At AU Dems forum, candidates for Student Government executive board outline priorities
Tuition increases, SG budget and student views on SG among the topics addressed
Candidates for the 2019-2020 Student Government executive board discussed their platforms and goals at a candidate forum held by AU College Democrats on Wednesday, the first forum of its kind this election season. Voting begins on Monday, March 25 at 12 p.m.
Moderated by the group’s chief of staff Sam Billings and communications director Olan Trosky, the seven candidates running for the positions of comptroller, secretary, vice president and president took turns answering both audience and moderator questions.
Previously, College Democrats have voted at the end of the event to endorse candidates, but because their current president, Angela Chen, is running for SG president, they are not endorsing this year. Billings said Chen was not involved with planning for the forum in any way.
“When we were discussing the logistics of [the forum], we made sure she left the room during the e-board,” Billings said. “I was happy to see almost all the chairs full at the beginning, and I was really happy to see everybody engaged with this important discussion that we're having right now.”
Presidential candidates Dantzler and Chen talk tuition advocacy, student involvement in SG, and resume building
During the event, presidential candidate Joshua Dantzler described his personal struggles with financial insecurity and issues he had with AU’s financial aid office. Dantzler, a sophomore, later realized his problems were not unique.
“We need to think about how we can make AU affordable, and in turn, more accessible,” he said.
Chen, a sophomore, emphasized her inclination to “stick to her guns” even in times of hardship, and spoke about AU’s need for radical ideas, including her plans to push for tuition shopping upon enrollment, a possible university divestment from fossil fuels and a two-year tuition freeze.
“I think the idea that radical ideas are not feasible ideas is dumb,” she said. “[These ideas] are radical ideas that we've always thought … we haven't been able to do. But I don't necessarily think that just because an idea’s radical it's not feasible.”
Both candidates highlighted their skills and experiences in student leadership at AU, with Dantzler concentrating on his work with various affinity groups, as a senator in SG, and within the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
Chen spoke about her experience as president of AU Dems, including her work to create a speaker series that brought diverse voices to the organization, and her work as a Title IX advocate within the Center for Advocacy and Student Equity within SG.
“I think oftentimes you think about Student Government presidents as people who are advocating for — but what about advocating with?” Dantzler said. “I will make sure that I'm right there with on the sidelines, ‘in the trenches.’ I’ll be accessible to all students at all times.”
Chen said she would recognize what students value if she were to be elected president, as seeking out feedback and not just accepting it are core parts of her platform.
When asked by current SG president Valentina Fernandez about three specific proposals and goals each candidate had for their term, Dantzler cited his platform of “affordability, inclusivity, and accessibility.” He plans to advocate for students to have the ability to schedule Counseling Center appointments online, making textbooks more affordable through a potential opt-out program for low-income students and a more open and accessible financial aid office.
Specifically, Dantzler proposed a twice-per-semester open house at the office in which the office’s hours would be extended so that students who work multiple jobs or who have regular class conflicts can still meet with advisors.
Chen concentrated on a proposed tuition cost shopping sheet for new students, better dining options under a potential new food service provider, and implementing a bias incident report form for racist, sexist, or other discriminatory occurrences in classrooms and across campus.
“If a professor says something racist, they should not be coming back next semester,” she said.
As the forum came to a close, sophomore Joyce DeCerce asked both candidates whether they would consider keeping the role of president off their resumes, citing their belief that SG positions are often seen as resume-builders instead of true, meaningful jobs. Both Dantzler and Chen agreed, committing to such an omission if they took office.
“It’s not about the title, it’s about doing the work,” Dantzler said.
Vice presidential candidates Burgess and Mejia talk minority involvement, programming priorities, and cabinet directors
Vice presidential candidates Mulan Burgess and Carolyn Mejia highlighted their experiences at AU with different minority student groups as examples of their skills and priorities: black student affinity groups for Burgess, Latinx groups for Mejia and AU Ambassadors for both candidates.
Burgess, a sophomore who previously served as a SG senator and associate comptroller, said the reason he is running for vice president is because he wants to bring more voices to the table.
SG must re-assess the worth of events such as Founders Day, Burgess said, so that more of the organization’s budget could be allocated to departments like Women’s Initiative instead. The vice president oversees all of SG’s programming departments, including the Kennedy Political Union, Student Union Board, Women’s Initiative and Founders Day.
“I’m here to just provide — hopefully provide — an experience that is worth it for students that are paying $65,000 to attend this university,” he said.
Mejia, a junior, addressed her experiences as the first person in her family to break away and leave home for college. What really made her feel at home at AU, Mejia said, was her programming work for various Latinx groups on campus.
She said her experiences in event planning and with the student body make her well-suited to handling the role of VP. Mejia also cited her desire to direct more funds to Women’s Initiative.
“I can bring a fresh perspective into SG so that we are seeing more inclusive and purposeful programming that is reflective of what students deserve to see,” Mejia said. “We're… seeing a lot of white politicians. And while we are a very politically active community, that's not all we are, and so the programming that we see should be reflective of that.”
Secretary candidates Adams and Kwon tackle social media, communication with club leaders
Secretary candidate Danya Adams, who has served as a SG senator, referred to her “insider” experience in order to draw on ideas and resources of other leaders, such as outgoing secretary Alex Behle.
Adams, a sophomore, said she plans to send regular newsletters about campus life to the student body that would spotlight student organizations and monthly surveys. Additionally, she hopes to hold regular brunches with the communications directors of student organizations to boost cooperation and teamwork.
“I think having worked in AUSG and having been the chair of the Oversight Committee in Student Government, that gives me that unique opportunity on how to change student media, how to make it more interactive with students on campus and how to engage with other students,” she said.
James Kwon, a sophomore who has held leadership roles in the Asian-American Student Union and AU’s pre-law society, highlighted his “outsider” perspective as necessary for understanding the previous shortcomings of the secretary’s role in order to fix them. He said he wants to “bring a breath of fresh air” to the role, and plans to enhance SG’s social media accounts to boost student engagement.
Kwon said that while he does not have AUSG experience, he was part of student government in high, middle, and elementary schools. He also cited experience with social media and communications through an internship at the Anti-Defamation League and his role as social media chair in his fraternity.
“I think one of the reasons why students are so uninformed on what's going on is because there needs to be a constant social media presence,” Kwon said. “One my initiatives is actually bolstering the cloud [and] these accounts and just help promoting them.”
Comptroller candidate Zitzmann addresses SG stipends and work on financial aid appeals
Bobby Zitzmann, a junior and current SG senator who is running unopposed, was the first to take the stage during the forum.
“I’m running … because I think students should expect a lot more from AUSG,” Zitzmann said. “You should expect more from the comptroller in the areas that are already traditionally within the comptroller’s job description, and also those that the comptroller should be doing but historically… [has] not done.”
Zitzmann addressed his thoughts on reexamining the amount of stipends given to SG leaders as well as ways to advocate for college affordability. Zitzmann spoke at length about his experiences in the Undergraduate Senate, highlighting his role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee and as an advocate in the Center for Advocacy and Student Equity, which recently expanded to help students with financial aid appeals.
“That has actually had concrete effects with students...real students, filing real financial aid appeals,” Zitzmann said. “Where previously they would have had to do it on their own, now they have an advocate with them who is trained in the procedures and can just provide them a helping hand.”