Thursday evening, the Defend Affirmative Action Party, eMerge and Movement, three of the four parties running for Central Student Government office, gathered in Hutchins Hall for the first presidential and vice presidential debate of the season.
Moderator Aaron Kall, the University of Michigan's director of debate, asked candidates questions chosen from nearly 100 potential questions sent in online by University students. Presidential candidates were the first to take the floor.
The debate began with a question regarding the Leadership Engagement Scholarship and its $5 student fee discussed at a recent CSG meeting. While candidates did agree the scholarship itself is beneficial for students, LSA junior Evan Rosen, the Movement presidential candidate, emphasized the presence of bigger issues involving financial strains for students.
“The facts are that one in every five students that get accepted here don’t enroll at the University of Michigan because of financial reasons, and we were just ranked the number one least socioeconomic diverse public university in the nation,” he said. “It’s $5 here, but where does that end?”
Continuing with the theme of underrepresented students, candidates responded to a question regarding the University’s status as a sanctuary city, and whether or not they believe the University should be declared as such. All presidential candidates gave support for the University becoming a sanctuary city.
On the topic of improving campus climate, candidates each presented different approaches to advocating for underrepresented students and increasing awareness of diversity. LSA junior Anushka Sarkar, eMerge presidential candidate, gave four specific objectives she feels are crucial to improving campus climate.
The initiatives she listed included extending the Race and Ethnicity requirement to all colleges within the University, mandatory Intergroup Relations engagement for every incoming freshman, making the University a sanctuary campus and increasing minority enrollment.
“Rhetoric that implies that we have to go to Detroit to get students and to make sure they are qualified to apply to the University is condescending and it’s racist,” Sarkar said. “Students are already qualified to be here. The problem is that they don’t want to be here.”
Later in the debate, candidates were asked about their ideal commencement speaker, a repeat question from one of last year’s debates, allowing them to get a little more creative. Rosen advocated for Donald Glover, commonly known by his stage name Childish Gambino, because of the performer's determination, drive and ability to entertain a crowd accustomed to the typical seriousness of commencement speeches; Sarkar chose Beyoncé, someone she has been pushing for as a speaker since her freshman year, because of her empowering aspects, specifically when showing it is possible for a woman to maintain a successful career, family and social balance, a balance Beyoncé built for herself; Art & Design senior Keysha Wall, the DAAP presidential candidate, said they would like to see Angela Davis, a political activist and someone Wall continues to learn about, address students.
In another question regarding the drinking culture on campus, Wall highlighted alcohol’s common association with sexual assault and discussed the importance of disciplining those accused of rape and sexual assault. According to a 2007 National Institute Justice report, 89 percent of incapacitated sexual assault victims reported having consumed alcohol.
“I know that one of the problems when our campus gets to drinking, or when alcohol is involved, is the issue of rape and sexual assault,” they said. “I would say that, even bigger than that, we can prevent people from even being hurt by exposing and expelling rapists from campus.”
Candidates followed with closing statements, each expressing their dedication to CSG and what their parties mean to them. Vice presidential candidates then came forward to debate.
The status of the University as a sanctuary city was again brought forward in this round of questioning, and candidates were asked whether or not they were concerned the University could lose federal funding if it were to declare this status or if it were to bring in controversial speakers.
LSA senior Lauren Kay, vice presidential candidate for DAAP, described issues they see with the discussion of such topics solely in terms of financial standpoints, as well as issues regarding the privatization of higher education.
“What you choose to fund reflects how you value individuals in this nation,” they said.
Continuing the conversation about speakers with controversial views, Public Policy junior Nadine Jawad, vice presidential candidate for eMerge, said the University should allow these speakers to come to campus, and students with opposing viewpoints should challenge the events rather than shut them down. Specifically, she said the leadership positions many on campus hold should be used to show hate speech is not acceptable.
“We should be up for the challenge; that’s part of our academics here at the University,” she said. “We will not run away from people who talk to us in that way. I will not be terrified or embarrassed of the identities that I hold and neither should any other student on this campus.”
Candidates were also asked to provide their stances on the divestment from Israel and fossil fuels.
LSA junior Daniel Sweeney, vice presidential candidate for Movement, acknowledged national issues like these are controversial, and segued into describing how Movement plans to understand the student perspective on such matters.
“Our basis is better gauging student opinion through public forums, town halls, online forms,” he said. “One of the first things we would do if elected is going to be getting a strong understanding of the student feeling on this subject.”
When giving closing statements, each candidate emphasized a different approach to the election. Sweeney expressed his confidence — regardless of which party is elected — that the student body will be in good hands. Kay said they believe CSG needs to transform into a sort of student union to empower the underrepresented. Jawad concluded with describing the empowerment she has felt being part of a group that can connect with students of differing opinions.
LSA junior Nicholas Fadanelli, counsel for LSA Student Government and currently running for LSA-SG president, attended the debate and praised the applicability of the topics to the student body in general.
“This debate was very educational, and it was great to see all the parties that were present discuss relevant issues to the student body on campus,” he said. “I can’t wait to be able to hopefully work with whoever wins the election.”