SGA presidential and vice presidential debates address campus-wide issues, despite low turnout and missing ticket

By Jaclyn Bryson

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

Mirroring the same low-turnout for the Student Government Association student trustee debate Tuesday night, about 10 students came to hear the more in-depth platforms of this year’s presidential and vice presidential candidates at last night’s debate

Except this time, some candidates were missing.

SGA Speaker of the Senate Sïonan Barrett and Secretary of Public Relations and Recruitment Chantal Lima Barbosa, who are running for president and vice president, respectively, declined to participate in the debates, which are not mandatory, said moderator and Chancellor of Elections Divya Kirti.

According to their campaign Facebook page, the ticket decided they would prefer to be out “knocking on doors and engaging with student and sharing their platform face to face.”

Nevertheless, the two other tickets, Rocco Giordano/Dhananjay Mirlay Srinivas and Charlotte Kelly/Sammi Gay met in the Hadley Room of the Campus Center Wednesday night to discuss the issues that motivated them to run for SGA office. Both tickets stressed the importance of reshaping the role of the top SGA positions and being transparent and honest with students.

“I think that the role is very much evolving and shaped by those who hold the position,” Kelly said, adding that if elected, she and Gay would want to make the job one that encourages facilitation, coalition building and dialogue, and makes the SGA a safe place where students can feel free to open up to their elected officials.

“We really want to be more accessible to students. …We want to have a community oriented role,” Gay said.

The Giordano/Mirlay Srinivas ticket mostly agreed, adding that it is necessary to find a strong team that will work alongside you. Mirlay Srinivas said that when looking for team members, “your cabinet isn’t just people who are compatible with you, its people who questions your ideas and work with your ideas so you can come together and get something done.”

Both tickets also talked about diversity and transparency in the SGA. Kelly described the senate and judiciary branches as “very straight, very white, very privileged,” and added that other students from different backgrounds need to be included.

Giordano added the senate is a “large misrepresentation of the student body” and would like to see more “diversity of thought and background” incorporated into it.

With only a yearlong term, both tickets discussed how they hope to implement lasting change at UMass.

“I think it’s really important that during our time here we really build institutional knowledge of the way that students have been neglected here on this campus,” Kelly said, adding that they hope they can make concrete policies that will last past students’ graduation.

“We see the position being one where our biggest challenge is going to be getting more students involved in the SGA,” Giordano said, adding that expanding the SGA’s base is the key to getting students empowered across campus.

Regarding this year’s ballot questions, both candidates strongly agreed with the first question, to support the continuation of MASSPIRG on campus. Kelly cited the advocacy work and facilitation of learning that MASSPIRG achieves at UMass as an essential tool, while Giordano added that even though he does “not agree politically” with all the chapter’s work, he still supports the ballot question to keep the organization on campus.

The other two questions however, aroused some disagreement between the candidates.

Question Two deals with raising the Student Activities Trust Fund fee by $6, and Question Three involves another fee raise, a $7 increase to the student health fee to fund the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health.

Kelly said that some students already struggle to afford to come to UMass as is, and that improving resources on campus shouldn’t fall on their backs. She added that regarding the fee for CCPH, she agrees the center needs more funds and staff, but that she has already heard reports that the center still needs more work, work that the administration should take into their hands.

“If the University is going to be propping up this institution, (it) really also needs to be funding it,” she said.

Giordano added that his ticket agrees with the student activities fee increase, since it is the “most clear fee that students pay into and get the most out of.” In regards to the CCPH fee increase however, Giordano believes that while the center deserves more funding, he doesn’t believe the funding should come directly from students’ pockets.

“That is a basic health service, and that is something that is needed to create a healthy and safe space on our campus,” he said. “That’s not something that students deserve to have to shell out for. That’s something the state and the institution should be paying for.”

A member of the audience asked about the candidates’ stance on the privatization of the University.

Kelly responded “that fact that students pay to go to this university is privatization in itself.”

She and Gay named corporations that already hold contracts and sponsorships with the University, including Monsanto, Pfizer and Coca-Cola.

Kelly said, “they have more power than we do” and that she wants to “push them of campus.”

Giordano said there will always be these kinds of contracts because “it’s too big of a university for there not to be.”

A second question from the audience concerned the high salaries of UMass administrators and employees, such as Ken Toong, director of UMass Dining, and Derek Kellogg, UMass’ basketball coach who is also the highest paid employee in the Commonwealth.

Both tickets agreed athletic personnel should not be the highest paid employees in the state. However, their hopes in changing the system differed.

Kelly cited the significant income gap between officials and their employees. She used the example of Toong, saying that while he makes a six-figure salary, dining staff is not unionized and without benefits.

Gay mentioned that the “focus of fees and salaries leaves out marginalized groups of people.” She suggested moving money from these salaries to push for grants to support students – typically students of color – who can’t afford to come here.

Mirlay Srinivas said this trend of highly paid officials, especially within athletics, is “something society needs to change.”

Giordano said that while he disagrees with Kellogg’s current salary he recognizes “there is a necessity for keeping talented athletic personnel on our campus.”

In reference to Kelly’s sentiments, he added, “I’m not quite as radical. I don’t think it is a massive injustice.”

Candidates were then asked to discuss the most pressing issues that campus faces.

Giordano and Mirlay Srinivas discussed their dissatisfaction with the current code of student conduct.

Giordano said, “Our conduct system is increasingly punitive. It’s almost barbaric.”

Mirlay Srinivas talked about the discrepancy between court and University decisions. He used the example of a student having their case dismissed by a local court but then being suspended by the University for the same offense.

Kelly said her biggest priority was safety on campus. She focused on sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender violence, as well as safety for students of color in particular.

She said she would like to see the University “actively working to prevent” sexual assault and gender violence. She plans to achieve this through more comprehensive training and education.

In terms of students of color, she called their retention rate “abysmal” and wants to create safe spaces and resources for them to turn to.

Gay said, “these are more than just platform points” in terms of having to pick one as the most pressing issue. “These are real things and real people’s lives.”

The final question of the night, asked by current SGA President Vinayak Rao, was whether or not the candidates would continue to fight for these issues even if they were not elected. All four candidates affirmed.

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at [email protected] Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MarieMacCune.