AS Presidential Candidates: Akopnik and Simpkins strive for a more inclusive campus

Caitlin Cook, Contributor

Photo collage of AS president candidate, Jacob Akopnik (left) and AS vice president candidate, Kayla Simpkins (right). (Photo courtesy of candidates. )

When he was a freshman, third-year political science student Jacob Akopnik ran in the Associated Students’ elections under a slate called “Rise Up.”

Now, he’s paying homage by running for AS president under a slate called “Rise Above,” a similar but different name that represents resilience in the face of adversity, which Matadors have known well since the beginning of the pandemic.

With third-year psychology student Kayla Simpkins as the vice presidential candidate, the Rise Above slate is running to create a campus community that prioritizes each and every Matador.

Both Akopnik and Simpkins currently serve as attorney general and chief of staff, respectively. But by no means do their involvements on campus end there.

Before becoming attorney general with AS, Akopnik served as a lower division senator during the 2019-2020 school year and served as chair of the Internal Affairs Committee the following year. He has also been involved with Camp Matador, New Student Orientation and his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha.

Simpkins currently serves as the president of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority’s Omega Kappa chapter after previously serving as treasurer. She also used to be the director of public relations for the Black Student Leadership Council and provided support for students with disabilities as a paraprofessional for Disability Resources and Educational Services.

Akopnik and Simpkins deliberately chose the slate’s three pillars, or policies. The first pillar is “Inclusivity,” and it revolves around the idea that having a diverse student body is not enough; CSUN needs to promote inclusivity as well.

Some of the ways the Rise Above slate wants to improve inclusivity on campus is by advocating for anti-bias training for faculty members, improving accessibility for students with disabilities and hosting town halls to make students feel heard.

Rise Above’s second pillar is “Outreach.” Akopnik and Simpkins were inspired to include this pillar when they realized that CSUN students often have trouble knowing what opportunities and resources are available to them.

Simpkins said that involvement on campus, internships and volunteering are important parts of the college experience.

“Nowadays, it’s very hard to get a job with just your [bachelor’s],” Simpkins said.

Akopnik said he wants his slate to take on a more direct approach to informing students of what is available to them. This includes creating forums for new students to converse on, making a YouTube channel for campus information and prioritizing high school recruitment.

Finally, the slate’s third pillar is “Community.” Rise Above wants every Matador to feel as if the CSUN campus is a second home. To achieve this, the candidates proposed creating a history book that outlines the “deep cultural history” of CSUN, keeping the campus well-lit at night to help students feel more safe and encouraging students to attend cultural events.

“Students don’t go [to cultural events] because they don’t feel comfortable with the fact that it’s not their [cultural] group,” Akopnik said. “I want to get away from that.”

Akopnik and Simpkins said the student response to their slate has been very positive. Their Instagram account has over 1,400 followers, and current AS Chair of Legislative Affairs Sahara Damon said Akopnik and Simpkins have her vote.

“I am voting for the Rise Above slate because they are committed to uplifting students’ voices and addressing students’ needs head-on by actually listening and involving them in decision-making processes, which is exactly what we need now to rise above our current obstacles and come together as a community,” Damon said.

In the logo created for Rise Above, the “I” in “rise” is a rose — a reference to the Tradition of the Rose, a CSUN ceremony started by Akopnik and Simpkins’ advisor and manager of Student Leadership and Productions, Leanne Vincent.

“Whenever you [achieve] something, you put the rose down on top of the Matador statue,” Simpkins said. “And I think that’s what Rise Above is all about. We’re closing one door and we are opening a new one, and we’re going to reach every single goal that we want.”

Voting will open up at 8 a.m. on April 6 and close at 7 p.m. on April 7. Each eligible student will receive a link to a personalized ballot via an email from the university with the subject line “Invitation to Vote.” For more information about voting in the upcoming AS election, visit the AS/USU Elections 21 page on the CSUN website.