On Jan. 27, the Student Association nominated and elected Nelaje Branch as the new SA vice president. This election took place on SA’s Facebook Live with 134 viewers in attendance.
The senior computer science major has served as the SA Director for Student Affairs and has been a computer science teaching assistant for three years. She was UB’s National Society of Black Engineers president for the 2019-20 school year, also serving as the society’s secretary and freshman coordinator. She is on UB’s Dean’s Advisory Council and is the chair of the Inclusivity Board for UB’s Department of Engineering. Former SA President Adolyn Cofie announced her departure from SA on Jan. 19, and pursuant to UBSA by-laws, Alyssa Palacios will serve as SA president and Sayan Trotman will remain as SA Treasurer.
“I plan to put major emphasis in equity and cultural representation across campus as well as accessibility and student safety,” Branch said. “With school being virtual, we as student leaders must become more flexible and innovative to provide a positive experience for all students.”
Branch’s election came after a Jan. 19 email from Palacios stating Cofie had chosen to step down as SA president due to “personal reasons.” The Spectrum reached out to Cofie for more information, but received no response. In the email, Palacios asked SA staff members who were interested in being “considered for nomination” for VP to notify her by Jan. 21.
Palacios says she received five responses from SA staff members.
“We wanted to stick with someone who is part of the SA staff, we thought that would be the easiest transition –– they already know what’s going on in SA through our director’s meetings and other meetings,” Palacios said.
This was Branch’s second time running for SA vice president. Prior to becoming VP, Branch was a member of the Not Me, UB! campaign alongside senior political science major Hayden Gise. Branch told The Spectrum she and Gise dropped out of the SA presidential race for “personal reasons,” but her passion for advocacy and student support “never faded.”
“When the role of SA VP first became vacant I was nervous to run again, as anyone would be stepping into such a large position,” Branch said. “However, I have an amazing support system and ideas that I believe will make the UB student population feel heard and safe in these trying times.”
In the meeting, Palacios explained she nominated Branch because she is “incredibly hard working” and is “more than capable” to take on the responsibilities of SA VP.
“She has served well in her role in the Student Affairs department of SA and she was originally in the run for VP during e-board elections, so I’m very confident that she is passionate in helping the students,” Palacios said.
Palacios says she was “sad” when Cofie announced her departure from SA and described it as “very unfortunate,” but says she and Trotmon will move forward and try to take on the initiatives Cofie began before she left.
When she found out she would be taking Cofie’s place, however, Palacios says it was a “little scary.”
“I was like, ‘Wow! This is kind of a big jump,’ because when we ran together, I wanted to be VP,” Palacios said. “But me, Sayan and Adolyn kind of kept each other in the loop about everything, so it’s not too hard of an adjustment to jump in and take over, it’s more trying to find the [smaller] things she did and all the meetings she had to attend.”
Trotman could have run for VP, but decided to remain as SA treasurer because she didn’t want to “upset the SA e-board and the staff” and have them begin another search for treasurer.
“I learned my position and I like my position, so if I drop as treasurer, then we’re going to have to find another treasurer,” Trotman said. “Either way, there’s a hole that needs to be filled…[and] I don’t feel comfortable taking a position someone can do better in.”
When looking for the right candidate to step in as VP, Palacios says she wanted someone hardworking and dedicated to working closely with SA clubs.
“We looked through all the [submissions] and compared the work they have completed within SA so far and the initiatives they have taken in their own roles.” Palacios said.
Starting from a young age, Branch says her parents instilled in her the “importance of giving back.” She says as a first-generation American and Afro-Carribean woman in engineering, she is used to feeling “unheard, unseen and overlooked.” One of her goals is to show students that SA sees them, hears them and will support them.
“Having the power and reputation of Student Association vice president is not to be taken lightly, having the role gives me the opportunity to not only fight for those that feel like me but to meet others and learn their stories,” Branch said.
With her new role, she also plans to better the university’s response to student’s mental health. She called the university’s handling of mental health issues “unacceptable” and wishes to put more emphasis towards counseling and mental health awareness, believing it to be “essential” in a pandemic.
She acknowledges that UB is making strides towards racial justice, but has not paid enough attention to students with disabilities, believing them to be “overlooked” and their problems “unaddressed.”
“Varying abilities is an area often overlooked and school behind a screen allows us to be complacent in not providing opportunities to those who need them,” Branch said. “We are currently pushing to make the SA website ADA compliant and have ASL interpreters available at major campus events as well as available to be requested at club events. Silence is a luxury I refuse to tolerate.”
Alexandra Moyen is the senior features editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @AlexandraMoyen
Alexandra Moyen is the senior features editor of The Spectrum.