Starting Thursday at 5 p.m., Northwestern students will begin casting their votes for the next president and executive vice-president of the university's Associated Student Government. This year, for the first time in recent memory, one ticket has made a group long an afterthought in campus life central to its campaign: student-athletes.
This year's election has been dominated by talk of better representation for marginalized students on campus and Joji Syed and her running partner, Archie Baskaran, consider student-athletes to be a part of that group as well.
"Student-athletes haven't been part of the conversation for a very long time," said Parag Dharmavarapu, Syed and Baskaran's head of policy.
While Dharmavarapu says Syed and Baskaran do not have specific policy proposals laid out for the student-athletes, they do have a broader goal of better integrating student-athletes on campus, a group that sometimes struggles to feel like the rest of the student body, due to heavy commitments to their teams.
It is thought that most student-athletes, who make up almost 5 percent of the more than 8,000 undergraduate students at Northwestern, will vote for Syed and Baskaran. Several prominent student-athletes, including All-American linebacker Anthony Walker and starting quarterback Clayton Thorson, have endorsed the pair.
"I'm with Joji and Archie because I know they'll unite and serve our campus community, get things done, and include student athletes in campus dialogues," Thorson said in his endorsement.
Walker echoed a similar sentiment.
"I am endorsing Joji and Archie because I want ASG to better represent student-athletes in a positive way," Walker said. "I believe that they will make this a priority."
All student-athletes are represented by the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC, an NCAA-mandated group which provides input on the student-athlete experience at the campus, conference and national level, according to the NCAA's website.
Previously, ASG has not had a good working relationship with the SAAC, and Syed and Baskaran aim to change that.
"The platform is essentially talking about integrating that with ASG, creating a strong partnership with our two organizations to make meaningful change and see what student-athletes want to be done on campus," Dharmavarapu said.
One specific idea student-athletes have conveyed to Syed and Baskaran regards student attendance at non-revenue sporting events. Outside of football and basketball, according to Dharmavarapu, students rarely go to games, which makes some student-athletes feel bad about their Big Ten experience.
"A key point is to set up a dialogue and start a dialogue to make meaningful solutions happen," Dharmavarapu said. "If ASG is partnering more with student-athletes, that process becomes more meaningful and possible."
Towards that, Syed and Baskarant have reached out to Tommy Doles, a Northwestern football player and the ASG Senator representing student-athletes.
"They have recognized the nearly 500 student athletes as an important community of students at Northwestern, often overlooked in campus dialogue," Doles told Inside NU. "A greater connection to ASG, which I see as the arena for student voice and the avenue for positive change, would begin to connect us to our peers here at NU in a more meaningful way."
Northwestern's presidential and executive vice-presidential elections take place from Thursday at 5 p.m. central time to Friday at 5 p.m.