By Alexander Dacy and Morgan Politzer
Candidates for the University of Maryland’s SGA’s four highest executive positions discussed a wide range of issues at an event billed as a debate Thursday — but no disputes actually arose.
The election will be the first heavily contested race in recent years, with three major parties — Unite UMD, Empower Maryland and YOU Ticket — and five presidential candidates. Previous election cycles typically only included one or two major parties, said Huw Ball, SGA Director of Communications.
The debates come before next week’s elections to replace outgoing President Jonathan Allen and vice presidents Rahila Olanrewaju, Ro Nambiar and Andrew Stover.
Discussion topics ranged from campuswide issues such as the allocation of student fees and student discontent with DOTS, to more personal, student-driven concerns, such as sexual misconduct protocol and resources for undocumented students.
Though transparency and the need for better representation were common themes throughout the night, the three parties didn’t share many concrete proposals.
“We’re really focused on engaging the student voices outside of the SGA,” said Andrew String, a presidential candidate on the YOU Ticket. “We decided to really make sure that the student leader experience is represented in SGA, and it simply isn’t just SGA running SGA, as it has been for the past number of years.”
Ireland Lesley, who’s running for president on the Empower Maryland ticket, agreed with String, and said she would reach out to as many student groups as possible whether she wins or loses.
Lesley also heavily focused on reforming sexual assault prevention programs. She highlighted the importance of educating students when they enter the university.
“Although the university may tell us that they won’t hold back on the progress that we have made, I don’t just want promises — I want to make sure make sure that is a policy,” the junior government and politics major said. “I want to be advocating on a federal level.”
Taylor Green, a presidential candidate on the Unite UMD ticket, centered her platform on improving SGA diversity and ensuring that students of color feel represented in the government. The junior community health major said increasing outreach to those communities and presenting a more welcoming environment would help make sure their voices are heard.
“The student government body hasn’t had a president of color in the last nine, almost ten, years. And the question I’m asking myself is why?” Green said. “We have students of color in government and politics and studying policy who are digging up ways to address issues across campus. Why aren’t we involving them?”
Green resigned from the SGA earlier this academic year, citing concerns about the organization’s “culture” surrounding race.
“I honestly cannot tell a black student to join this organization because it would be good for you,” Green said after her resignation. “So if I can’t tell people to join, why am I here?”
Barath Srinivasan, running for president as the only member of the Chicken Broth for Your Soul ticket, presented himself as an outsider throughout the debate. He offered no distinct policy and acknowledged his lack of prior student government experience, expressing a more radical point of view.
Rather than calling for change in a single policy to address an issue, Srinivasan suggested combating problems at the source to “make the university less stressful.”
“How can we prevent this from happening in the first place?” he asked. “We don’t want the university to add stress.”
The sophomore computer science major suggested altering the university’s preexisting structure and schedule, including adding more reading days between the end of classes and the start of final exams.
Independent presidential candidate Jonathan Saewitz did not participate in the debate.
Vice presidential candidates also focused on empowering student voices and pledged greater transparency in the budget process.
Ben Cohen, a sophomore finance major and candidate for vice president of financial affairs on the Empower Maryland ticket, said student organizations should no longer be denied full funding due to arcane rules. He said he would reach out and work through issues with those groups.
“I want to have members of the finance committee not just hold office hours, but go to organization’s budget meetings, go to executive meetings and say ‘Hey, you applied for a budget, here’s what might not have funded it, but let’s work together right now so we can fix it,’” Cohen said.
Candidates will continue their campaign through next week. Voting opens this Wednesday and closes Friday at 4 p.m.