Student Government Candidates Clash at Emory Wheel Debates

Eight student candidates who are running for various elected positions spoke about their campaign platforms and answered questions from the Wheel Endorsement Committee and other Emory students at this year’s Wheel Debates, hosted in White Hall on Feb. 24.

Candidates for Student Government Association (SGA) president and executive vice president, College Council (CC) president and vice president and Student Programming Council (SPC) president attended the event, which provided them the opportunity to address the Emory community before elections begin Friday, Feb. 26.

This year’s SGA presidential candidates, College junior Max Zoberman and Goizueta Business School sophomore Daniel Rodriguez, voiced shared interests in transparency and inclusion, as well as ambition, at the debate.

“I am asking for the opportunity to finish a lot of important work that has been in progress for a very long time,” Zoberman said, referring to his five-page platform consisting of 24 points. “I know that there are some things on [my platform] that seem farfetched, but [they] can [be] done,” he said.

Zoberman emphasized that his priorities among these platform points involve campus safety and the provision of psychological services for all students. He also said that he hopes to propel a fundamental change in the issues and efforts on which SGA focuses in order to support a more inclusive environment — for instance, if elected, he plans to work toward the creation of an SGA endowment. “What the student government needs to do is … say to student organizations, ‘Regardless of need, we support your efforts.’”

While Rodriguez was less specific in his goals concerning inclusivity, he said that he hopes to “improve the environment within this campus as a whole” through “remov[ing] the barriers that [minority] groups have created around themselves.” He said that he expects to see consistency in grievances from such minority groups as a result of this initiative, which he would address accordingly. Rodriguez said that he also hopes to increase transparency between SGA and the Emory community.

“I haven’t seen enough positive change with things like transparency,” he said, adding that as someone who identifies as Latino, he has felt like an outsider rather than an insider at times during his Emory career.

However, when asked to respond to the idea of “insiders” versus “outsiders,” Zoberman said that he considers the idea to be an issue that further perpetrates divides. “The fact that people feel like there are insiders and there are outsiders is a problem,” he said. “I don’t believe that I’m an insider; I’m a student.”

Rodriguez, on the other hand, said that his outsider status in conjunction with his limited experience with student government would allow him to bring new ideas and perspectives to SGA. “At the end of the day, I have big aspirations and I want to see big changes on campus,” he said.

SGA Vice Presidential Candidate and Business School sophomore Gurbani Singh, who is running unopposed, said that she also wants to increase inclusion throughout the student body. “I think inclusion and building community is a huge issue,” she said. “And that comes from not getting a budget to have certain events.”

Singh proposed the implementation of a means by which student concerns and suggestions would be collected during Wonderful Wednesday, adding enthusiastically that she is open to addressing feedback. “I’m someone who really likes to hear student concerns and fix things,” she said.

Singh also said that she hopes to continue the efforts with which she has been involved during her near two years with SGA, and that she specifically hopes to lead improvements in campus safety and transportation. The SGA executive vice president position has sometimes acted as a transition position in years past, including for outgoing SGA President and College senior Raj Tilwa, who acted as SGA’s executive vice president during his junior year.

CC Presidential Candidate and College junior Molly Zhu, who is also running unopposed, said that she is committed to finding ways that the community can “collaborate and cooperate to achieve goals.” In the context of collaboration and cooperation, she hopes to strengthen the liaison system between CC and student clubs, she said.

She noted that CC has de-chartered “several obsolete clubs” and is only chartering fully active clubs; when asked about the significant amount of funding that CC allocates toward eight cultural groups in particular, she said that this “doesn’t mean that a lot of student voices aren’t being heard.” She added that she has heard many different voices: “some loud, some quiet and some in despair,” but that she hopes to empower more voices, hear more thoughts and bridge more gaps.

The CC vice presidential candidates, College sophomore Cassidy Schwartz and College junior Dennis Kamara, discussed discrepancies between what Emory students needed and what CC has provided.

“We need to work better on truly addressing the needs of students,” Kamara said. “The student activity fee is not our money, it’s y’all’s money.”

Kamara proceeded to pull out a binder and show the audience the CC’s monetary policy, which he said he has read front to back.

Schwartz also voiced her familiarity with CC finances. “I’ve helped with Audit Committee, and I know monetary policy like the back of my hand,” she said. She added that one of her goals is “making sure [the] monetary policy is communicated clearly to the student body.”

Schwartz added that she has many goals for sustainability, a focus she said relies heavily on communication. “[Emory students are] having trouble pursuing their dreams or what they want to change on campus because they don’t know what resources to reach out to,” she said. “Having a sustainable mindset will actually extend to the undergraduate student body and enhance their experience.”

Kamara said that his platform is based around sustainability, academics, health, wellness and inclusion. Similarly to some of the other candidates, he conveyed concern regarding the current state of inclusivity on campus. “In terms of inclusion, that goes beyond valuing people’s identities … [it is] providing equitable funding for organizations,” he said.

Kamara also intends to serve marginalized groups including transfer students and Oxford College students, he said. “Inclusion to me is something that is so important,” he said, adding that CC ought to support inclusion “not only through [its] words but through [its] actions.”

Kamara said that although he has limited experience with CC, he has been invested in organizations including Emory’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) and Volunteer Emory.

Meanwhile, Schwartz emphasized her experience with CC, adding that after nearly two years with the organization, she feels comfortable running for the position of vice president. “I’ve been the leader on CC where I’m always willing to go sit in and hear what’s up,” she said. “What I would do as vice president would be long lasting and impactful for Emory students.”

Both SPC presidential candidates, Business School juniors Ria Sabnis and Marisa Hann, acknowledged that SPC does not represent the entirety of the Emory community. “To be blunt, it’s really no secret that SPC is predominately white, Greek and upper-middle class,” Sabnis said.

When asked whether or not SPC is homogenous, the candidates agreed again. “Everyone has different skills and while, as of now, the majority of us are the upper class, white Greeks, I do believe that in the future when we reach out … that we’ll be able to encompass those skills to create an even more diverse community,” Hann said.

Hann added that she has been actively working to increase communication between SPC and Emory’s BSA, Latino Student Organization (LSO) and Office of International Student Life (OISL). She acknowledged that Dooley’s Week has a reputation of being exclusive, but said that she wants such events to be something “that [all Emory students] can come to and enjoy just as much as everyone else on campus.”

Sabnis addressed outreach as a means by which SPC can decrease its homogeneity, and proposed more “direct marketing outreach efforts to different groups on campus.” She added that she hopes to include more graduate students in SPC decisions and said that only two out of 38 current SPC members are graduate students. “I think, in terms of direct outreach, we can do a lot better,” she said. “I want to take this organization to the next level using what I’ve learned.”

About 40 Emory students attended the Wheel Debates, some of whom commended the program and some of whom voiced concerns.

“The fact that there was no ability for candidates to respond to other candidates frustrated me,” College sophomore William Palmer said. “They weren’t given a platform to do so. There should be a time once or twice in every debate to respond to what others say.”

On the other hand, College sophomore Connor O’Connell praised the program’s moderators and the candidates’ platforms.

Business School senior Sumaali Chheda said, “I appreciated that the same questions were asked to both candidates. And I like that they were given a chance to give an opening and closing statement.”

When asked about the candidates and their platforms, Chheda said that she supported Zoberman’s campus safety initiative. “I’ve seen him do work in these past couple years with campus safety and I appreciate that he’s stuck with it,” she said. “I felt like that wasn’t really talked about by many of the other candidates.”

Chheda said that this is her third year attending the Wheel Debates. “I do wish in general [that] there was [a] better turnout, because I feel like it’s a good way to find out where candidates stand on issues,” she said.

Her point of praise for all the candidates was “that pretty much every candidate talked about diversity and equity because it’s a pressing topic on our campus.”

Staff Writer Lauren Balotin contributed reporting.

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