Ajith, Van Atta reflect on year of ‘linking perspectives,’ advocating for students

Associated Student Government outgoing executive vice president Alex Van Atta and  president Ani Ajith are preparing to leave office.  Ajith and Van Atta’s terms will end Wednesday with the swearing in of their successors.

Daily file photo by Skylar Zhang

Associated Student Government outgoing executive vice president Alex Van Atta and president Ani Ajith are preparing to leave office. Ajith and Van Atta’s terms will end Wednesday with the swearing in of their successors.

Rebecca Savransky, Campus Editor

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Even as Associated Student Government president Ani Ajith and executive vice president Alex Van Atta are transitioning out of their current leadership positions, allowing for a new team to take on their roles, they said their commitment to serving Northwestern and passion for NU will not change just because their term is over.

“We’re definitely not done yet,” Ajith said. “People keep asking us if we’re checked out because we’re about to transition out, and that doesn’t mesh well with the rest of our experience. There is no checking out of being passionate about improving the school.”

The pair said after being sworn into office last year, they had several proposed initiatives and wanted to ensure they remained consistent with their campaign slogan, “linking perspectives.” 

In an effort to more effectively serve the student body, they said they partnered and collaborated with several groups across campus to incorporate student opinion into ASG discussions, consistently met with the members of the administration and made sure to have consistent follow-through with their promises.

“I think a lot of this year has revolved around the ‘ACE concept,’ making sure that ASG is accessible, consistent and engaging in everything that we do,” Van Atta said. “I think that stems from just making sure that ASG is an ally and a partner.”

The pair noted several significant accomplishments they have made throughout the year, including improving shuttles, addressing mental health, creating greater transparency within ASG and increasing the amount of money in the Senate Project Pool, an initiative that improves the chances for students to receive the funding they need and gives Senate more leeway in their allotment.

They said they also added several priorities to their agenda throughout the year in response to student needs including sexual assault prevention and support for low income students.

“As different issues come to forefront of campus discussions, we need to be ready to kind of change our game plan and stay relevant as things change,” Van Atta said.

The pair also emphasized the importance of the campus-wide survey sent out in the beginning of the year. They said the survey, which received about 2,500 student responses, allowed them to make the organization significantly more data-based, relying more on student feedback rather than making decisions internally. Ajith added that this year’s survey was “unprecedented in scope and size.”

It also served as the impetus for several projects the group either fulfilled or laid the groundwork for throughout this year, including gathering data for the 3 + E campaign, which would award students credit for their involvement with specific extra curricular activities.

The pair said, however, several of their accomplishments were more “behind the scenes.”

They said they attempted to take on projects that will span the next several years in an effort to create a long-term vision for the University, noting there are limitations in what can be accomplished within a single year. Ajith said more than focusing on small initiatives, the team looked at “things that are baked into the DNA of Northwestern,” and the structural issues that really make a difference.

“What we have been looking into this year and saying ‘why are student groups the way they are at Northwestern, why is mental health the way it is at Northwestern and can we tie it back to the quarter system, can we tie it back to the way we structure our schools and structure our majors and how many courses we’re supposed to take,” Ajith said.

Ajith said over the next few years, NU will see new construction initiatives and substantial increases in the amount of funds and capital, as could be seen with the launch of the “We Will” capital campaign. Ajith said through the pair’s leadership, ASG was redesigned to serve as more of a “student union concept,” in order to prepare the Senate for their involvement in major decisions over the next five to ten years.

“What it is now and what it will be is a student advocacy body that’s also able to provide services, that’s also able to provide resources, that is very much a support system for students on campus,” Ajith said.

He added that he had two main goals through the year, including “trying at every single moment to do things to the utmost and do things right,” and to think in the long term, both of which he said the pair did successfully.

The pair said they viewed any obstacles they ran into as “opportunities for growth.” Last spring, when the team had several issues with position confirmations, they said they used it as opportunity to engage better with senators and updated the code in an effort to ensure these problems do not occur again.

Ajith and Van Atta both said the experience as a whole taught them a great deal about leadership and gave them important tools they would be able to use throughout their lives. They said they specifically learned how to prioritize instead of attempting to target several different initiatives at once and how to create a more value-based organization instead of one focused primarily on issues.

ASG academics vice president Sofia Sami, a Weinberg senior, said after closely working with Ajith and Van Atta over the past year, she admired their constant communication with the University, which allowed for the formation of more comprehensive platforms within ASG.

“They’ve also done a really good job with communicating to other staff and administrators on campus and being a very constant source of feedback,” Sami said. “That’s why we kind of see an increased utilization of ASG across the school in many ways because they’ve been so reliable.”

Sami said the team really did attempt to “link perspectives,” and served as dependable leaders for the student body. She said their support allowed several initiatives she had this year to grow and become more beneficial as a whole, specifically noting that projects including the campus-wide survey and “Hackathon,” would have been difficult without their backing.

Van Atta, who will serve as the ASG student groups vice president next year, said ASG has been a very influential part of his life over the past few years, and he is looking forward to continuing to serve the student body and community as a whole.

“If you stop what you’re doing just because you don’t have the position, then you probably shouldn’t have had the position in the first place,” Van Atta said. “Just because we won’t be president and vice president doesn’t mean that we’ll stop caring about Northwestern or stop caring about getting things to happen. We still deeply care about this school and we will make sure that the projects that we were so passionate about continue even when we’re graduated.”

Email: rebeccasavransky2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @beccasavransky