The leading candidates in next week’s Student Government election debated divestment, transparency, and other issues on Tuesday.
Four prospective Executive Slates, two candidates for Undergraduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees, and one unopposed candidate for Community and Government Liaison spoke before an audience of undergraduate students, answering questions and defining their campaign objectives.
The four Executive Slates that took the floor of Kent 107 were United Progress (UP), Unite & Support (US), Our Campus, and the satirical Delta Upsilon (DU) Moose Party. The slates answered questions from audience members on topics including the sexual assault awareness program and the impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on campus.
After each slate gave a 90-second opening statement, the slates had 45 seconds to respond to each question.
One of the first questions of the debate regarded inequity of RSO funding. The question cited the Moot Court team and Chicago Raas as RSOs that do not receive full travel funding while the Coalition of Academic Teams (CAT) does. CAT includes Mock Trial, Model UN, and College Bowl. The candidates were asked whether this disparity in funding is fair.
US candidate and second-year Michael Meng said that CAT has a nuanced funding structure and fundraising is a significant source of travel funding.
Adding to Meng’s point, Our Campus’s Paul Drexler pointed out that certain RSOs with higher funding have existed longer. These groups have had more time to increase funding and have been successful in building large memberships.
Salma Elkhaoudi, UP’s candidate for Vice President for Administration, argued that more can be done about allocating funds to RSOs in need of additional funding. Funding decisions, Elkhaoudi said, should not be a matter of how long an RSO has existed.
The candidates were then asked how they would improve graduate student life at the University.
UP’s Cody Jones, the only graduate student in the running, answered this question on behalf of his slate. Jones said students need to form a “united front” to collectively express their demands to the administration. He described the demands of graduate students as reasonable and similar to those of undergraduates, stressing the importance of improving health care services.
“I’m one-third of this slate and represent two-thirds of this school. I think we can do better,” Jones said.
The other slates expressed general agreement with Jones’s statement. Our Campus’s Chase Woods said there needs to be a conversation in which graduate students have more input on SG decisions. US’s Kennedy Green cited a need to expand peer support for graduate students by increasing sexual assault awareness and expanding mental health resources.
Sexual Assault Prevention
Another audience member asked the candidates to share their specific plans to combat sexual assault. The Moose Slate refrained from commenting, stating that sexual assault is a matter that should not be satirized.
Green expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of resources and staffing available for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, calling it “unacceptable.” She called for an increase in stable funding and support for the program.
Our Campus’s Victoria Monteiro agreed that the existing sexual assault awareness program needs to be improved. Monteiro noted that no other slate, past or present, has ever met with the Title IX coordinator. Monteiro blamed SG for not better addressing the flaws of the current program.
Eric Holmberg defended the efforts of College Council (CC), of which he is Chair, and suggested that the administration was to blame. Holmberg noted that the administration celebrates CC’s efforts without meeting it halfway. In January, SG allocated $10,000 to a committee focused on projects increasing the awareness and prevention of sexual assault on campus.
The next topic of discussion regarded the recent divestment resolution passed by CC. The resolution, which passed 8–4–3, called upon the University to divest from 10 companies identified as complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The candidates were asked to answer why their slates are uniquely qualified to handle future foreign policy questions. UP, US, and Our Campus all supported the recent CC resolution to call upon the University to divest from the companies in question.
Green began her statement by condemning the notion that divestment is strictly a matter of foreign policy and apologizing to those who viewed the CC vote as offensive.
“CC and SG are supposed to be used as conduits for students to talk to administration and the rest of campus about issues that are important to them,” Green said.
Woods stated that Our Campus is a pro-divestment slate, but suggested that Israel’s right to exist could have been recognized as a “gesture of good faith.” Woods further pressed the need for town-hall meetings and referenda to amplify student voices on such matters.
Elkhaoudi affirmed that it is the duty of SG to address issues like divestment. Explaining that the resolution contains clauses that assert neutrality on political questions, she said there is a need for increased transparency with regard to the spending of tuition dollars.
“It’s reprehensible that some of our tuition goes to companies complicit in human rights violations. I think that’s scary and not something that should be happening,” she said.
In response to a question regarding the impact of the divestment decision on campus climate for Jewish and Palestinian students, Drexler said both sides felt “ostracized.” He said the discussion could have been executed more effectively by giving anti-divestment students a meeting to voice their objections and allowing a discussion of the effects of boycotts and sanctions on low-income countries.
Holmberg said he was impressed by the conduct of the CC meeting, in which the floor was open to public comment for more than three hours. Defending the notion that CC is responsible for discussing controversial matters and ideas, Holmberg said the debate was not meant to challenge anyone’s “personhood.”
The prospective Undergraduate Liaisons to the Board of Trustees took the floor next. Third-year Kenzo Esquivel, past SG Community and Government Liaison and current Vice President of Student Affairs, was the first to speak. Esquivel said he is excited to push for student issues to “actually get to the Board,” to increase SG transparency, and to provide students with more opportunities to interact with the Board of Trustees.
Laura Brawley, a first-year in the College, presented her lack of prior SG experience as an asset. Like Esquivel, Brawley said she plans to give students the opportunity to meet with the Board. Brawley added that she hopes to gain a more comprehensive view of campus issues and cited her amiable personality as an important strength.
When the two candidates were asked how many trustees are on the Board and whether they could name three of them, both Esquivel and Brawley struggled to answer. Esquivel, chuckling, said there are probably more than 50 trustees on the Board, and was able to list one name. Brawley admitted that she was uncertain, but listed President Zimmer and a past Board member.
Both candidates concluded by expressing hope for increased cooperation between the Board and the student body, but conceded that the structure of the system was unlikely to change. Brawley added that the key is to work within the system rather than changing it.
The debate concluded with statements from unopposed Cosmo Albrecht for the position of Community and Government Liaison.