The Triangle recently spoke with Vivek Babu and Esta Jacob, the two candidates running for Student Body President of Drexel’s Undergraduate Student Government Association, ahead of the deadline for voting of Friday, April 21 at 5:00 pm. Both experienced USGA committee chairs, the candidates discussed their platforms and the goals they hope to achieve if elected.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CD: Thank you both for taking the time to speak with me. I’d like to start by asking for some background on both of you, like what you study at Drexel and anything else you think is relevant to getting a better sense of who you are.
VB: My name is Vivek Babu, I’m currently a third-year junior. My major is biology within the BS/MD guaranteed medical program, so I am on the premed track. My minors are in global studies and global public health. Right now I’m studying abroad at Sciences Po in Paris, so I’m reaching you from all the way across a couple of oceans. I guess relevant to my background within USGA specifically, I was appointed the freshman year VP during my freshman year, and then I promptly served the Civic Engagement Committee. The Civic Engagement mainly relies on working with community partners, new organizations at Drexel and administration to see if we can bridge the gap between Drexel and the surrounding community. And then I was also a member of a bunch of smaller committees within USGA like the Student Organization Committee, and the newsletter, which works directly with USGA executive leaders to market ourselves to the public.
EJ: And my name is Esta. I’m a double major in Finance and Legal Studies in the accelerated BS/MBA program. So this is my last wonderful undergrad year, and then I’m hopefully going to get my MBA, and then the plan is law school after that, but we’ll see. In terms of both university and USGA involvement, I joined my freshman year with Vivek actually, but I was past president, and then after that, I became a sophomore senator, and now I serve as a Buildings and Properties Committee chair, where we really work on bridging business services and sustainability with students. My company also really affords me the opportunity to expand outside of USGA, so I’m currently serving as a student representative on the policy council, where we basically just review university policy changes. That’s been really interesting and fun and honestly probably boring to most students because a lot of it does apply to faculty. But I’m also serving as a co-chair on the Climate Action Plan, which is Drexel’s effort to make a plan of action against climate change as a university overall. That’s going to be like a twelve to eighteen-month process and we’re going to see how that goes. I think that pretty much sums me up in terms of USGA.
CD: Wonderful to meet both of you. Now to take a step back: What is USGA and what do you do there?
EJ: USGA serves as a consolidated voice for the student body to reach the administration, especially those administrations aren’t as used to student impact or are more removed from the student body so that our issues are still affecting them and they do have the position and the impact and power to make those changes. So we kind of act as a bridge between the administration and the students. This can range from just regular meetings with people to bring up any new issues, connecting people on specific projects, and it can involve anyone. It is a wide range of admin that thankfully this position and this organization has connections with. So we’re really just acting as representatives to make sure that student voices aren’t lost in the noise that is Drexel.
VB: I can also briefly add too, so one of the greatest accomplishments that USGA has achieved within the last two years especially is building our network of administration and faculty, which we can leverage to make sure that student voices can reach a very tangible, actionable goal. However, I do think that the future of USGA is really leaning toward student networking and student involvement. Well, we’ve historically seen with the USGA events such as events that are occurring nearby like Earthfest, the Drexel Civic Engagement Fair working with the Student Organization Committee to make sure that we get their recognition process together. Just as much as we are working with administration on getting our goals done, we’re also working hand in hand with students and partnerships to make sure that we really get a cohesive and complete idea of what students really want.
CD: So as student body president, what would your role be in that work that USGA does?
EJ: I feel like every President that I served under has approached the role in their own different way, with their own circumstances that arise, but at least to me, the role is really going to mean being the external face of the organization. We have our representatives who will be our people on the ground, who do the one-on-one conversations with students, with their community, with their network. But then in terms of representing the organization, when we make major changes like when the townhomes story came out, it was our president who made final press releases. So for me, I feel like that would be the external facing role of the President and then on an internal basis, it’s really creating the culture and the environment to have dedicated representatives who are getting stuff done in an effective and efficient manner to last create a lasting impact.
VB: And I’ll briefly explain too. So I think what many people are unfamiliar with is the new structure of USGA. Historically in student governments we have class presidents, class vice presidents, and that’s how we operate. But in recent times, USGA has undergone a complete restructuring. We now have five specific committees: Academic Affairs, Buildings and properties, the Student Organizing Committee, Civic Engagement, and Student Life. That really allows us to individually target different areas of campus and we’re allowed to rely more on this organization to accomplish our initiatives. To me, the role of the president is to make sure that we know specifically the priorities of this organization, and to be a really uniting leader that can take all of the different wonderful ideas of our board and make sure that they turn into tangible ideas.
CD: Well it sounds like both of you are already taking a lot of initiative in USGA. I’m interested in hearing what motivated you to not only join USGA, but continue to take on leadership roles?
VB: OK, so I can start with that. I joined Drexel in 2020 under the COVID-19 pandemic and for me I thought that USGA would be the best way for me to get involved on campus. I live in Pittsburgh, which is almost an eight hour train ride away from Philly, so it was the best way for me to really get involved on campus without actually me being on campus. And the reason why I continue to stay and the reason why I continue to take on leadership positions is because of the people. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever met on campus more passionate, driven, hard working people as I have in USGA. Through my leadership position, I’ve gained this incredible network of student organizations and student leaders and just friends who have incredible ideas at Drexel and so to become student body president would just mean that I would be able to actually unite to in organizations on campus to make sure that cohesively we all know the problems that Drexel and things can get done. And to do that with people that I incredibly admire, people like Esta, it’s just all the more gratifying in the end. So that’s my cheesy speech on why I joined.
EJ: Yeah, I can’t match that, but I will try. So in high school and stuff, student government is not really an impactful organization, it’s more of event planning. It’s a fun way to represent students kind of thing, and that’s just not what I wanted, so I didn’t join student government high school at all just because I had better things to do. But coming to Drexel, I want to at least see if our student government was like that. And I actually went to a virtual info session because I joined in 2020 virtually and our then student body President Tim Hanlon literally put me in a breakout room and walked me through exactly what they’ve done, what they do and how different it is from high school. That sold me. I was like, this is going to be the place where I make my impact, where I leave my legacy at Drexel. I have made so many friends, so many connections. We have a great mentorship program within the organization too and they’ve kind of become our families, similar to sororities and fraternities. They’re my family away from my actual family, so it’s really nice to be around people who also have the same drive to create that lasting impact. That is definitely what brought me here and what is keeping me here.
Then in terms of what’s pushing me for student body president, it’s the feeling of needing to progress. It’s time for me to see what else I can do within the organization, and I feel that student body president is a natural fit for me just because I am a people-person, so talking one-on-one like this is where I thrive. This is where I listen to people. I understand what people have concerns about, what people care about, and as president I can assure them that I’m going to do something about it. Most of all, I think that’s something that’s super important. But also, just understanding that we are all still college students. We all still do have lives outside of USGA. You can still be involved with other organizations and other activities, so I really want to create that culture and culture environment with all these new members, especially as they start the USGA journey like Vivek and I did three years ago.
CD: Yeah, that’s a great transition to my next question, especially since you’ve both been involved for so long. From your perspective as a student, what have you seen at Drexel that you would like to improve?
EJ: I think that we have the culture and the community university wide at certain occasions, whether it’s the homecoming game or it’s in the involvement fair, we have those moments, but it’s not lasting. So as a student, I’ll go to my bio class with 200 people and I’ll recognize them, but I won’t talk to them or connect with them just because we run in different circles and I feel like it’s such a high school clique-y thing that everyone struggles with.
You should have the courage and the ability and the comfort of walking up to someone and being like, “Hi, I know you from this. Let’s be friends.” Regardless of the fact that we run in completely different circles. Like I’m still super insecure about that, but I’d love for the university to have a more lasting moment or a more lasting process or something like that to keep that going in terms of connection between the university.
VB: Okay, I can go next. So, I completely agree with Esta. My perspective on university culture, though, is that as much as it is a very key phrase, what we need are the tangible steps to create university culture to make the process easier for everyone. My five key priorities, they’re based on our individual committees, but one of them I’m especially passionate about is making the student organization process easier. Christian, you’re part of the Drexel Triangle, you know how hard it is for the recognition process. You know how hard it is, especially if you’re part of a new organization to start a new constitution. We want to make sure that that process is easier because the heart of our Drexel community is through its student organizing. And I think, second, we really want to make sure that the resources that Drexel provides reflects what students need and what they want. For example we did a 2022 mental health week last October, and it was an incredible success. So we want to make sure that those resources are really put out there for everyone and for academic affairs. We want to make sure that classes like Univ 101 and CIVIC 101 really reflect what students are actually thinking. And lastly, in the committee that is my baby right now, so to speak, Civic Engagement, I really want to make sure that service organizations as well as other DEI and by BIPOC groups on campus, they get the resources and spaces they need. I think at the end of the day, if you want to talk about what builds the Drexel community, it’s making sure that we read students within their classrooms, student organizations, and in their spaces for friends and for fun.
CD: You’ve both touched on these a lot, but I’d like to lay it all out now: What are the main goals you want to achieve if elected?
VB: So I’m just gonna keep it really honest. Christian, I think being president of USGA provides a really important platform for campus involvement. While there are definitely a number of students who might not want to get involved on campus, I can’t tell you the amount of people that I’ve met through student athletics, through Greek life, through certain organizations that have found their communities, that have found their lifelong friends within those organizations. So I really want to continue supporting and making sure that student organizations remain such a key priority for USGA. And I think second, when we talk about the initiatives and working with administration, it’s really, really important to get student feedback. We want to make sure that while we may not have all of the control of what administration makes, we do have control of providing student input into what priorities Drexel really wants right now. I want to make sure that I guide students to the student resources that they have. And third, I want to make sure that we get these opinions and feedback to our administration. That’s the main priority of USGA, and I think that’s what students really need to care about. Students are the heart of our university. And as much as we’ve built our network with administration, my main priority at the end of the day is to make sure that it all comes back to students.
EJ: A lot of that, I will say, is very universal to everyone who’s trying to move up in the org, but I think my main issue is just making USGA more accessible. I’ve been best friends with my current roommate since freshman year and until last week, she did not really understand what USGA did and how we could be a resource. A lot of people feel like we only tackle the big issues. We tackle major climate action plans, we tackle civic engagement, but I think people kind of aren’t aware that they can reach out to us with the small ones because those small issues might be part of a collective issue. So I think people not knowing that we’re accessible is kind of holding us back from getting that input.
I think that’s something that’s definitely a priority for me moving forward, but I also feel like we’re in this weird space right now where it’s like after COVID, but some people are still very concerned about COVID. So I think what’s important is figuring out how, as a university, we can support our students no matter where they are in the spectrum of concern about the pandemic, about their mental health, about their residence, about their academics and about their career plans. I think as a university we kind of need to figure out how to set this up with the wide, wide range of resources we do offer and then making those accessible to students.
CD: How do you feel about taking on the responsibility of advocating for the thousands of undergraduate students at Drexel? Do you have a plan in mind to make sure all students feel represented?
EJ: I went to a Talking Tuesday at the Lindy Center where we talked about student advocacy in terms of both for students and from students. And it was a really great conversation, but something I’m really taking away from that is that you can’t advocate for someone if they don’t want to be advocated for or if they don’t need your advocacy. But I also think that in terms of taking on the responsibility, I am doing this a little selfishly. I have people I love at this university who are students. So whatever positive impact I can make affects the entire university, but it’s also affecting them and I want them to have a great college experience.
I will say during COVID when we were all very globally spread and everything, I did feel like a lot of the connections we made for students was through existing student organizations or student leaders. I feel like now that we’re back on campus, we can reach out to everyday voices. What I’m envisioning is just being outside and wearing our USGA gear and passing out business cards to anyone. It’s being present at events so people are aware of our presence. I think that’s something that I definitely want to push for, but also just making sure that everyone is aware we solve issues. So that’s where I’m focusing in terms of advocacy.
VB: I think over the last three days of getting votes for President I’ve seen that reaching out to students is a really, really easy thing to say, but a very, very difficult thing to accomplish, because what does it mean for USGA to be accessible if students have no idea what who we are? I think the priority is less about tabling and business cards and reaching out to students but instead to make sure that when we have orientation within Univ 101, the Drexel 101 booklet is already put in first-years’ hands immediately. When we talk about sustainability efforts within classes, we have the efforts that USGA has already accomplished right there in the forefront. We can talk a lot about the issues that a lot of students have and we can talk about how their input directly influences the process and can actually make the process easier. And then second, the responsibility aspect is to make sure that at least we can advocate as a board in USGA for what we believe students should have. Students knowing that we’re really listening to their voices means bringing them into our meetings, making sure that students know that if they have an initiative, they’re more than welcome to come and talk to us.
CD: I appreciate you breaking that down. We’ve been talking a lot about your platform, so I’d like to shift a little and hear about what you enjoy doing outside of USGA and classes.
EJ: Recently my friends have really been getting me into RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’ve never actually watched it before but I knew what it was. So lately I’ve been kind of binging that, but the All Stars and the current one. So it’s a little bit of a problem right now, but I’m also a major foodie. I always like to try new places across the city. I just got back from New York from co-op, so trying all the new places that popped up while I was gone is on my to-do list. And then honestly, I am also a student ambassador, so that does take up a lot of my time since I love being a part of students’ decisions to come to Drexel.
And I love going home, too. My little brother is in middle school. He and I are big tennis fans and we both love donuts, so I’ll pick up a pack of donuts, we’ll eat those and then go play tennis afterwards and try not to get sick. So, like, that’s kind of my fun vibes. Friends and food, I want to say.
VB: Okay, well, obviously my bias is incredibly shifted because right now I’m in Paris and my fun free time that I’ve been loving in Paris is definitely a lot different than what I’m enjoying in Philly. But I consider Philly definitely my home and so I take a lot of time just exploring the city.
I love a good solo walk. I love creating Spotify playlists and just kind of walking by the river walking all the way to Chinatown. And I really kind of like exploring Philly by myself.
I’m also trying to work on my fitness. I ran a 10K earlier last year and I really want to make it a goal this year to run a half marathon because I feel like it’s like a fun thing to do on campus. Other than that I feel like honestly, the thing I miss most about Drexel right now is just sitting at Drexel Park. I love Drexel Park so much. There’s a bench that faces the city that I used to sit on at night a lot. A lot of my free time is occupied academically, but when I get these like really healthy times of my own free time, I think a lot of it is just spent kind of adventuring in Philly.
CD: That’s great to hear, thank you for sharing. How can students learn more about you and cast their votes?
EJ: So in a general casting your vote thing, you can go to www.drexelusga.com/vote. You can find it on our webpage at just the drexelusga.com part. It’s also over on both of our Instagrams, which are very active. You can find mine @estajacob1405.
VB: And I’ll drop mine as well, @v.ivek__. The most important thing is that students know they have to vote by tomorrow at 5:00 PM. A lot of the people I’m talking to, they’re kind of waiting to vote in a little bit, but I want to make sure they get their vote in before it’s too late.
And beyond both me and Esta just running for president and everything, we really, really encourage more and more people to join USGA. You can find that information at www.drexelusga.com/elections. You need 50 nominations, and that ends on Sunday, I believe. So just get your applications out there, make sure you join USGA, because the student voice is so incredibly diverse.