More than a dozen freshmen running for freshman representative responded to questions on Tuesday evening at a forum hosted by Cornell Speech and Debate Society.
Candidates discussed their platforms in Goldwin Smith Hall in front of a small crowd of fewer than 10 audience members. The candidates were divided into four groups, and each group had one round to answer questions from the moderators. Moderators gave each candidate 30 seconds to respond.
Speech and Debate Society members posed four questions to each candidate, focusing on hate speech, marginalized students on campus, mental health and sexual assault.
“There have been several incidents of students using hate speech against other students,” Rubin Danberg Biggs ’17 said. “What specific steps do you believe ought to be taken? What steps would you take?”
Joanna LaTorre ’21 took the stance that “there needs to be a clear definition of what hate speech is before we decide how to create a punishment.”
“Once we clearly define that, we can focus on the marginalized students and address the issue,” she said.
Many candidates mirrored LaTorre’s sentiments in their arguments.
“Free speech is not enough to warrant hate speech,” Marco Peralta ’21 said. “Hate speech is not just defined by free speech. Honestly, people are more scared to walk out with a red cup from a party or to pee on the Law School than to call somebody the N-word in Collegetown.”
Peralta’s comments were appreciated by both the audience as well as the candidates.
Dillon Hitesh Anadkat ’21, however, presented a slightly different view on the topic.
“First of all, I think this was handled terribly by the University,” he said. “I refuse to condemn that particular fraternity until investigations are done to find out who that person was. Obviously, I condemn the hate, it’s disgusting, but I don’t think it’s fair to associate the fraternity equally.”
On the topic of mental health, Shara Safer ’19 asked the candidates for their views on improving the quality and availability of health care services.
Many candidates related personal anecdotes to in their responses to Safer’s question.
Nicole Krisztinicz ’21 said some of her close friends had suffered from depression and she was “appalled by the way the University handled these issues.”
“More needs to be done,” she said.
Osai Egharevba ’21 shared a similar experience, saying, “As a person who has had bouts of depression in the past, I can certainly sympathize with people who are struggling.”
“It’s extremely appalling that the University has not done enough to improve the quality of mental health service,” he said.
Rishab Bhandari ’21 suggested an approach where academics could be used as a conduit to improving mental health and stress levels on campus. He suggested that similar to a policy used by many other universities, a student’s first semester should be solely pass or fail.
“Your first semester is just an experiment where you learn about Cornell, about what clubs you want to join,” Bhandari said, defending his proposal.
A recurring theme among candidates was the stress Cornell’s classes can cause and mental health struggles that can stem from that.
All candidates agreed some measures need to be taken.
In resoponse to a question about making students whose first languge is not English feel comfortable on campus, Jaewon Sim ’21 contributed a personal story from attending a Texas high school.
“I was often discriminated against in class for not speaking English very fluently,” he said. “There should be better programs that introduce these people into the English-speaking community at Cornell.”
Candidates listed a wide variety of possible solutions regarding sexual assault at Cornell.
“I think self-defense is super important,” Krisztinicz said. “I would advocate that the Student Assembly use some of its resources to have a self-defense seminar to empower potential victims of sexual assault.”
LaTorre said that the “addition of blue lights on campus will improve campus safety and help people in a bad situation.”
The 17 candidates projected their ideas on four topics and gave insights into what they would do if they were elected. The election for Cornell’s freshman representative begins on Sept. 25 and ends on Sept. 27.