The three University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Student Body President candidates participated in a debate Thursday night in the Student Union. Various issues facing students were discussed amongst the candidates including tuition late fees, inclusivity at UWL, and student’s first amendment rights.
The debate was moderated by UWL assistant professor of political science and public administration Dr. Jeremy Arney. Candidates were each given three minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and two minutes to respond to general questions with an optional one minute to rebuttal to any candidate’s response.
The first question of the evening was regarding the issue of student shared governance and the recent actions against it. The candidates were unanimous is their support of shared governance with UWL Fraternity and Sorority Life Senator president of UWL’s Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity Kyle Beckwith declaring that “students should have a say in governance because they are the one’s attending college in the first place.”
Current UWL Black Student Unity Senator Malik Hodges added “without that collaboration between students and administration we would not have policies such as the indigenous land recognition policy.”
Former School of Arts and Communication Senator and current State Affairs Director of the UWL Student Association Ben O’Connell emphasized continued collaboration between student government and the Board of Regents and called for increased powers to be granted to the Student Association.
The following question was about campus diversity and equity. O’Connell led off explaining that he saw the two biggest issues facing inclusivity were funds and the lack of student voices being heard. “One way I would help with this is by placing multicultural student organization (MSO) senators on campus budgetary committees.” He cited that recently, the UWL Academic Initiatives Differential Allocation Committee (AIDAC) almost cut Campus Climate’s budget by 21% until UWL Student Association intervened.
Hodges explained that addressing inclusivity shouldn’t fall into the hands of MSO senators, UWL Campus Climate or the Pride Center but rather, “the work for the majority. The professors, the students, the administration.” He proposed increasing inclusivity training for professors and declared that he would encourage student senators to attend MSO meetings.
Beckwith agreed with the importance of diversity and inclusivity on UWL’s campus and wants to attend MSO meetings as president and to ensure that MSO organizations have an equal amount of accessibility to resources as other organizations on campus.
The debate then shifted to issues facing allocable student fees in which all the candidates were all supportive of granting more control of those fees to students. “Students should have as much control over money as possible because they are paying the thousands of dollars to be here,” stated Beckwith. He said he would lobby at the State Legislature to change policies regarding these policies.
Hodges added “this is our money that is being taken out of our hands and given to administrators who are not hearing our voices and opinions on what should be done with the money.” He then declared that he would encourage more students to sit on the budgetary committees that work with administrators to allocate student fees.
O’Connell echoed the previous candidate’s feelings on increasing student control over the allocable student fees, adding “the fees being categorized as non-allocable fees will be safe but I worry that those still classified as allocable student fees are in danger.” O’Connell stated that he will fight to protect the current allocable fees and seek to restore more fees from the non-allocable category to the allocable category.
The candidates were then asked about concerns regarding left over money in the UWL Student Association Budget and the newly imposed $50 late fee for paying tuition. The candidates were again, unanimous in their desire to analyze the budget and reallocate the extra funds to various organization as well as lowering, and possibly even eliminating the $50 late fee.
The conversation the moved to increasing campus sustainability. Beckwith stated he wished to further support programs such as the U’s no paper policy and enforce a no littering and pollution policy. Hodges laid out a plan to start a composting program to be used when landscaping throughout campus.
Sole Student Association Vice Presidential President Candidate and the running mate of O’Connell Haley Jurecki weighed in on the question of sustainability and emphasized better utilization of the UWL Green Fund as well as eliminating the sale of plastic straws on campus in favor of paper straws.
The final prepared question of the evening was about the recent Student Association vote to add a senate seat for UWL’s Asian Latina African Native American Womyn (ALANA) student organization. Beckwith did not support the addition, stating “if we gave ALANA a seat, this would then give MSO’s 10 of the 32 total votes. This would make the voting power of MSOs disproportional to the overall student population.”
Hodges supported the addition of an ALANA seat, explaining “I think it’s important to make sure that underrepresented populations are represented on campus and especially in the Student Association. Another thing to note is that the MSO seats don’t always vote the same way and don’t always have the same opinions on issues.”
O’Connell agreed with Hodges in supporting the addition of the ALANA seat and called on students to vote ‘yes’ on the referendum vote that will be present on the Student Association Ballot Tuesday. Jurecki elaborated further stating “proportionality shouldn’t matter in senate because the main concern should be that those voices are heard.”
The evening closed with the candidates answer questions from the audience and giving their closing statements in which they highlighted their plans if elected. Voting be held electronically Tuesday, April 17. For more details on what will appear on the ballot, click here.