After a week of Facebook-friending and platform-pushing, 10 candidates for Student Trustee filed into Willard Straight Hall for a debate over Cornell’s future, moderated by The Sun.
The ten are campaigning to be elected Undergraduate Student Trustee, one of the 64 members of Cornell’s Board of Trustees. Once elected, the winner will become a full voting member on Cornell’s highest governing body, acting as a liaison between students and the Board.
The debate started with a “pop quiz” in which the candidates answered questions about Cornell, such as how much the University’s endowment is and to name all five elected officials on the Board of Trustees.
Students were then asked how they would stay in touch with their constituents. Many of the candidates proposed setting up meetings with constituents and meeting with student leaders.
Candidate Liel Sterling ’21 said that she sees Trustee as a “full-time job” and that she would resign from all of her other executive board positions on campus to focus on the job.
Former Sun Snapchat Editor Liz Cantlebary ’21, on the other hand, stated that she plans on “staying involved in all current commitments,” including her on-campus job as a resident adviser, arguing that doing so would maintain “organic relationships” with students on campus.
Following this question, the potential trustees were asked “yes or no” questions on important issues involving University decisions. All but one candidate, Alex Chalgren ’21, said yes when asked if they would vote for the University to divest from fossil fuels. Similarly, only Lotoya Francis ’22 said yes when asked if they would support a motion on the Board of Trustees for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Eight candidates, excluding Francis and J.T. Baker ’21, said yes when asked if they would vote for tuition increases as a member of the Board of Trustees.
The candidates were also asked about their view of the primary function of the Undergraduate Student Trustee. Laurence Minter ’21 said that the primary function is “to first and foremost be a student.” He mentioned that he wants to ensure that he remains one with the student body rather than separating himself.
Francis stated her belief that the role of the Student Trustee is to be a “public servant” and, subsequently, its function must be very service-oriented. When asked about being the only freshman candidate, she mentioned that she sees her perspective as something “valuable” that “shouldn’t be discounted.”
The debate then turned to the Presidential Task Force On Campus Climate, which was formed after the occurrence of several racially-motivated incidents on and off campus in the 2017-18 school year.
Candidates were asked for their opinions on the most impactful recommendation from the task force’s final reports. Many candidates pointed to the newly implemented Intergroup Dialogue Project workshops during Orientation Week for incoming students.
Natalia Hernandez ’21 stated that her largest takeaway from the report was the statement that not all students share “the same set of common values,” and that Cornell should try to develop this amongst all students.
When asked about Greek reforms, all candidates expressed opposition to the new regulations instituted last year, especially because the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils were not involved in their creation. Chalgren proposed a reform to the Greek handbook that would allow chapters to disaffiliate from their national chapters.
The potential trustees faced the question of how to improve mental health on campus; all agreed that a lack of on-campus therapists and excessively long appointment wait times are prominent issues. Baker proposed adding a Cornell Health outpost on North Campus, as the main offices are far from freshmen and other groups on campus.
Candidates were also queried about their views on Collegetown infrastructure improvements. Issues with housing availability and prices emerged as a common theme. Tarangana Thapa ’21 proposed creating legal resources for students experiencing tenants’ rights problems, especially for transfer students, as they are not guaranteed on-campus housing by Cornell.
“Especially because [Cornell isn’t] able to provide [transfer students] with housing, we need to provide them with legal services,” Thapa said.
The debate closed with the question, “What makes you most qualified for this position?” Most candidates brought up their involvement in other campus organizations and executive boards.
Ailen Salazar ’21 mentioned her work with La Asociación Latina and Cornell DREAM Team, as well as her efforts in putting together a first-of-its-kind JP Morgan Diversity and Inclusion event on campus earlier this semester.
Jaewon Sim ’21 pointed to his previous position on Student Assembly and his successful initiative in pushing for free printing on campus. This, Sim said, was evidence that, though he makes ambitious promises, one can be “damn sure [he] will keep those promises.”
Voting will remain open from March 25 to 27 at vote.assembly.cornell.edu.