Interview with SBP Candidate Nikita Shamdasani

Nikita Shamdasani is a Political Science Major and Business Minor running for Student Body President.  CRDaily got the chance to sit down with her this week to speak about her campaign, her goals, and why she loves this University.

(This Interview has been lightly edited).

1. Why are you running for Student Body President?

“So, for the past two years, I have been involved in Student Government, first as Mary Cooper’s Executive Assistant and then as Student Body Secretary for Will Linenstall. I loved learning the ins and outs of the jobs and thought that there were great things that could be done with it, but that we weren’t doing a good job of actually harnessing student input, which is fundamentally what student government should be good at.  Obviously, the biggest job of the Student Body President is advocating for students, and when I realized that I could do that better, I knew I wanted to run for Student Body President.  In addition, when I knew my little sister would be attending UNC next year, my intention to run was further cemented, as I want to keep this University great not just for the time I’m here, but for the future as well.”

2. What will be some of your main goals while in office?

“I think we need to do a much better job about being proactive at getting student feedback and being transparent about what we do with that feedback.  We have introduced an online idea generator called Neighborland, which students are already using.  This generator allows students, faculty, administrators, and townspeople (the mayor is already on it) to submit ideas and it allows Student Government to turn those ideas into actions.  In addition, it creates a conversation between students and Student Government where updates can be provided about what is going on within Student Government and where students can engage in the process.  I think that would be a fundamental shift in the role of Student Government, so that information can be more available to all students.  This can play a role in helping big issues (like tuition and sexual assault) which need more student input get that feedback from students to give them a proactive voice.”

3. What distinguishes you from the other SBP candidates?

“No other Student Body President candidate has had the years of experience that I have in student Government.  It’s one thing to be able to identify problems from the outside, but it’s another to have been able to look at it objectively and fix it from the inside.  I have worked with the Student Body President and Vice President literally every day for the last year and I got a behind the scenes look at every issue that has come up in the past two years.  I think with other candidates there would be more of a learning curve, but for me I would be ready to work from day one.”

4. What will be your biggest weakness should you be elected Student Body President?

“I think that sometimes people in Student Government expect others to know how Student Government works.  I have occasionally caught myself using an acronym for a committee and just assuming that others know what it stands for.  Throughout this campaign, I have tried to have others tell me if I am assuming what others know too often and to run my campaign in a manner that explains Student Government to students.  I would definitely be very deliberate in approaching issues from the lens of someone who hasn’t had two years of experience when I try to get information out to students.”

5. What will be your biggest strength?

“I think that a huge thing that helps people in this job is having previous relationships with members of Student Government and knowledge about how it works.  A lot of people that become SBP’s have to learn that over the period of a few months.  At a time when our University is going through so much change, we need a smooth transition and someone who knows the job and how to make adjustments to team structure and leadership style.  From my two years in Student Government, I know how to do these things.”

6. What are your impressions of our new Chancellor Carol Folt, and how are you planning on working with her administration to accomplish your goals as SBP?

“I have been a big fan of Chancellor Folt and I think that, with the way she has allowed student organizations to present to the Board of Trustees, she has done a great job at meeting people and hearing as many opinions as possible.  As to working with her moving forward, I think that administrators like the Chancellor need to be on Neighborland, too.  By engaging with students through that medium, she can keep student voices heard without having to take up too much time and without having to only hear it from me.  I still would want to meet with her often, but I think that having that open channel of communication would allow her to hear student voices at all times, and not just when big issues pop up.”

7. What is the one thing about Carolina that you love most?

“Cliché answer, but I think it is the people.  The reason I got involved with Student Government is because of a Junior I met while I was a First Year.  I told him I had no idea what to do here and he helped me.  He was working for Mary Cooper, the Student Body President at the time, and got me an interview with her to be her Executive Assistant.  I think that in other places, there can be a very competitive environment among classmates, but at Carolina, there is a very collaborative and warm environment that really defines the Carolina Way.”

8. Out of all the great people who have contributed to the University over the years, who is your favorite and why?

“I’m not saying this person has made the greatest contributions, but I would say that Michael Jordan is my favorite.  When I was abroad in Australia, I was frequently asked what school I go to and my reply would always be that I go to Michael Jordan’s school.  Everyone knew what that was and they all thought it was really cool.  I think that he is a big part of people from far away places impressions of Carolina and a reason for us to be proud.  As an example, he is also admirable as he came back to finish his Bachelor’s degree even after making it into the NBA, prioritizing the intersection of athletics and academics.”

9. Who is your favorite President and why?

“I’m going to say James K. Polk, not simply because he was a Tarheel, which is important, but also because he was one of the few Presidents who went in with a set agenda, finished it, and then decided not to run for reelection.  So, I admire he because he went to a pretty good school and knew how to get things done, even when those necessary things were unpopular.”

10. UNC has abruptly transformed into Hogwarts.  What House are you and why?

“I’m going to have to say Gryffindor.  It’s something that I’ve really thought a lot about since the Harry Potter books were such an integral part of my childhood.   Gryffindor’s have the courage to know when things aren’t going right and to change them, even when unpopular.  Proposing an untraditional platform this year was something that we knew would get a lot of pushback.  What we are trying to do is more difficult, but we think it needs to get done, so we are going to do it no matter what.  We are like Gryffindor, but don’t worry, we will be accepting of all Houses.”

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