Student Government presidential candidates discuss advocacy, campus issues and goals at debate

The debate was hosted by the SG Elections Commission, KPU and The American Agora

Student Government presidential candidates discuss advocacy, campus issues and goals at debate

Student Government hosted its first presidential debate with candidates (from left) Chandler Eby, Noah Gocial and Edwin Santos, April 4, 2023. 

Candidates for student body president discussed their goals and campaign platforms at a Tuesday debate held by the American University Student Government’s Elections Commission in partnership with the Kennedy Political Union and The American Agora, a student-run public affairs commentary site.

Three presidential candidates, Chandler Eby, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, Edwin Santos, a junior in SPA and Noah Gocial, a sophomore in SPA, took the podiums in Kerwin Hall. Eby joined via Zoom as he is studying abroad in Japan.

Alex Moskovitz, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and Jacob Clark, a sophomore in the School of Communication, moderated the debate. Moskovitz is a managing editor of the Agora and Clark is a news anchor for ATV.

Divided into two 30-minute segments, the debate included each candidate’s opening statement followed by questioning from the moderators, and then from the audience. Candidates were given a 45-second response window per question and 30 seconds to rebut other candidates’ answers. 

Abolishing SG

Eby is running on a platform to abolish SG. Clark asked what he will do if the Undergraduate Senate does not support his plan to abolish SG.

“Well, it doesn't necessarily require a Senate that supports me particularly, and I don't like that,” Eby replied. “I don't like that it would [have to] be supporting me because it's not about me.”

Eby did not elaborate on his response due to the time limit. According to his “Abolish AUSG Blueprint” in an Instagram post, Eby’s plan to abolish SG hinges on electing pro-abolition officials and putting an abolition referendum on a future ballot.

Eby later said that he would also resign from his position as president if he were to be successful in abolishing SG.

Student Safety

Santos, who currently serves as a co-president of the Latino student advocacy organization Latinos En Acción, Was asked how he plans to protect students and their belongings in reference to a sexual assault in Leonard Hall and recent scooter thefts on campus. 

Santos said he has called out AU on its lack of effort pertaining to student safety and said the administration should be creating more working groups for sexual violence. Currently, the administration is hosting the Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence.

“I had the privilege of having a breakfast with President Burwell and she was like, ‘Hey, are you guys going to that Community Working Group tonight?’ and we all looked at each other, like, ‘What Community Working Group?’ That made me realize that what she does is more than half of the time performative,” Santos said. “We have to be intentional about the things that we're doing on campus and include student voices in spaces that are necessary to create student change in the first place.”

Santos said he felt it is necessary to bring in professionals who can contribute to solving these issues. Santos did not elaborate due to the time limit.

Gocial, currently an SG senator-at-large, later spoke on how he will work to support survivors.

“I have developed a complete relationship working with actual survivors and working with people who know what they're talking about,. and that is one of my two platforms,” Gocial said. 

Gocial said it is his goal to implement the survivors’ bill of rights and implement sexual harassment training so the university can have more trauma informed staff. 

Santos responded by seconding the idea to implement the survivors’ bill of rights. 

“I also advocate for the University to bring in a third party consulting firm to research the issues and to do community based research and have focus groups that interview and have surveys from stakeholders who know about these issues, analyze the policies that exist on campus,” Santos said. “analyze initiatives that the University has taken to create recommendations for the university.”

Clark followed Santos’ response and asked him what advantages he felt he had as someone who has never been a part of SG.

“That's actually one of the things, which is why I am running for president,” Santos said. “I believe that it's time we have a fresh new perspective that isn't tainted by other drama, by all that the politics that exists within AUSG.”

Gocial said he wants to implement 14 cabinet positions, bringing in experts on food, sexual violence, campus security and more.

“Essentially the goal of this is actually to bring people in better than me. At the end of that post I say, the most effective person doesn't know the most, they know the people who know the most,” Gocial said. “I am not an expert on so many issues and, again, I want to give experts on those issues a platform to actually accomplish everything that they want.”

Student Activity Funding

Eby said that in order to ensure club funding is allocated appropriately, he would like to see the undergraduate councils take control of the process, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Center for Community Engagement and Service.

Eby said the Center for Student Involvement has been a huge roadblock when he met with them to discuss the possibilities of new funding. 

“I had a meeting, and they said they can’t take away stipends from the AUSG executive officials,” Eby said. “I imagine they would be hostile to the idea of taking the purse strings and giving it to the undergraduate councils, who actually do great work and put together events. “I want to see councils take control of the money and allocate it.”

Gocial later was asked about his plan to donate $4,000 of his presidential stipend to fighting food insecurity on campus and whether or not he believes that the president should continue to receive this stipend. 

Food Insecurity

“I am in a position of privilege. I do not necessarily need all $6,000, and that's why I have the ability to do so. That is why I am doing this,” Gocial said. “$2,000 will go to Bread for the City, an organization which I have volunteered with for over a year and unfortunately they recently experienced three deaths and had to close operations down. I also want to donate $2,000 to the food pantry which has not been stocked in so long.”

Santos responded to Gocial’s answer, “I would like to take a moment to admire the decision that candidate Gocial has made. However, I also want to acknowledge the fact that donating $2,000 to a food issue is not a solution,” Santos said. “We have to create a plan where we create allocations to the food bank, which is why I would advocate for the Office of Campus Life to include in their budget in their allocations that the pantry has money.”

In line with Santos’ response to Gocial, Clark’s next question for Santos was about how he plans to address food insecurity on campus during breaks. 

“It's unacceptable that we are forcing students who don't have the financial freedom to eat off campus to starve,” Santos said. “That's literally what it is. People don't have financial freedom to go off campus and not everyone has that privilege, you know, so I would advocate to the University to make it accessible and be able to use your meal swipes over the break and also ensure that more food options on campus are available.” 

Public questions

After the moderators finished questioning the candidates, the floor was opened to students for their questions.

Rohin Ghosh, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who represents part of AU’s campus to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E, asked candidates about how they see AU students’ place in the broader D.C. community, as well as what they have done to mitigate the negative impacts AU’s presence may have on the neighborhood, such as environmental or labor impacts.

Santos said Latinos En Acción is in the process of creating a mentorship program that will mentor D.C.-area underrepresented high school students “to ensure that they have the same resources that we needed when we were in high school.”

The organization has also advocated for immigration reform and partnered with the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs to create a community working group for the local Latino community, Santos said.

Gocial also responded to Ghosh’s question. He said that he had worked with several organizations that distribute mutual aid funds and work with people who are unhoused.

Santos rebutted Gocial’s answer, “I think the question was, what did we do, not what did other people do.”

Eby did not respond to Ghosh’s question.

Denia Smith, a freshman in SPA and senator-at-large, posed a three-part question to all three candidates.

“How do you define allyship? How have you been an ally to historically marginalized communities on campus? And how would you ensure, if elected, that you don’t tokenize or suppress the voices of members from these communities?” Smith asked.

Smith said she felt the question was important to ask the student body’s next chief advocate.

“Given the fact that this is a predominately white institution,” Smith said, “there are a lot of instances wherein we see white individuals come into spaces that are encompassed by historically marginalized communities, who at times are actually passionate about doing the work, but oftentimes end up suppressing our voices and taking up space that really shouldn't be taken up by those people.”

“To me, allyship means recognizing the position and privilege that you have, and most importantly, listening. I’m never going to suppose to know everything about the experiences of marginalized communities because … I’m a white guy. I mean, it’s pretty easy for me to get around in our society,” Eby said. 

This article was edited by Mackenzie Konjoyan, Jordan Young and Nina Heller. and

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