September 18, 2014

Student Assembly Candidates Talk Platforms at Debate

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Twenty candidates vying for seats on the Student Assembly gathered for a candidate debate Thursday where they discussed their stances on topics including Greek life, hazing policies, past S.A. resolutions and TCAT bus passes.

Ouf of the 20 candidates, 14 were running for four freshman representative positions; four for one transfer representative position; and one each for the LGBTQ and Arts and Sciences representative positions.

The candidates went around the table, introducing themselves and explaining why they were running for the S.A. Many, like Leor Ginzburg ’18, said that they want to serve as a voice for the student body.

“I would like to run for freshman rep because I would like to make sure that no student is left behind and no weekend is left unenjoyed,” Ginzburg said. “I would like to increase student input and feedback and increase support programs through Gannett and Tatkon Center for freshmen.”

After the round of introductions, the candidates answered a different question asked by the facilitators, Jennifer Kim ’16 and Nick Rasch ’15, president and external vice president of the Cornell Forensics Society, respectively.

Many of the candidates expressed support for increased communication, unity and transparency on campus in their answers.

Peter Biedenweg ’17, a candidate for the transfer representative position, said he wanted to promote campus communication.

“The two main things I would like to promote as a transfer representative is more communication amongst students … and promoting information to new transfers so that they can better understand what they can get out of their experience here,” Biedenweg said.

Rasch asked David Vakili ’16, a candidate for the Arts and Sciences representative, for his opinion on whether the S.A.’s decision in April to table Resolution 72 — which urged Cornell to to divest from companies that “profit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories” — was the right decision.

“The student body as diverse as Cornell will inevitably have conflict of opinions and interest,” Vakili said. “We have to take up the challenge and create a climate where students of all backgrounds can espouse our values and there is communication between all groups. The tabling of the resolution is not in the interest of communication.”

When asked what the biggest issue facing the LGBT community at Cornell was, Philip Titcomb ’17 said “discrimination and bias.”

Titcomb — who is running for LGBTQ representative — suggested reforming policy 6.4, a University policy titled “Prohibited Discrimination, Protected-Status Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault and Violence.”

Titcomb said the policy is “not accurate in defining bias and it is not helpful for queer people.”

After each candidate answered one or two questions, the audience members were given the chance to ask a few questions.

Addressing the freshman and transfer student candidates, Yamini Bhandari ’17, S.A. vice president of outreach and women’s representative, brought up the issue of the University administration’s decision to increase its subsidies to TCAT to reflect a $1 per ride.

The candidates supported continuing the bus passes and offered suggestions to address the financial issue.

“We pay $60,000 to go here. I think we should have bus passes,” said Mitchell McBride ’17, a candidate for the transfer representative position.

Gabe Kaufman ’18 also said he supported the bus passes and proposed offering the bus passes only for certain months.

“You can’t uncontrollably spend your money. But it could make the most sense to offer the bus passes during winter months,” Kaufman said.

The candidates also proposed holding office hours, actively meeting with their constituents, and creating an online platform for students to discuss S.A.’s resolutions.

Kushagra Aniket ’15, S.A. director of elections, said he was encouraged by the high turnout for the candidate debate, which was attended by at least 50 students.

“It not only shows that student interest in shared government has increased but also that better strategy and management practices can prove to be successful in generating interest in campus elections,” he said.