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Cadesca, Pepe seek to re-brand Student Association

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Langie Cadesca and Nicolas Pepe are sitting in a small office inside the Student Association sharing their journey to the office of president and vice president, respectively. It’s a Friday following a long week, yet the energy between the two is palpable. They finish each other’s sentences and smile adoringly at one another while the other talks. Neither could have imagined themselves presiding over more than 13,000 undergraduates four years ago, but now that they’re here, both intend to make the most of the opportunity.

Cadesca, a Brooklynite whose family immigrated from Haiti, is a first-generation college student and just the second woman of color to be elected to SA’s highest office in the organization’s near 100 year history. Pepe, a Long Islander, was an uninvolved student just four years ago. The two couldn’t be more different on paper, but in life, they are on the same page. Together, they have been tasked to lead a $2.7 million organization at the epicenter of student involvement on campus.

“Me being here and in this role is not only going to benefit me, but I think about every other black woman at this institution who’s going to look at me and say, ‘Wow, if she did, I could do it, too,’” said Cadesca of her new role.

First elected as an Indian Quad senator during the 2015-16 academic year, Cadesca took a break from SA her sophomore year to join Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc only to rejoin the organization as part of former SA president Jerlisa Fontaine’s executive staff a year later.

Pepe had no intentions of running for SA office until Brandon Holdridge, a long-time friend and current senate chair, introduced him to the organization. He was elected as a State Quad senator his sophomore year and was an assistant to Jarrett Altilio, the former senate chair, the next, before leaving the organization to focus on an internship with the State Assembly.

For both, the organization which they now preside over has had an impact on their lives. Cadesca views SA as an opportunity to continue mentoring others, something she has done since being accepted into the Educational Opportunity Program upon enrolling at the university. For Pepe, SA’s outreach and impact on students played a role in his changing majors from economics to public policy and administration halfway through his sophomore year.

“In order to make an impact and be the person you want to be, you have to not only change yourself, but be able to adapt that and make a difference in other people’s lives,” said Pepe of his change in majors.

The two have their work cut out for them this year.

SA has a bruised reputation. Controversies ranging from Uber rides through the French Quarter, to missing funds, forgotten surpluses, and the revelation that student activity fee money was used to purchase t-shirts for members of the senate plagued the organization last year. This is not to mention the various bylaw violations that came to light, including the organization’s failure to update its website despite transparency rules mandating it be done.

“All year round there were positive things happening. We did a lot of community service, we collected so many goods, donations, things of that nature, but people only thought we were relevant until the negative things happened,” said Cadesca.

To combat the negativity, Cadesca and Pepe have plans to rebrand the organization, abandoning the “Your Student Activity Fee at Work” slogan in exchange for a new one: “Empowering the Student Voice.”

“When you’re only seen as a dollar amount, that’s the only thing people care about,” said Cadesca of the change. “’You’re Student Activity Fee at Work’ is a statement that perpetuates that all the Student Association is are the dollars that it gives.”

The pair are fully cognitive of past mistakes and controversies surrounding the organization. They did, after all, run on a platform of accountability, community and excellence, or A.C.E., as their mantra was during one of the most contested SA elections in recent years.

“Accountability I feel like has a lot to do with our organization,” said Cadesca speaking of the platform that won her office. “I’ve spoken a lot about how I feel like as an organization that we sometimes neglect our internal operations.”

To increase the office’s accountability, Cadesca and Pepe plan to release a strategic plan for SA. Though still early in the process, Cadesca confirmed students will be given the opportunity to weigh in on the direction of the organization before the final three-year plan is adopted sometime next year.

“When the three years are over, or even before that, we can say, ‘these were our priorities, and this is what we did in order to successfully fulfill those priorities,’” said Cadesca. “As of right now, I don’t think we really have a mechanism to test our productivity as an organization.”

“We constantly talk about our main goal as the Student Association is to serve the students, but it’s kind of hard to maybe accurately also know exactly how they feel and what they want if they’re not telling us,” said Pepe, who would like to see more students get involved with the organization. “That’s what we want, we want as many people as we can get there.”

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Chad Arnold is a reporter for the Albany Student Press covering Student Association affairs. He is also an die-hard heavy metal fan.

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