September 12, 2013

Student Assembly Hopefuls Talk Campus Issues at Candidate Forum

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Student Assembly representatives expressed disappointment over the low turnout at a candidate forum Wednesday, where the number of students running in the S.A. elections nearly equalled the number of audience members present.

The candidates at the forum are running for freshman representative, transfer representative, LGBTQ representative and University Assembly representative. Eighteen students debated each other at the event, answering questions posed by Ulysses Smith ’14, S.A. president, and Alfonse Muglia ’14, director of elections for the S.A.

Many of the candidates shared similar thoughts about topics raised at the forum such as the importance of the S.A.’s diversity initiative, the need for improvement in the TCAT bus system and the requirement that S.A. representatives meet with leaders of certain clubs and organizations on campus.

One candidate, Marc Masson ’17, expressed his opinion that the University’s survey about freshmen’s housing preferences was “too impersonal.”

“They should include questions like ‘Do you like to party every night? Do you like to have rowdy sex every night?’” he said.

Another candidate, Alex Chakrin ’17, discussed Greek life, reflecting his platform to “fight for fewer restrictions” on fraternities and sororities on campus.

“I believe that the University needs to revisit its policies on fraternities and how it does not allow freshmen to have any sort of contact with fraternities because it is having an adverse effect on the community [at Cornell],” Chakrin said.

Yamini Bhandari ’17 proposed an initiative to combat the “50 to 60 emails a day [she receives] to her Cornell account each day,” an idea she coined “ClubCal.”

“Every listserv should have an option to unsubscribe from the email,” Bhandari said. “I want to streamline the way that we do clubs and have an interactive calendar on the S.A. website to show when every meeting is and update it currently.”

She proposed making information about clubs more accessible and organized for students.

“I want to make a website where you check off different clubs that you’re interested in, and once a month, you get one email with the dates and times for every club and where they’re meeting,” Bhandari said.

A noteworthy change in the candidate debate this year was the style of questions that were asked, according to Muglia. This year, the S.A. asked more questions about its history, as well as past resolutions it has pushed forward.

“You know, I don’t think we intended to stump people, necessarily,” Smith said. “But one, it brings awareness to the assembly and what we’re doing and hopefully draws more people in. The other part is that it helps the candidates learn about themselves.”

Smith said he hopes that the challenging questions asked at the forum will spur candidates to understand the task they are planning on undertaking.

“I think after hearing some of the questions that Alfonse and I asked, the candidates will probably go and do some more research,” Smith said. “They realize now, ‘Wow, this is not high school government all over again. We actually have a $6.5-million budget that we’re responsible for allocating.’”

Muglia also said that he thought the forum was informative for students, since most of the topics that were brought up at the forum were those most relevant to freshmen.

“One of the first things that freshmen notice are things like the bus system, things like the dining hall hours, and it is important for them to know the difference between the things that the Student Assembly can do something about and can’t do something about,” Muglia said. “But most of them, I think, have figured it out, and I was very impressed.”

Despite saying they were both disappointed by the low turnout at the event, both Muglia and Smith expressed a general satisfaction with the way the debate went.

“We’re making decisions that actually affect a lot of people,” Smith said. “Though this campus might largely be apathetic in certain rights toward a lot of the things that are happening, a lot of the things that we do really do impact a lot of people, and it’s important that people are involved.”

Smith added that he hopes students will more widely publicize the candidate forum next year.

“Next time, they need to advertise to their friends a bit more — get some cheering corners in here for them or something. Other than that, it was pretty good,” he said.