Student Union debates draw negligible interest

| News Editor

For the 20 or so people present, things got serious in room 276 of the Danforth University Center Monday night, even as music and laughs could be heard from the “Frozen” movie screening down below.

The event was a debate between Connection Slate and Elevate! Slate, the two contesting slates for this year’s Student Union executive board election. This is the first time in four years that the election has been contested.

The Sophomore Class Council slate and Senior Class Council slate, both running uncontested, also participated in the debates. Junior Class Council showed up, but upon realizing they were uncontested and were not required to be there, left and did not participate.

The debates were moderated by junior Jodi Small, election commissioner for Student Union, who posed four or five questions to the candidates. Afterward, members of the audience were allowed to ask questions.

Both slates focused on new ideas that they would implement if elected.

Junior Emma Tyler, Elevate!’s candidate for president, talked about having different student groups come into the executive members’ office hours each week to discuss their feelings on SU and the campus as a whole.

“[Student Union] is very good at reacting to events on campus but not as good at being proactive. We want to shift the focus to be more of a proactive focus,” Tyler said. “You don’t have to wait for a StudLife op-ed about gender-inclusive housing to come out. You can come to us to voice your opinion.”

In order to make SU more accessible to the general student body, Elevate! proposed the idea of phasing out the slate system to make it easier for freshmen to get involved in student government without having to form a slate within the first two weeks of school.

Connection expressed its hope to create a more “connected” student body and campus and to make SU more accessible to the average student. Connection Slate’s candidate for president, junior Will Ralls, said he feels SU lacks a personal relation to the rest of campus.

To improve recruitment and retention, Connection proposed the idea of creating avenues other than the pre-orientation program sponsored by SU as a means of getting students involved early in the year.

“I think the bigger issue is that one of the side effects of the pre-o is that it already sets up SU as an insular organization,” Ralls said. “If we want to recruit a more diverse population, we have to do more than just the pre-o…a lot of this is changing the idea that there is a group of ‘SU people’ on campus.”

When asked why they thought their slate is better suited to lead SU than the opposition, the candidates broke slightly from the mutual courtesy they had been maintaining.

Ralls said that Elevate!’s experience with SU didn’t necessarily make it more qualified.

“I think that there is a little bit of a contradiction that [there are] so many problems with SU, but they’re the SU slate saying, ‘Vote us in again,’” Ralls said. “We have enough SU experience, but we’re not the slate that’s going to keep doing business as usual.”

Junior Nick Palermo, the incumbent vice president of finance and Elevate!’s candidate for the same position, responded to this by pointing out the pitfalls of having a slate member who has no prior SU experience.

“I had the experience this last year of running on a slate that had one person that was technically outside of SU…there is a large sentiment amongst members of my slate that this person has largely failed at their role,” Palermo said. “I think it’s sort of difficult for people to come in without experience…we are the combination of the best people from all the different parts of SU that are currently looking to bring it to the next level.”

The Sophomore Class Council debate focused on how the slate, which currently sits as the Freshman Class Council, would transition into sophomore year. Freshman Reid Petty, candidate for president of Sophomore Class Council, said the slate hopes to develop more programming independent from the other class councils next year.

Three members of EmpoWUr Slate for Senior Class Council, Marli Komarek, Will Waldron and Chelsea Whitaker, rounded out the evening, answering questions about their ideas for Senior Week and how they plan to program.

“We want to keep the consistency of great events that have a good turnout, but we want to make sure everything is affordable,” Komarek, the slate’s candidate for external vice president, said. “That’s one of the biggest things, making sure things are affordable and playing to the diversity, including the socioeconomic diversity, of our senior class.”

Although most of the people who attended were involved in SU, a few attendees were merely observers.

“I really was just here because I feel like there isn’t as much student involvement and excitement about SU as there should be, and this is the first time in years that there’s been a contested election, so I was curious to hear the two slate’s ideas for their SU exec,” senior Katie Stillman said.

Tyler felt the debate went well but saw the lack of attendance by non-SU students as representative of a greater problem within SU.

“Student Union elections can’t be so poorly publicized that three outside students show up to the SU exec debates,” Tyler said. “The people running are going to be in control of the general budget, and [only] two students came and asked questions, which is sad.”

Following the debate, Ralls said he believed both slates performed well but was still confident in his own slate.

“I think both slates did a very good job of differentiating their vision,” Ralls said. “I stand by that our vision, which has been described as an outsider vision, is more representative of the student body—but no matter what, I’m going to support the administration that wins.”

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