Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Low turnout for SGA election debates

By Patrick Hoff

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Evan Sahagian/Collegian

Candidates for Student Government Association president and vice president debated and presented their ticket’s platform to an audience of less than 50 people in the Student Union Ballroom on Tuesday evening.

Covering issues such as the upcoming ban of on-campus tobacco use , the current influx of campus construction and the lack of student voice in administrative decisions, University of Massachusetts SGA presidential candidates Zachary Broughton, a junior political science and legal studies major, and Darlene Vu, a junior public health major, began the night of debating. The entire debate lasted about three hours between presidential, vice presidential and trustee debating, running from 7 to around 10:15 p.m.

Broughton, who has served as the secretary of finance in the SGA for the past year and as a senator for the two years before that, touted his prior experience within the organization, saying that it is necessary to know what a job encompasses and how an organization works before taking control of it. He said that without understanding how the SGA works, accomplishing an agenda will be set to fail.

Vu, comparatively, did not think that it was difficult to understand how the SGA works, saying that if a person is to read the bylaws and talk to people, the position will come naturally to someone with previous leadership experience. Vu has been a co-manager at People’s Market since her freshman year and has also served as an SGA senator, which she said has given her insight into how the SGA operates.

Throughout the night, Vu promoted student involvement in decisions on campus, such as the construction projects, the ban of on-campus tobacco use and the moving of the UMass football program to Division I last spring. She said she wanted to see more recognition of students and student organizations and to celebrate their achievements in an attempt to get more students involved in on-campus activities.

Broughton highlighted construction as an issue he wishes to address if elected, saying that it is all over campus and blocking pathways to class. He said that it is great to be a flagship institution, but the number of construction projects on campus need to be reviewed because it is a detriment to student life.

The Broughton ticket also intends to try to lower the cost of student parking on campus.

Both candidates supported the impending ban of on-campus tobacco use, but agreed that the policy, which was approved by the Faculty Senate last April and is effective July 1, 2013, lacked student input and approval.

Broughton suggested creating designated smoking areas, like those found in Disney World, around campus to create a happy medium for smokers and nonsmokers alike. He said he would look at and reexamine the policy if elected.

Vu said that it is every student’s right whether to smoke or not. The ban, she said, infringes on that right and programs need to be provided to students to help them quit smoking.

Both Broughton and Vu support the Sober Shuttle, an initiative begun under current SGA President Akshay Kapoor to provide a sober driving alternative from town to campus to students on weekends. Broughton admitted that he had been skeptical about the Sober Shuttle at first, but realized that it was an extra safety net for students who are over 21 and choose to spend their nights at the bars in Amherst. Both Vu and Broughton want to survey students about the future functions of the Shuttle, such as adding stops and adding buses.

After an hour of debating by presidential candidates, vice presidential candidates Emily Hajjar, a junior political science major, and Preston Davis, a junior English and sociology major, took to the stage to debate.

Hajjar is running on the ticket with Broughton, and Davis with Vu.

Currently the undersecretary of the registry in the SGA, Haijar said that she is running because she wants to make sure that the UMass stays affordable and accessible for future generations, continuing to have academic strength while providing financial stability to its students.

Davis has never served in the SGA, though he currently serves as president of the Black Student Union. He said that running for vice president for him is a “last ditch effort to finally be heard.” He voiced his disproval over his treatment as a UMass student as well as agreed that access and affordability at UMass are important issues that he would address if elected.

Hajjar and Davis discussed relations between the University and the town of Amherst, a problem both candidates agreed could start to be solved with students serving on town boards and participating publicly in town decisions. Hajjar said that it is a shame that Amherst has such a negative connotation of UMass students because the large student population supports the many local businesses in town.

The candidates also addressed how they would each improve communication at various levels throughout the University system, including between the SGA and students as well as with the UMass administration.

Hajjar said she would love to meet with at least one Registered Student Organization each month to touch base with what each organization was doing and address any issues that RSO may be experiencing. She also said she would plan to meet with the executive boards of the agencies on campus.

Davis said if elected, he aims at increasing the amount of contact he’s had with student groups as well as maintain his network of connections that he has already established.

Davis also proposed creating a new position in the SGA, where SGA members would attend the meetings of RSOs and then report back to the SGA about ways the groups can collaborate. He has already implemented similar positions in the Black Student Union.

The vice president candidates also addressed current UMass administration interpretation of the Wellman document, a legally binding trustee document which gives the SGA the right to govern and represent the student body. Both candidates agreed that modern interpretation of the document did not match up with the reasons behind the creation of the document, such as the right for students to be part of administrative decisions

Davis and Hajjar also addressed the “disconnect” between undergraduates and graduate students. Both were in favor of changing SGA bylaws to better include the entire student population at UMass, including the addition of a separate student trustee position for those in graduate school.

Davis, who admitted to only reading the bylaws because his running mate asked him to, said he would also like to simplify the SGA bylaws to make them more accessible to students.

In her closing remarks, Hajjar began thanked her campaign mates and said she hoped that she could bring a “fresh, positive outlook on the student government, senate and the whole University and really create positive change.”

Davis concluded the vice president debate thanking “the very few” audience members still left in attendance, saying he is “ready to sacrifice” himself in order to try to be heard at UMass.

Polls will be open until Thursday 11:59 p.m. Voting tables will also be set up from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Campus Center on election days.

Chelsie Field contributed to this report.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected].

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