve this vision, as Grand Marshal, I plan to simultaneously prioritize increasing student representation and improving administrative relationships. Many of the changes needed are small, simple, and easily achievable. For example, I will emphasize the importance of maintaining a certain level of professionalism in Senate meetings that portrays the Senate as a body worthy of collaboration and “a seat at the table.” Additionally, I will guide the Senate’s committee chairs and officers in building meaningful relationships with administrators, with standing meetings scheduled at regular intervals to normalize those conversations.
How would you handle a crisis involving the student body, like the issues surrounding the hiring of an executive director of student activities, if such an issue arose during your term?
Justin Etzine: If a situation arose in which students’ rights or privileges were being encroached upon, or otherwise was a crisis, I would give it my full attention as the role of Grand Marshal would be my top priority. Firstly, I would work to get accurate information on the situation as swiftly as possible; to uphold the professionalism needed for the position, I would still maintain level-headedness and caution, both for myself and for the Senate.
I would inform the student body as soon as possible, especially if they did not already know. I would call on fellow student leaders, such as the presidents of the Undergraduate and Graduate Councils, the class presidents, and the presidents of the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils, to pass on the accurate information, stressing the importance and time sensitivity.
Then, I would work to act on the information with the objective of solving the concern as swiftly as possible. This could mean a meeting with the relevant administrators or the Institute president, a recommendation for a resolution by the Senate, meetings with other student leaders, or a combination of these approaches. I would ensure that frequent and pertinent updates are provided to the student body whenever possible.
I believe that these situations are when the true importance of the Grand Marshal’s role are exemplified. Persistence, respect, and directness are all simultaneously necessary in relaying the student body concern to administration. As Grand Marshal, I will be prepared to fulfill those duties to the fullest extent.
What qualities should a leader have? How does the Grand Marshal differ from a senator? How are you a leader?
Justin Etzine: The effectiveness of a leader depends on more than their own passion—a leader needs to be able to use personal passion to get others involved and inspired with that same level of passion. A leader must be able to build their legitimacy through their reputation, their ethics, and their authenticity. Finally, an effective Grand Marshal must be able to maintain close relationships with leaders across campus, not just with a particular portfolio or division.
I believe that my involvements in student government, both as a senator and a committee chairman, have enabled me to achieve these qualities. The Student Life Committee has seen a record year, both in terms of student involvement and project throughput. Over 30 students have been actively involved in the committee over the term, and every one felt impassioned about enacting changes for the benefit of their classmates, both current and future. I believe that I played a substantive role in growing their sense of passion, and I am confident that I will bring that same passion to a Senate-wide level.
Furthermore, I have been able to establish productive relationships with Institute administrators, student leaders, and campus partners over the past three years, so I will be able to spend more time on working with them to find middle-ground that is amicable for all parties, which is vital for delivering on our promises to the student body.