This week, the Bulletin sits down with Inés Alberico and Pius Fozan, President and Vice President of the Student Government of the Willy Brandt School for 2022. Inés and Pius are both first year students of the Brandt School and assumed their new roles at the beginning of the year.
They share why they chose to run, what challenges they have had to overcome and how they see their roles shaping the student experience.
Thanks so much, both of you, for being here today! To start off, why did you decide to run for Student Government?
Inés: Student politics is a big thing back home, and I've been involved since I was a teenager, so when I told my friends I was running for President, they weren't surprised. To be honest, I originally didn't plan to do it but I couldn't help myself when I started noticing the struggles students were facing navigating life in Erfurt. My goal for the Student Government is for it to be a safe place for all students, a place to connect and help each other out, especially in the trying times we are living in nowadays. I've also realized there is so much potential in each one of us and I want to work to strengthen the exchange of knowledge and the creation of professional networks among us, and also with graduated Brandtians.
Pius: For two selfish reasons. I come from India – a country of 1.4 billion population, home to several religions with hundreds of languages, and many cultures. It presents a unique challenge of its own in any policymaking process. When I go back to India as a policymaker, I want to have enough experiential learning and cognitive awareness to be compassionate, sensitive, attentive, and contextual in offering policy models. For me, there could have been no better training ground than to work with an extraordinary student body of 88 brilliant thoughtful minds from 30+ different countries who have distinct perspectives, aspirations, and visions.
Second, I want to put myself, and my value system to the test. I want to be kind, and practice compassion. While these values seem very cliché, they are not easy to practice every day, in every moment. I want to be aware of my flaws if I can not perfect my values. I want to know when I fail to practice kindness. Knowing these flaws are the only way to better myself. Constant interaction with an international student body offers me the opportunity to be a better person, to be kind to myself and my colleagues.
Did you come to this position with any other leadership experience? What was it?
Inés: I've been involved in Student Government during High School and my Bachelor in Argentina. After that, I worked as Campaigns Coordinator at Change.org, an international NGO advocating for citizen participation worldwide. These were two different experiences that gave me leadership skills but I have to say that representing such a diverse student body is a new challenge and I am already learning a lot!
Pius: I am not sure whether I could call myself a ‘leader’. It often sounds like a cheesy term to me. But I love taking initiative. I love being available for people around me. I love community organizing. Therefore, I have taken interest in working with community since my school days. I started off as Senior Prefect in my Military Boarding School (Sainik School Goalpara) in Assam (India) and went on to be School Captain in St. Xavier’s School, Doranda and later, Student Representative in my college – St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi. It’s been an absolutely beautiful experience of joy, and learning.
What sort of problems did you identify that you want to work to solve over the next year?
Inés: We feel there's some lack of connection between MPP students and the University and we want to make sure we are included and able to access the same opportunities as other students. Given that most students are internationals and do not speak fluent German, living in Erfurt is challenging and we want to ensure everyone has help to navigate it. But the most important part is having a space where every voice is heard and where we can work together to solve any concerns.
Pius: Three things: Creating a contextual and customized learning opportunity. Creating an inclusive learning environment; and fostering forgiveness and compassion among the whole ecosystem (school, university, and campus). These are my goalposts. They are lofty goals and I just have a few months to do it. So, here is the trick. I do not aim to change behaviour and reach these goals in the next 9, 12 or 24 months. My goal is to start a conversation. Begin with myself first. Offer safe spaces for a dialogue and be patient to create a generational change in everything that we do in the school – whether it is the curriculum or a small group work. I want to lay the foundation for the next Student Government.
What sorts of accomplishments have you had so far and what more do you think needs to be done?
Inés: We assumed the Government only recently, just in the middle of exams, so our focus was reaching out to the students to see how they were doing and if they needed any help. We've been working on sharing available resources from the Uni, specially on mental health, and assessing whether these resources are enough to cover the demand. We also worked on sharing Corona-related information and resources, about vaccination and tests. Some students told us they went to get the booster after they got the information and that's something we are proud of! We are looking forward to the Summer Semester to set our projects in motion. Stay tuned for updates!
Pius: Cultivating a basic sense of humanism is my north star for anything that I have been doing. Normalizing being human, normalizing the fact that students will make mistakes, and normalizing the idea that students do not need to strive for competitions and perfection but for being kind in everything that they do; these are things I am attempting to make a regular, routine human activity. Through offering support classes, listening sessions, and peer to peer counselling, I have been making an effort. It is not much, it is not enough; nonetheless, it’s the step in the right direction.
It seems like Covid-19 is beginning to recede, or at least more in person activities will soon be possible. Has that changed how you plan to approach your position?
Inés: Yes! We are looking forward to having in person gatherings, I have to say I met most but not all students in person and that needs to change! We want everyone to be able to connect, make new friends and exchange. Spring brings hope and we expect to be able to share event news at the beginning of the semester.
Pius: We have a few plans in the making. We are discussing ideas about organizing an annual festival to celebrate our students’ talents and, also, offer them an opportunity to rejuvenate, and enjoy a happening campus life.
Awesome! Thank you both so much for your time!
About the interviewer
John M McElfresh is a second year MPP student and a member of the Bulletin's editorial team.
~ The views represented in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Brandt School. ~