This year’s Student Body Elections are currently taking place on the UGA Involvement Network from March 28th to 30th, 2016.
On Wednesday, March 23rd, UGA’s Student Government Association held an open debate in the UGA Chapel. All 3 SGA tickets — All In, Dare, and Commit — were present for the debate, which took place five days before the recently-renamed “Student Body Elections” began on March 28th.
Moderators asked candidates about inclusivity on campus. All In described their belief that inclusivity goes far beyond race and extends into the often forgotten but very important realm of religion. To promote religious and cultural inclusivity on campus, All In proposes implementing a new meal plan that is more welcoming of religions with dietary restrictions.
Shallum Atkinson, who is running for president with the All In ticket, cited different faith lifestyles in support, saying “for example, Jewish diet is really strict.” He also mentioned the religion of Islam, as well as students who practice vegetarianism and veganism, as more reason to implement new menus in the dining halls.
Sehar Ali, who is running as Treasurer for the Commit ticket, said that as a Muslim student she supports All In’s push for food inclusivity.
“If we can’t be inclusive in food options, we can’t be inclusive in other areas of campus,” said Atkinson.
The Dare ticket, whose main platform stance is promoting more diversity on campus, had different ideas for how inclusivity on campus should look. Dare candidates described themselves as “the most diverse ticket on the stage.”
Tifara Brown, presidential candidate for the Dare ticket, says that she and her team have a “two-part plan” to promote campus diversity and would like to “work with minority programs” and provide them more funding. She feels that UGA is “falling behind our other peer institutions” in the area of supporting campus inclusivity. Dare did not explain from where this extra support funding would come.
In an exclusive statement to THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE, Brown also expressed her belief that moderate limitations to free speech on campus, as outlined by UGA’s Freedom of Expression Act, were necessary to make sure that everyone feels safe and included on campus.
“I think the policy is good as it stands. It is all-encompassing and makes our campus more inclusive for everyone,” said Brown. She stated that UGA’s speech policy was helpful for students who “might not know how to handle what’s being said.”
A great portion of the SGA debate also rvolved around HB 859, the new campus carry bill that has been passed by the Georgia General Assembly and is currently under consideration for approval by Governor Nathan Deal.
Recently, UGA President Jere Morehead and SGA took public stances against the bill, which allows licensed students over the age of 21 to carry concealed weapons on campus.
“I was never asked my opinion on campus carry,” said Sam Street from All In, referencing SGA’s letter opposing campus carry. He said that while he is “personally against HB 859” the letter sent out by SGA “does not accurately represent the student body.”
All In said that SGA and President Morehead should “talk to the student body and put out surveys” to find out how students feel about campus carry before taking further action. “We are all about making this campus safe for everyone. We don’t want to say specifically what we’d do. We want to use student voices.”
Dare countered by arguing that they “think it’s clear what the student body’s feeling is” based on a student protest that took place in the Tate Student center weeks ago. Gaby Reyes, vice presidential candidate for the Dare ticket, said that it is SGA’s “responsibility to take voices to the state government. We want to make your voices powerful.”
Commit said that it is important for SGA to “research” further into the campus carry law and “inform students so that they’ll know” what is going on with campus carry at the legislative level. Though they did not come out specifically in support of campus carry, they did defend the bill by stating “it’s not like anyone can just walk into the MLC with a gun. There are guidelines.”
“The number one thing is to educate UGA students,” stated Houston Gaines, Commit’s presidential candidate and current SGA vice president.
On their signature issue of transportation, Commit said they want to “make late night routes more efficient” by investing more money into UGA’s transportation system. When asked where the extra money would come from, they said they would have to work with administration to find means to gain more funding.
Commit also commended UGA’s emergency services, saying the “university does a great job. Anywhere you dial 911, you get a response in 30 seconds, or, actually 27 seconds is the official number.”
Dare echoed Commit’s appraisal of campus safety and said they want to make sure people are aware of the many services that are available to them to preserve personal safety on campus.
Commit also stated that another important part of promoting campus safety is giving medical amnesty to everyone.
Megan Corriveau of All In described her ticket’s plan for giving students their first few sessions of CAPS for free. She stated that “a large portion of the funding for CAPS can come from UGA’s Family and Parents Grant, so we want to go to that funding to allocate more funding for CAPS.”
Dare critiqued All In’s proposal to implement a larger CAPS (counselling and psychiatric services) program at UGA. “Free [counselling] sessions would be fantastic, but they would become too backed up, like they are at Auburn.”
Overall, SGA’s open debate was substantive and the teams gave fresh ideas on how to improve our campus through better transportation, safety, and inclusivity. The main flaw in every ticket’s argument, however, was the lack of certainty on where funds would be coming from to support their policy proposals, and how much money specifically would be needed.
Find more information directly from each ticket using Twitter.
All In: @allinuga2016
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that All In did not have a plan for increasing CAPS funding. Further review of audio of the debate indicated that All In briefly outlined their plan for funding this initiative to follow up a question about mental health on campus. Updated March 29, 2016, 8:28 PM.
— Sydney North is a sophomore studying journalism and political science