Ben and Viv’s Excellent Adventure
You might not know the following figures—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. This issue, we bring you two campus power couples who aren’t couples. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our goal from the get-go was to under-promise and over-deliver.” So say the new Columbia College Student Council president and VP of policy, Benjamin Makansi and Vivek Ramakrishnan respectively, of their election campaign strategy. Although an example of the duo’s characteristic dry wit (they were utterly deadpan as they suggested I interview their parents for a “pretty solid reference” and had me fooled for a moment), the motto suits them perfectly.
These two new leaders of CCSC—often referred to as “Ben and Viv”—ran as outsiders in a campaign they described as “satirical.” Their campaign for the ‘Freedom, Liberty and Freedom’ party, featuring posters of the pair in wife beaters and American flag boxers, turned serious when they came up with a slim but popular platform. In a surprise victory this April, the duo managed to defeat the incumbent CCSC e-board by 50 votes.
While Ben and Viv seemed a goofy novelty to many following CCSC politics, the two have been together a long time, and both are driven and accomplished. Ben and Viv met in the fall of their freshman year playing soccer in Riverside Park (“Who is this little shit who thinks he’s good?” Ben says he thought of his opponent turned running mate). Shortly afterwards, they decided to spread their love of soccer, fundraising around $20,000 to build a soccer field in Uganda as part of a project Viv had begun in high school. They spent two weeks there with the help of SigEp’s Balanced Man Fellowship. They are both brothers in Beta, and individually they each have extensive extracurriculars. Ben started the Atheists and Agnostics Society, did Sabor, and was an RA in McBain; Viv is part of CUE and was president of the table tennis club.
The Freedom, Liberty, and Freedom party first came about when the two ran for junior class council.
They had been joking about a humorous campaign with their friend Sameer Mishra (also Beta, now VP Finance) who was then running for class rep. They eventually decided to run for junior class council, and lost by only 64 votes of 622 cast. The next year, to make the most impact in their final run for student politics, they decided to campaign for E-board.
The process looked off-the-cuff, but was highly coordinated. Fellow Beta brothers served as campaign manager and head of security. The two tell me they still have “a stack of 450 posters still in our room that we didn’t hang up.” They instead opted for direct engagement in dining halls, a tactic which yielded mixed results.
“A lot of people were willing to talk to us and engage with us, and some people said they didn’t want to,” said Viv. “My favorite was having guys tell me they went to Barnard.”
Even with a campaign team, Viv put their chances of success at 30/70. Ben gave them better odds, but didn’t expect a win.Since the victory , Ben and Viv have been busy getting acquainted with the intricacies of being student leaders at Columbia. They feel the administration is willing to work with them (“We’re not going to go into administrative meetings cracking jokes and showing up in American flag tank-tops,” says Viv), and the outgoing executive board has helped them transition.
The Pres and Vice-Pres have stuck to the commitments they campaigned on: posting CCSC meeting minutes on Facebook, sending out surveys at the beginning of the school year, and making “Student Group of the Week” videos. They also want to continue work on the food insecurity proposal, which would provide free meal swipes to students in emergency situations, and push for 4-credit lecture courses in all departments.
Viv says he looks forward to the “legwork,” but although the two aim to keep humour in everything they do, coordinating proposals is a far cry from the hi-jinks of their campaign. “Honestly,” he says, “it does not sound sexy on paper.”
— Joseph Milholland