ASCSU Speaker of the Senate candidates plan to diversify conversations

Natalia Sperry

Last year, the Associated Students of Colorado State University introduced a new leadership role intended to lead the weekly Senate sessions by adding the Speaker of the Senate position to the ballot. The Speaker of the Senate acts as the representative and leader of the legislative branch, which in turn serves as a direct line of representation for the student body, through academic colleges, the Student Diversity Programs and Services offices and student councils across the University, according to ASCSU.

A year after the position was added to the ballot, two candidates, Benjamin Amundson and Merall Sherif, look to the future both of the position and of the Senate.

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Benjamin Amundson

ASCSU Speaker of the Senate candidate Benjamin Amundson poses for a portrait on March 20, 2018. (Colin Shepherd | Collegian)

Amundson is a freshman agricultural business major who currently serves as a senator for the College of Agriculture and a member of the ASCSU External Affairs Committee.

“Ultimately, I think that if you have a passion and desire for change, then you can instill that change,” Amundson said. “It’s not necessarily about your past as much as it is about what you want to do with your future.”

Amundson said his campaign centers around the goals of serving students, developing dialogue and cultivating compassion. As Speaker of the Senate, Amundson said he would encourage all ASCSU members to engage in service to the community.  

“It’s not enough to talk about issues,” Amundson said. “Every single person involved in student government should be doing community service and community engagement projects.”

Those ideas led Amundson to donate his privately raised campaign funds to survivors of Hurricane Harvey.

“We believe that the power of a positive message is greater than campaign money,” Amundson said. “Even if we don’t win, giving away the money was worth the positive message.”

Another goal as Amundson said he has for Speaker of the Senate would be to develop inclusive dialogue representative of all perspectives. He also encourages all Senators to meet with their constituents in order to contribute to that dialogue as representatives.

“People are against the idea of having uncomfortable conversations,” Amundson said. “But, I believe that uncomfortable dialogue is tough to go through, but it’s necessary to go through.”

Having grown up in Indonesia and Venezuela before moving to Colorado, Amundson said his experiences in International Schools prepared him to facilitate dialogue in the Senate as Speaker.

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“I believe the goal of the Senate is to reach collective action. My past — where I lived in such diverse places like International Schools — taught me it is more important to focus on what we have in common than what we have that is different,” Amundson said. “(In Senate) we have a lot of different ideas and perspectives, but what do we have in common, and what common ground can we reach to solve those issues on campus?”

Merall Sherif

ASCSU Speaker of the Senate Candidate Merall Sherif poses for a portrait on March 20, 2018. (Colin Shepherd | Collegian)

Sherif is a sophomore pre-medical student double majoring in neuroscience and biology. She currently serves as the senator for the Women and Gender Advocacy Center, Senate power chair, Vice Chair of University Issues Committee, Health Network liaison for the Student Fee Review Board and Vice President of ASCSU’s Multi-Faith and Belief Council.

Sherif also recently founded the ASCSU Women’s Caucus and is the only student representative of the Faith and Cultural Inclusion sub-committee of President Tony Frank’s Commission for Diversity and Inclusion.

“I didn’t know that I could get involved in student government,” Sherif said. “I thought it was out of my reach.”

Sherif said her campaign centers around the goals of promoting accountability and connection. In doing so, she hopes to improve the internal workings of ASCSU and facilitate a space where traditionally unheard voices can be heard.

“Moving from senator in my current capacity to speaker in the capacity of facilitating things, I have to be impartial,” Sherif said. “But, I also can create frameworks and a system to where senators can be linked up with their students.”

Those frameworks include creating a suggestion box in the ASCSU office and on their website that can connect all online and traditional students directly to their representatives, in addition to a mentoring program to help educate new senators and promote networking within the entirety of student government. All of these frameworks are intended to promote an inclusive environment in the Senate that is conducive to producing tangible legislation and accountability, Sherif said.

“ASCSU, in this year and former years, has been often criticized as mostly focusing on internal bills all the time that ultimately end up in a file cabinet,” Sherif said. “We end up standing in support of something, but what are we doing when we’re standing in support? We don’t take the step afterward.”

In order to address all of these issues, Sherif said she plans on building time into every Senate session for honest conversations.

“What I’ve learned in my capacity as senator is that we may all have different beliefs, different political affiliations and different backgrounds, but we need to all have faith in each other,” Sherif said. “We need to be able to have room for diverse conversations to happen (and) for real talk to be built into the agenda for the senate session, and that’s something I plan to do.”

Collegian reporter Natalia Sperry can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Natalia_Sperry.