USG announces the 16 candidates running for senate

Meet the senatorial candidates campaigning for a spot in USG’s 2023-24 legislative branch

A photo of Tutor Center at USC.

The University of Southern California’s Undergraduate Student Government announced the Senatorial candidates for the 2023-24 school year yesterday. Sixteen candidates are running in total: seven pairs and two individuals are running for 12 open senate seats in USG’s legislative branch.

Senators work under the legislative branch of USG which is composed of 12 elected individuals who work to represent the interests of undergraduate students at USC. Each senator also reports to one of six standing committees designed to improve the lives and experiences of students on campus, according to USG’s website.

Andrea Velazquez & AnnaOlivia Schwedt

Andrea Velazquez is a sophomore majoring in quantitative biology and AnnaOlivia Schwedt is a sophomore majoring in intelligence and cyber operations. Velazquez is a first-generation student who has been involved in Grupo Folklorico de USC and Hermanas Unidas. Schwedt is a part of the Thematic Options Honors program at USC and values transparency, equity and unity. Together, Velazquez and Schwedt have proposed a campaign platform that puts emphasis on student wellness, governmental relations, accessibility and services and DEI initiatives.

Rudra Saigal and Julianna Melendez

Rudra Saigal is a sophomore majoring in economics and Julianna Melendez is a sophomore majoring in international relations. Saigal previously worked with USG to expand gender-neutral housing options, organize housing and affordability and increase HIV/STI testing. As USG’s chair of accessibility, Melendez worked on issues with student disabilities and helped pass laws in Nevada’s juvenile justice system as a Youth Legislator. Saigal and Melendez’s campaign emphasizes improving accessibility, first-generation low-income representation, affordability, international student integration and representative transparency in their campaign outline.

Isabella Padilla and McKayla Dorantes

Isabella Padilla is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and McKayla Dorantes is a sophomore majoring in legal studies. Padilla is a first-generation student who participated in student government in high school. Also a first-generation student, Dorantes has worked as a senate aide to current USG Senator Divya Jakatdar on the Affordability and Basic Needs Committee. In their senatorial campaign they have put emphasis on working towards improving student health, transportation safety, campus resources and prioritizing budget affordability.

Sara Stienecker and Halle Schaffer

Sara Stienecker is a sophomore majoring in political science. She currently chairs the Sustainability and Campus Infrastructure Committee within USG and contributed to the USC-LAX shuttle program implemented this past semester. Halle Schaffer is a junior majoring in political science and double minoring in Chinese language and culture and entertainment industry. She is also a member of USC Dornsife’s Agents of Change program. As noted in their candidate platform, they hope to promote inclusivity across campus, push funding forward for basic student needs and increase student access to sustainability projects.

Emilia Bletsas and Elsa Knoke

Emilia Bletsas is a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering with a minor in health policy. She is involved in Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (WYSE), ASBME and Kappa Alpha Theta, and previously worked on a project with USG senators to provide affordable emergency contraceptives to the USC community. Elsa Knoke is a first-generation junior double majoring in political science and psychology. She’s involved in Kappa Alpha Theta as well, is a student worker for Dornsife and has interned for the California Attorney General. Their platform aims to “Promote Equity, Excellence, and the Enhancement of the Trojan Experience” by protecting, supporting and connecting students at USC.

Coleman Cochran and Matthew Speier

Coleman Cochran is a first-year student majoring in economics and mathematics and works as a deputy aide to the President of the student government. Matthew Speier is a business administration major and also serves as deputy aide to the president of USG. Their campaign emphasis falls under modernizing USC’s website systems, promoting safer student environments, boosting student engagement in the community and improving student food options.

Jake Zober and Brandon Tavakoli

Jake Zober is a sophomore studying public policy and law and is involved in USC’s TAMID chapter, FutureNext Consulting and Greek Life. Brandon Tavakoli is a sophomore pursuing a degree in business administration and public policy and currently serves as the external affairs director for USG’s Political Student Assembly. The major issues their campaign platform addresses involve improving common sense for USC students common problems, making USC greener and ensuring Jewish representation and safety on campus.

Bryan Fernandez

Bryan Fernandez is a first-generation freshman studying political science. He serves as director of internal affairs for the political student assembly and president of the Chicano Latino youth leadership project. His primary goal is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between the student body and campus leaders through student assemblies and registered student organizations.

Jake Velasquez

Jake Velasquez is a sophomore majoring in international relations global business. He is a current member of the external affairs committee within USG and also serves as a Dornsife Ambassador. His platform highlights the need for food affordability through EBT-accessible options, increasing access to student academic resources like textbooks and working to reform initiatives with the Department of Public Safety.

A common agenda among the candidates involves putting a larger emphasis on first-generation student representation on the USC campus. A sum of the candidates are first-generation college students themselves and many want to use their voices in hopes of making sure students from diverse backgrounds are given equal opportunities for their concerns to be heard.

Other areas of focus include wellness initiatives like increasing and expanding mental health resources, as well as advocating for the re-establishment of Fryft’s single-rider option.

Platform points, questionnaires and campaign statements from each candidate are available on the USG Elections page of their website and the @uscusg Instagram page.

Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to hear from the 16 candidates at senatorial forums prior to casting their vote. Students will be able to hear from each slate, the platforms they’re running on and ask any questions they may have. The dates for the senatorial forums are still to be determined.

The voting period for USG elections begins Tuesday, February 21 and ends on Sunday, February 26. Election results will be announced Wednesday, March 1.