The Darkening hosts town hall for SG candidates
Dumpson, Shepard, Machovec and Schneider earn endorsement
Members of the multicultural community organized this event in order to provide “the space to challenge these platforms, confront candidates on their intentions, and learn more about the candidates running for office,” according to its Facebook event page description.
Freshman Alyssa Moncure and junior Helen Abraha moderated the event and asked the candidates questions from Twitter using #DarkeningDebate. The audience also had the chance to ask candidates questions.
Taylor Dumpson, Ryan Shepard, Christine Machovec and Kris Schneider ultimately earned endorsements, according to the group’s Facebook post. In the post, The Darkening said it expects every candidate it endorsed, “to collaborate with The Darkening and serve as a true liaison between us and the administration if elected.”
Additionally, AU’s Black Student Alliance made its endorsements after The Darkening’s event, endorsing Dumpson, Shepard and Machovec.
The Darkening live streamed the entire town hall. Although Machovec was not there because she had class, Shaan Chilukuri served as her proxy. Comptroller candidate Elizabeth Pancotti arrived late because she was at work. Presidential candidate Andy Schwarz was not present.
Here are some highlights from the the town hall.
The candidates were polled by the moderators about their actions in response to the banana incident and other identity-related incidents on campus.
Candidates were first asked to raise their hands if they had gone through any kind of structural racism training. Only Schneider, Haley Lickstein, Ryan Fedasiuk and Audra Gale raised their hands.
Next, candidates were asked to raise their hands if they had heard about the incidents from last semester, posted about it or talked about it with others. All the candidates raised their hands, and when asked if they had reached out to the communities that felt marginalized, all but Gale raised their hands.
Candidates then had the chance to share their experiences talking to student organizations. Shepard delivered a powerful response to the audience that prompted applause, mentioning that he was one of the first to respond to the banana incident, reaching out to the executive board of BSA the day after it happened.
He said that he immediately got the word out to students by using social media, hanging posters and bringing The Washington Post to campus to report on the issue. He felt that as a journalism student, he could bring publicity and media attention to campus.
“You make time for the things that matter,” Shepard said. “I want to make time for the things that matter to me and things that matter to the students at AU.”
Lickstein said she reached out to the Director of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, Lauren Lumpkin, and other members of President Devontae Torriente’s cabinet, as well as SG senator Yamillet Payano.
“I think that every student’s voice is really important and I learned a lot speaking to the students that I know and there is no one individual that represents every student's opinion,” Lickstein said.
2. The candidate’s takes on diversity and inclusion and what structural changes they will implement:
Machovec’s proxy, Chilukuri, responded first by mentioning AU’s 10 year plan and “strongly” supporting diversity and inclusion on different platforms. Additionally, Machovec mentioned the use of updating and sustaining the existing hate crime database that is run by the administration.
Fedasiuk said he might be “the most privileged person running for vice president.” He said that marginalized students should be at the table with administrators and that he will advocate for a space for marginalized groups on campus.
“My platform offers specific opportunities that students told me about,” Fedasiuk said. “I’ve reached out. I’ve done my homework, I read, I go to events and I try to understand.”
Gale said diversity and inclusion has room to improve on campus, especially within programming. She mentioned her experience on the Ad-hoc Committee for Diversity and Inclusion in the SG Undergraduate Senate. Additionally, she mentioned her support for DACA students under the Trump administration.
“I’m hoping to, in this next year, consolidate the resources of student government and [helping] all the diverse groups on campus to hold bigger, larger events so there’s more funding to go for raising awareness,” Gale said.
Altherr said he wants to hold bi-monthly town halls to hear what students of color want.
“One of the major issues that I’ve seen is that we promise too much and we give out too little and I want to try to really listen to see what I can do and then work forward,” Altherr said.
3. Unfair funds to diaspora groups on campus:
A member of the Caribbean Circle asked the candidates how they would help allocate funds to diaspora groups on campus that are suffering financially. Pancotti responded first by suggesting that SG put less emphasis on the majority’s needs and promised diaspora groups that their funding will be her first priority.
Chilukuri, on behalf of Machovec, discussed her experience as the overseer of finances in Hughes Hall and proposed an audit of the American University Club Council, as well as a bi-monthly report of events on campus. Other candidates in their responses adopted this idea to issue an audit, but it was later cleared up by the moderators that SG is not allowed to issue audits to the AU Club Council.
Another solution to this issue that candidates suggested was to improve relations with the AUCC. Altherr proposed a more critical look into the AUCC and a restructuring of it so that it can distribute funds fairly.
Lickstein proposed creating a liaison position between the AUCC and clubs to make sure there is direct communication about funds. Schneider plans on using his position as secretary to call out the AUCC for the underfunding so that it knows that changes need to be made.
“If they are not providing funding to any type of group, especially marginalized groups, I want to publically call them out,” Schneider said. “Right now, they want more money for their total budget, so if they get it, I want them to be held accountable for not giving money to groups that currently aren’t getting it.”
4. Safe spaces and creating a “Black House”
One of the biggest concerns that the audience shared was the need for a safe space on campus as well as a place for student organizations to come together.
When asked about structural changes that she would provide for diversity and inclusion on campus, Dumpson replied that she would support the NAACP’s initiative for a “Black House” on campus, which would serve as a safe space and living space similar to a fraternity house for African American students.
In addition to this initiative, she also mentioned that if elected, she would make sure that safe spaces would be provided to all students and student organizations, regardless of their background, sexual orientation, gender or religion.
“I talk about diversity all the time and diversity is just numbers,” Dumpson said. “Inclusion is making sure that everyone feels part of the community and feels part [of] the conversation.”
5. Muslim students don’t have a chaplain or a space:
A student tweeted at the candidates asking how they will help Muslim students on campus, considering they have limited space to worship and that they don’t have a spiritual advisor solely for Islam. Fedasiuk responded by proposing that Kay improves its worship space. He called the basement of Kay uninviting and compared its conditions to that of a coat closet.
“I don’t know if you’ve been in the basement of Kay, but it is not welcoming,” Fedasiuk said.
Solomon Self responded by saying that SG needs to have a programming that highlights issues to make space for AU’s Muslim community. He said that for Muslim students, things like the food at Founder’s day should be halal, so that the meat prepared is prescribed by Muslim law.
“Making space for students isn’t just programming, it isn’t just prayer, it’s for Founder’s and other events,” Self said. “When we have food, we need to make sure our food is halal.”
Shepard promised that if elected, he would work with the Student Activities Committee to allocate a space on the MGC’s third floor for Muslim students.
“Underrepresented communities should be the first to have that space,” Shepard said. “If they don’t have access to that space, and are not really given a lot of respect on campus, the least we can do is give them a space.”
Pancotti responded by saying that AU should hire a Jewish rabbi and should hire a specifically Muslim spiritual advisor because of the four percent tuition hike.
“Let’s hire someone from the Muslim community to have an actual prayer leader on campus and give them space,” Pancotti said.
Dumpson took a different approach to the question. She felt that students from other religions like herself should recognize their privilege and hold themselves accountable as advocates for Muslim students.
“I as a Christian woman should be standing in solidarity for people across all religions,” Dumpson said.