SGA election candidates take part in debate

By Lauren Vincent

Evan Sahagian/Collegian

The majority of chairs were left vacant as the candidates for the Student Government Association elections took the stage for a debate in the Student Union Ballroom last night.

Moderated by Political Science professor MJ Peterson, the low turnout closely reflected one of the central issues of discussion – student involvement on campus.

Vice presidential candidate Jessica Hope Saperstein called the low debate attendance and weak voter participation in recent SGA elections “tragic.” She tied this in with her campaign slogan, “Unite UMass,” and emphasized how she planned to “build an all-inclusive community to unite the students at UMass.”

One point all candidates could agree on was the fact that the solicitation policy had hindered voter participation in SGA elections as well as RSO outreach.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Asefa said that the policy was in dire need of review.

“It was implemented for student safety,” she said. “However, it prevents the SGA from communicating with students.”

Presidential candidate Akshay Kapoor spoke about the need to find a balance between the two conflicting interests, but said the policy itself is unconstitutional.

“I don’t want to limit the freedom of information,” said Kapoor.

“There will be a hope for both sides to meet in the middle,” said presidential candidate Alex Robert Cidado. “[There has been progress so that the] SGA and the students as a whole will understand and respect the process to be able to solicit in the dorms.”

The coming SGA election ballot will decide the future of the Student Union. All candidates agreed that the building was in need of renovation, but students will make the final decision through a referendum question.

Candidates agreed that the space was too small to serve the needs of the student-run businesses and RSOs that currently use the building for office and storage space.

“RSOs shouldn’t have to share meeting spaces,” said vice presidential candidate Garret Gowen. “We should create places so that people can get together in the true spirit of the student union.”

Regardless of the candidates’ personal opinions, they agreed that the final decision should be left up to the students.

“Students need to understand when decisions are being made and what they are,” said vice presidential candidate Michael Cusher.

This echoed the unanimous call for greater student involvement in decisions that directly affect their lives.

“I want a student on every committee or review board [that affects them],” said Cusher.

Saperstein said she plans to achieve increased student awareness through a focus on social media.

“People need to know what’s happening,” said Saperstein. “We want to make it easier for their voices to be heard.”

“All students have the capacity to get involved,” said Gowen. He plans to facilitate involvement in part through the improvement of the SGA’s website. “I want it to grow to become a true form of outreach.”

Another prominent topic in the debate was the perceived stigma surrounding UMass as a party school and what could be done to change it.

“That culture isn’t good for us. It’s up to us to dictate how we are viewed,” said student trustee candidate Grant Elliott George. “Our reputation gets destroyed more quickly than it gets built up.”

“We need to reject the idea that we are a party school,” said trustee candidate Sean O’Connor. He noted that while the “Zoomass” stigma is prominent in the local area, it is not necessarily known on a national or international level.

“The [Superbowl] riot was not indicative of our culture,” said trustee candidate Jennifer Healy. “This is where more visibility comes in. We need to focus on the good.”

This election will be the first to include a vice presidential position.

“The president can’t do it all,” said Gowen. He hopes to justify the creation of the position by directing the cabinet’s agenda and ensuring effective communication between the SGA and the administration.

Laurent Vincent can be reached at [email protected] Zachary Weishar can be reached at [email protected]