On April 12, The Bates Student met with Ali Manning ‘23 and Kush Sharma ‘23, the incoming BCSG Co-Presidents. The Student aimed to get to know the candidates as leaders in the Bates community.
BS: Tell us a little bit about yourselves? Where are you from? What is your major(s), minor(s), etc.?
AM: I’m from Sydney, Australia but I have been living in the U.S. for a couple of years. I am a Politics and Rhetoric major and an Anthropology minor.
KS: I’m from New Delhi, India. I was born there, grew-up there, and I moved to the U.S. at 19 when I came to Bates. I have spent most of my time here since coming to the U.S. in Maine. I study theater. I don’t have a GEC right now, but I think it will be film and media studies and a possible minor in Education.
BS: What else are you involved in on-campus besides BCSG?
KS: Lots of theater stuff through the department, through my major, but also outside of it through the Robinson Players which is our theater organization at Bates. I am a Bonner Leader at the Harward Center through which I have been able to work at Lewiston High School with the Robotics Team, and I have been able to be a part of this after school soccer program called the Rosati Leadership Academy. Those are primarily the two things that I do because all the other time goes to the student government.
AM: I am the new community liaison for the Bates Musicians Union. I’m also in a band. It’s a punk rockish band and I play the drums.
BS: Can you talk about your BCSG journey? How and why did you become involved?
AM: I started BCSG a year after Kush did. I remember seeing the freshmen year elections and thinking, ‘I can’t do that.’ It’s a big deal to do that, socially. Then at the end of my freshman year when we were sent home [due to COVID-19], I thought that I should do it. Kush, at the time, wasn’t running so we ended up not lapping over during our first years but we were already really good friends. So I joined the year that Perla [Figuereo ‘21] and Lebanos [Mengistu ‘21] were elected and I have been in since.
KS: Both Ali and I essentially have been involved since our first year. I ran as the class of 2023 representative my freshman year and I was elected. As a sophomore, I was the secretary of the student government, so it wasn’t an assembly position. I was a part of BCSG but in a slightly more indirect role than the year before. Junior year I was elected as the student body president and now as a rising senior I am very, very grateful to be elected as the Co-President with Ali.
Next year will be my eighth year in my student government journey. All of high school and all of college. It started because I have always been someone who believes in the idea of a student government. Obviously there are places, colleges, and institutions where student government doesn’t exist or the structure itself is incapable of making any difference, but at Bates, it was clear that the role student government played was crucial to the overall student experience. I think one thing that got me really excited was the fact that the people I have worked with, including Ali and all of the people we have overlapped with, were all so passionate about doing something for our community. I got in the first year and I just stayed because it was just really good being with those people.
BS: What have you enjoyed the most about being a part of BCSG?
KS: I think the thing I have enjoyed the most about being a part of BCSG is that you keep hearing no, you keep hearing no, and then you finally hear a yes about a certain policy or a certain thing that people in the assembly or people in the executive board start doing. There is evident change that’s happening and taking place. The fact that we have been able to advocate for the student body and the at large community to get things done has definitely been the most enjoyable thing… I think that has been an enjoyable experience because there are so many amazing people [that are] a part of this. Every year [BCSG] consistently brings in a lot of energy, a lot of ideas, and a lot of passion to do the work that they are doing, which makes the overall experience so amazing. The experience would not be the same if it were not for the cohesiveness of the assembly.
AM: There is this rush after something gets done and we realize students do have agency, but I would also say the people. Yes, everyone is wonderful and everyone is nice, but everyone is so hardworking and it reassures me of the community I live in. When you involve yourself as directly [in the community] as Kush and I do, you want to be surrounded by people with the right intent that are like-minded. Student government isn’t something I compartmentalize in my life because we go directly into meetings with the administration and then we see the exact results of that in our daily lives. Perhaps people in BCSG notice [the results] a bit more than others because we know where it’s coming from. I think people forget it’s not just a debate, it’s not just an election, it actually comes around and affects us. The people we have working with us to make that happen are awesome.
BS: Why did you decide to run together as Co-Presidents? What made you believe that you could be successful leaders as a pair?
KS: I think running together as Co-Presidents was this idea that came to us as first-years and we made this pact that we would do it when we were rising seniors. So many things have happened between then and now—a whole pandemic—but that dedication, that commitment to the idea never changed. To me that’s just a testament of how passionate Ali is about doing work that is important to our community. When we circled back to that conversation we had as first-years, our first question was whether we were still passionate about the idea of running together as Co-Presidents and about doing work for the student body. The answer was yes.
I was also tired after [this year]. It’s a full time job being the student body Co-President, and I really wanted someone who was dedicated and who would bring in this new energy and new vision. I really enjoyed working with Marcos and I think it was a successful presidency, but at the same time very tiring. I needed this fresh jolt which Ali totally brought in.
AM: I originally had my sites set on running for president with whoever wanted to run with me. Because I was not on campus I had not discussed anything with Kush or Marcos, and I was planning on running against Kush. We had a conversation when I first got back [to campus]. They said since Marcos was going abroad, and he didn’t want to get burned out. I was kind of tip-toeing around it, and I said, ‘we should run together.’ I was one hundred percent all in on it, but we needed to feel like we were on the same page. To decide to share the amount of work with someone is a big deal.
BS: In years past BCSG has had just one singular president. Do you think that two co-presidents is better than one? If so, why?
AM: I think that it’s fantastic. And I think that the co-presidents, Perla and Lebanos, who changed everything, realized that you need to have accountability and responsibility being equal with someone else (who also has that leadership role). I think that leadership is so important to BCSG, and I think that you can have leadership while also being decentralized—which is why we have the co-presidents. The idea in my mind is that for me, I’m not alone. It feels nice to know that it’s not just me.
KS: Also, BCSG has had single presidents before, but this is the third year in a row where it has co-presidents. I think that with the conversation around that, people are considering the co-president’s role more than they have [ever] before.
BS: Kush, this is more of a question for you: What have you learned in the past year as the current BCSG Co-President and how will you use that knowledge going forward?
KS: What I’ve learned in the past year as the BCSG co-president is how all of this works and how I can balance my personal life, academic life, and life as co-president in a way that is healthy for me and that allows me to work most efficiently and effectively. That’s huge because the first semester last fall it took me a good few weeks to settle into that rhythm.
And this isn’t a part of the question, but one thing that I need to work on—and it almost presents itself as a challenge—is the fact that I don’t want my dynamic with Ali to be, “I’m the leader, I’ve been here.” It came up in one of our conversations with our advisor, Nick Dressler, and it came up in a conversation that Ali and I had on our own. We are co-presidents, we are equal.
BS: Ali, this question is for you: What have your learned in your time at Bates that you believe has prepared you for the Co-President position?
AM: I think that ever since the 2020 summer with BCSG, my eyes have been opened to the amount of power that Bates students can actually have. I think that having that realization, while at the same time being guided by great leaders, not only 1) made me realize what I was doing, but 2) made me realize that it is possible to do it without being shown and taught first. I think that what’s prepared me is that I have had great people by my side, and when I say great people, I mean people who have been in BCSG for the past two or three years. Sometimes I sit in a meeting and I’m thinking about a conversation that I’ve had with an administrator or someone in the Bates community that was probably too pointed.
Advocating for students can be difficult sometimes, and without the encouragement of other students to say, “No, you’re right in that, and you’re valid in that. That’s something that we’re working on, keep pushing,” I don’t think that I would have been prepared to take on this role or even continue my work.
BS: What are you both most excited for next year?
AM: Something that I’m really excited about, which we’re actually talking about in our meeting tomorrow night is restructuring the way that we—or at least starting a discussion about the way we—structure BCSG and the people in it. Right now we have co-presidents, secretaires, reps, and committees, and then we work with other boards like BCB and whatnot. I think that in order for us to achieve maximum outcome—not necessarily increase productivity—but make sure that we’re hitting our goals, is to maybe restructure those committees into the projects that we’re working on … [I] think that we need to rethink the way that people are placed onto projects and the committees that we have.
KS: Just adding to that, it’s kind of a related note… We are also thinking about governance on a college-wide level and how the college thinks of student policies regarding our communities. So right now, the structure that exists is, policies [are] made, they give us feedback… We are trying to become, this is the problem, bring all of the stakeholders and students together into the conversation, form a policy with all of the input and involvement of all the stakeholders and then give that policy out for more feedback from the wider student body. And this idea of college governance potentially coming to the point where we form a college senate where all stakeholders, staff, faculty, students, and all the community members are a part of it, and are in the dialogue and the conversation for setting up policies. This is a long term goal.
AM: Also we want to change our meeting location so that we’re more accessible to the student body. You can come up to us and say whatever you want. We’ll literally take absolutely anything. The amount of people who don’t know that our meetings are open upsets me because we’ve had open meetings for about two to three years now. We get maybe one student every three weeks. I think that a lot of people would benefit from coming and sitting in on the meetings, which are super informal. It’s just a bunch of students, so there’s no pressure. So, I think that another thing would be bridging the gap between BCSG and the student body.