As soon as the first question was asked at the SGA executive ticket debate Thursday night, Humza Yahya said he felt like a fish out of water.
The question was about support for communities of color and prevention of hate bias on campus, in light of the approaching one-year anniversary of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins' death. He was killed on the campus in May.
The Recognize UMD Student Government Association presidential candidate — and sole representative of his party at the debate — said afterward he hadn't anticipated questions like that. In the debate, Yahya proposed holding a discussion once or twice a semester where students could talk to university President Wallace Loh and Student Affairs Vice President Linda Clement to discuss these topics.
"It never occurred to me, especially with my limited background in SGA … exactly how broad the scope of the SGA is, and I think the debates definitely enlightened me," the junior accounting and information systems major said, adding that he had a "fun time" at the debate.
Yahya said part of the reason Recognize UMD was formed is to make SGA elections competitive.
"The UMD student body deserves a chance to choose," he said. "Especially when the Student Government Association tries so hard to mirror a democratic institution."
As of Wednesday, Yahya's ticket includes himself and student affairs vice presidential candidate Kamyar Dastani, a junior finance major. The party's candidate for financial affairs vice president, Keith Katz, dropped out of the race for personal reasons.
"He's a very humble, straightforward guy," Dastani said about Yahya. "If I ever have a problem with an SGA budget issue … he's always been sitting there quietly, listening and trying to figure out a solution."
Yahya currently serves as a voting member of the organization's financial affairs committee. He said Recognize UMD doesn't believe Envision Maryland's financial affairs vice presidential candidate, Andrew Stover, should be vice president of finance, which is part of the reason Recognize UMD was formed.
During the debate, Stover said there had been student concerns about the funding process and thought it could be simplified.
"We need to very clearly communicate to student groups what our expectations are of them," he said. "That means being proactive with these groups and making sure they know exactly what the rules are and how the process is going to go when they apply for funding."
Stover wrote in an email that his committee would use every resource available to help students, "not work against them."
"Students deserve to know how their money is being allocated, and I am more than willing to have discussions with groups and hear their ideas that could directly fix the financial process," he wrote.
Stover suggested streamlining the process by prepopulating some of the fields on the funding application. Yahya said he makes some of the forms through the Student Organization Resource Center, and prepopulation isn't possible.
SORC provides resources to registered student organizations once the SGA has allocated their budgets, including contracts, purchase orders, internal service requests and vehicle rental forms, Yahya wrote in a message.
"There is no one with more dual experience than me. … I work 16 hours a week in this office dealing with student groups who have to deal with the results of the SGA," he said. "When a student group doesn't get all the money they need, when a student group … has to deal with cuts because there's not much money we allocated, I would help them deal with that."
The organization's current financial affairs vice president, Alia Abdelkader, said she appointed Yahya to her committee in the fall because she was "so, so impressed by his drive, how focused he seemed and how excited he was to make positive change on campus."
"He's very diligent with his work and he's just always really willing to think critically and sometimes maybe bring up difficult points or questions that other students might shy away from because he knows that those are the important conversations," the senior operations management and business analytics major said.
Yahya is also a section leader and peer mentor for the Gemstone Honors College, a summer 2017 orientation advisor for the business school, a member of the Muslim Students Association and the treasurer of the Terrapin Gaming Club.
Yahya mentioned mental health resources as something he would focus on if elected, specifically citing how he wants to encourage the university to expand Counseling Center hours for non-emergency situations.
"When I joined the SGA, I realized that SGA has the clout with administration to make them at least notice the problem," he said. "We can pressure them relentlessly, we can show them the statistics."