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On Thursday, Feb. 16, approximately 100 UNI students gathered in the main floor of the Maucker Union for the 2017 Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG) senatorial and presidential candidate debates.
The two presidential and vice-presidential tickets were Maggie Miller & Danielle Massey, and Jamal White & Tristan Bernhard. The two teams debated for nearly an hour, first fielding questions from debate moderator Jerome Soneson, associate professor and head of the philosophy and world religions department. The second half of the debate consisted of a town hall forum in which audience members had the opportunity to pose questions to either ticket.
All UNI students will have the opportunity to vote for student body president, vice president and senators all day Tuesday, Feb. 21 through Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. Students will be able to vote via their MyUniverse account.
Miller, a junior political science and public administration double major, and Massey, a junior economics and business administration double major, have promoted their platform around the slogan “Teaming Up For You.” The Miller & Massey platform is separated into three areas of focus: students, campus and community.
White, a junior marketing and organizational leadership management double major, and Bernhard, a sophomore social science education major, have chosen the phrase “Making the Best, Better” as their campaign slogan. Their platform revolves around four main areas of concern: diversity and inclusivity, campus safety, student engagement and mental health.
One of the first questions Soneson asked in the debate was what each ticket considered to be the greatest issue facing UNI students.
White said that campus engagement and, by extension, inclusivity and diversity is the foremost challenge that students face.
“We have worked extensively on that engagement aspect, as well as the inclusivity aspect, to make sure that students are finding a place here on campus and making sure that they are getting engaged,” White said.
Massey said that two of their platform’s biggest initiatives are diversity and inclusion and mental health.
Mental health would become a chief focus in the debate — namely, how each ticket would work to improve the resources available to students on campus.
“Danielle and I have a very personal experience with mental health,” Miller said. “We’ve both tried to get into the counseling centers, and we’ve seen firsthand how unfortunate it is to have to wait and go through all of the steps to get into the counseling center. Danielle and I are both very passionate about advocating for UNI students, and one way we’re going to do that is start to advocate at a state level.”
Massey went on to say that, in addition to lobbying for UNI at the state level, they will aim to extend counseling center hours into the evening.
Bernhard questioned the feasibility of extending evening hours, citing a lack of funding for UNI’s counseling center.
“The last time we needed a counselor, it took over two months to hire that person. We are competing with the private sector in this, which can pay people much better,” Bernhard said. “When the counseling center already doesn’t have enough money, it’s going to be impossible to hire counselors if we start giving them hours that are outside the norm.”
Massey responded, saying that her team will work to acquire more funding for UNI and to also prioritize UNI’s existing funds for student issues, such as mental health.
“The evening counseling hours is going to be hard, and it’s going to be one of the biggest goals that we have,” Massey said. “But setting big goals is not a problem. It’s something that we’re going to push through because this is the ‘University of Nothing Impossible.’”
According to White, the most pressing issue related to mental health on UNI’s campus is the lack of awareness. White specifically criticized NISG’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which he said wasn’t enough.
“That is not enough time to push mental health all in one week,” White said. “We have to continue the conversation throughout the whole year.”
Diversity and inclusion
Several questions were raised regarding diversity and inclusion, both in terms of race and ethnicity, as well as gender inclusivity.
At one point, Soneson asked the White-Bernhard ticket whether or not they would hold the Department of Residence accountable to their commitment of gender inclusive housing.
White responded, saying, “We want to work to continue to push that gender inclusivity within the residence halls because, being a representative from the LGBTQ community, I know that is important for my rights […] and so I want to continue to support that within my ticket.”
Massey stressed the importance of giving students the opportunity to see things from another perspective, a goal that she said would benefit from a diversity exit requirement.
“One thing we want to do is push through the diversity exit requirement so that we can make sure everyone is given a well-rounded education before the time they graduate,” Massey said.
The two tickets also touched upon the budget cuts that will take effect at UNI for the 2017-2018 academic year and how these cuts will affect the implementation of their respective platforms.
“A lot of our platform is about what we can do as student leaders, regardless of money, no matter what happens at the state legislature — especially because we have a very strong Republican state legislature, which has historically not been very supportive of the colleges,” Bernhard said. “We purposefully drafted a platform that would be resistant to that.”
Miller mentioned her ticket’s goal of pushing for a full funding appropriations bill at UNI as a way to ensure UNI’s funding for the long term.
“It’ll be a bi-partisan bill, and this is something that is supported by Republicans,” Miller said. “Republicans can recognize when economic development is coming into their district. And they can recognize that 90 percent of UNI students go into Iowa’s workforce.”
After the debate wrapped up with the town hall forum, Sonenson praised both tickets’ performances.
“I have been around this campus for a long time, and this is the first time I have attended one of these debates,” Sonenson said. “To tell you the truth, it has lightened my heart. I’m very impressed with all of you — all the candidates […] It’s going to be a tough choice for you all between the different candidates, but I think you are all so very fortunate to have such wonderful people step forward.”