Noah Star, Christina Kim reflect on focus of improving ASG internal culture


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Weinberg senior Noah Star is sworn in as Associated Student Government president in April 2015. Star’s term ends Wednesday evening, when SESP junior Christina Cilento will be sworn in.

Matthew Choi, Reporter

Noah Star remembers a debate at an Associated Student Government Senate meeting during which students argued to bar executive board members from endorsing ASG presidential candidates. Although many supported the idea, Star — a senator at the time — rose before the group and objected.

“I stood up and said very simply, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’” he said. “Every student is a student and they should have the ability to speak.”

Even though ASG passed a rule this year prohibiting Star, a Weinberg senior, and executive vice president Christina Kim, a McCormick senior, from endorsing a candidate  — which Star said he was “indifferent” to because he and Kim planned to refrain from endorsing anyway — as a senator, he was successful in allowing vice presidents to continue endorsing candidates.

Star said a belief that students should be able to share their opinions regardless of their role in ASG — to be students first and foremost — influenced him and Kim in their eventual roles at the helm of the organization.

Star and Kim — ASG president and executive vice president, respectively — have led the organization since being sworn in last April. For the past year, Star said they have focused on changing ASG’s culture to be more welcoming and accommodating to students both serving in ASG and at large.

Increasing student representation on a faculty task force last spring was among the most defining actions of their term, Star said. He and Kim pushed Provost Dan Linzer to put students on a faculty task force that examined the undergraduate academic experience.

“If we pay, we have a say,” Star said at the time.

Linzer eventually agreed to add two students to the task force.

SESP junior Christina Cilento, who will be sworn in as Star’s successor Wednesday night, said she worked with him and Kim — along with Weinberg senior Riko Ohashi, ASG vice president for academics to assemble proposals for the task force to integrate sustainability into the academic curriculum.

“What they’ve done inside ASG maybe sets a precedent for the rest of campus,” Cilento said. “It certainly embodies that student government is trying to be more inclusive and more accessible to students across campus.”

Last month, Senate passed a resolution giving more seats to multicultural Greek organizations and student groups, decreasing the number of seats the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association had from five each to three each.

But balancing internal reform and external outreach posed a challenge. Amanda Walsh, former president of NU Quest Scholars Network and the group’s senator, said although students may feel safer speaking up within ASG under Star and Kim’s leadership, that improvement did not always reach external organizations. Unlike past presidents and vice presidents, Walsh said Star and Kim made less of a concerted effort to connect with Quest Scholars leaders outside the context of ASG.

Regardless of that fact, the Communication senior said she appreciates the work Star and Kim have accomplished within ASG. She said they have worked to ensure all students within ASG feel safer speaking in Senate and have been quick to call out injustices in Senate and comments that make students feel marginalized.

“Noah and Christina are so busy and so many things happened this year, and obviously they don’t have time to talk to everyone,” Walsh said. “That’s just absurd to expect them to make time for every single student and every single group just because they do so much.”

Kim said although she and Star certainly could have reached out more, they focused on creating an environment within ASG where others could approach them.

“We wanted to focus first on our internal community, internal communication because without a healthy organization, it’s impossible to get real action done in our community,” Kim said.

Star and Kim also faced challenges within ASG’s executive board: Two transitions in vice president positions occurred during their tenure, prompting Star and Kim to absorb additional responsibilities, said economics Prof. Mark Witte, who has been the organization’s faculty adviser for 15 years.

An internship made Weinberg senior Parag Dharmavarapu, then-ASG vice president of student activities, unable to perform his duties, and SESP junior Matt Herndon’s resignation in November led ASG to postpone power and privilege trainings it had planned for student group leaders.

Regardless, Star said he believes the pair was transparent about all aspects of their term.

“(These challenges are) the way it’s always been,” Star said. “It’s just now you know about it because we decided to own up to it instead of playing pretend.”

Star and Kim’s term will end Wednesday, when Cilento and incoming vice president Macs Vinson, a McCormick junior, transition into the executive roles. Star said he plans to publish an end-of-term report in which he and Kim will summarize their actions.

Although such reports can manifest as extensive documents, Star said they have no desire to write a prolonged account. Instead, they hope to be transparent to their successors about the challenges they faced and accomplishments they made.

“Most of those documents end up being like, ‘Here’s what what I did. Congratulate me. Pat me on the back,’” Star said. “Ours is going to have in there, ‘Here’s what we didn’t do. Here’s what we would suggest you as the people who are taking this up next year make sure to focus on. Here’s what we think needs to be done.’”

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