7 Popular Topics Discussed at the Student Association Debate
We at Jerk have been keeping a close watch on this year’s Student Association presidential elections, knowing things were sure to be interesting with only one declared presidential candidate and four write-in candidates. The National Pan-Hellenic Council hosted a friendly fierce debate Monday night (entitled "The Great Debate") so we attended in order to help our readers make an informed voting decision this week.
Sadly, only two presidential candidate teams were present of the five in the running. Both were write-in campaigns: AJ Abell and Jon Dawson (#enABELL) and Tatiana Cadet and Fatima Bangura (#TatiFati4SA). Missing from the action were Aysha Seedat and Jane Hong (#RestorePride, and also the only team on the ballot), and Jesse Nichols and Moke Hein (Om for SU). Safet Mesanovic and Gener Romeu made a brief appearance, but peaced out before the debate began. Too cool for school, apparently.
The nearly two-hour event, attended by about 30 students, covered various aspects of the role of SA president. The back and forth got a bit heated during the audience Q&A round, especially with SA members in attendance to correct the candidates on how some of their ideas simply aren't feasible within the organization's structure... awk. Some topics, in particular, proved major talking points among the candidates:
1. Diversity. This was a major buzz-word throughout the night that sparked debates of its own. Both candidates called for a more diverse student body, but an audience member pointed out they never mentioned how they would achieve that, and that they would need to work with the admissions counselors to make that a reality. When asked to define diversity, Dawson's original answer was along the lines of anyone who is different than him as a straight, white male, which struck a few nerves among the crowd. He later clarified that he meant diversity is just something about how we are all different from one another. Right.
2. Segregation. Both candidates also agreed that racial segregation is a problem at SU, but Cadet and Bangura went even further to talk about segregation among the university's various colleges and programs. They said they hope to bring awareness to differences in resources among the colleges, such as VPA and Newhouse, which they find unfair. They also mentioned that they feel the application process to get into Newhouse isn't fair either, and that it shouldn't solely be based on GPA.
3. Getting students to care. This is an issue that seems to come up every election cycle, since candidates constantly say they feel students don't know what SA does or what it even stands for. Some students only even hear about SA once it's election season. Cadet suggested personalizing issues to different students and groups so they realize things like, "it's your budget on the chopping block." Dawson referenced the page of cat pictures on his and Abell's website as a way to get people interested.
4. Social media. Abell and Dawson said they didn't have enough information from SA in order to get on the ballot in time, while Cadet and Bangura said they feel students don't know the SA elections are even happening. They all agreed that SA could be more involved on social media in order to inform students about what's going on in the organization. Things got awkward real quick when a member of SA's public relations committee, who works on social media, pointed out that SA already does a lot of the things they had suggested (like sponsored posts). Oops.
5. Free food. Cadet suggested that another way to get students interested in SA could be to give them an incentive to get involved or attend an event, such as by offering free food, since everyone knows college students would do anything for some free food. Abell agreed. Unfortunately, a member of the audience, who is also a member of SA, pointed out that SA's bylaws state the organization cannot fund for free food. Bummer!
6. Money, money, money. How SA spends its funds came up throughout the debate, as well. Abell, for example, shamed the group for spending around $5,000 to renovate its office, saying that money could've gone to marginalized communities or scholarships, like the recently partially defunded Posse scholarships. An SA member in the audience, however, pointed out that the money SA receives through student organization funding is separate than what can be spent on the initiatives he named.
7. Bills. One student in the audience asked the candidates to talk a bit about SA's proposed Federalization Bill, which is also on the ballot this week. The bill will create smaller student governments within the individual SU colleges so that students can communicate issues with their schools directly to these governments. This would change a lot of the internal structure of SA. Unfortunately, the candidates didn't have much to say about the new bill... womp, womp.
Photos by Adham Elsharkawi