Three S.A. Presidential hopefuls squared off Monday in a debate that tested the candidates on their views concerning Cornell's most controversial issues.

Courtesy of the candidates

Three S.A. Presidential hopefuls squared off Monday in a debate that tested the candidates on their views concerning Cornell's most controversial issues.

March 20, 2019

S.A. Presidential Candidates Clash on Mental Health, BDS in Monday Debate

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Student Assembly presidential candidates discussed campus’ most controversial issues — including mental health access and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — in a debate held at Willard Straight Hall on Monday.

Among the three candidates, Joseph Anderson ’20, John Dominguez ’20 and Trevor Davis ’21, Anderson and Dominguez continually called on their professional experience as former S.A. representatives, and Davis — who is running on the slogan, “he really needs this” — crafted applause-inducing remarks that bordered on satire.

To address long wait times for students seeking therapy, Anderson advocated for the reduction of some one-hour therapy sessions to 30-minute sessions in a plan based on a “Brown model” — one that he said successfully cut down wait times for students at Brown University.

Cornell Health’s website says that students need to wait 24 hours for a “brief assessment” and 10 days for a regular appointment. But Anderson contested this, saying that students currently wait up to three months for an appointment.

Dominguez, on the other hand, said that it was important to consider external factors that contribute to degraded mental health. Mental health issues are “deeply rooted” in Cornell’s academic environment, Dominguez said, advocating for mandatory mental health training for professors.

Davis — known for his satirical Facebook campaign and backed by CU Nooz — squibbed both positions.

“I’m not somebody who knows the most about mental health training,” Davis said. “But one thing I do know is that telling people that they need less therapy to reduce times instead of just putting more money in it … even I could come up with something better than that.”

The candidates also considered how they would handle controversy if they were president, specifically citing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as their example of choice.

The S.A. should push for “academic freedom,” as right now students have been discussing the issue “without any expertise,” Anderson said.

“I strongly oppose BDS,” Dominguez said. “Anything less than opposition to BDS is unacceptable.”

In response to the question regarding BDS, Davis spontaneously conducted an impromptu, casual poll of the audience, asking the audience: “Everybody who thinks that we should boycott and divest, please raise your hands,” to stifled giggles from the audience.

The debate also included candidates for executive vice president Uche Chukwukere ’21, Cat Huang ’21 and Nick Matolka ’21. Chukwukere was recently elected as the LGBTQ+ representative, Huang serves as transfer representative and Matolka is the CALS representative.

EVP candidates answered questions about their imagined first day in office, mediating conflict between the elected president, and mental health initiatives.

Matolka emphasized discerning and being attentive to “upstream” and “downstream” efforts to combat mental health problems on campus. Huang called for more transparency from Cornell Health, while Chukwukere advocated for more inclusive counselors, citing a lack of LGBTQ counselors and counselors of color.

Currently the S.A. transfer representative, Huang described the first change she’d make to S.A.: encouraging representatives to reach out to their represented communities and student organizations to stay in tune with the campus.

Matolka also emphasized building the relationship between S.A. and other organizations. He suggested increasing outreach and hosting major student organizations to provide a platform where groups can share their initiatives. Chukwukere also promoted the importance of representatives staying connected with their constituents.

Voters can cast their ballots online from March 25 at 9 a.m. to March 27 at 2 p.m.