Marian Caballo/Sun Multimedia Editor

Claire Ting '25, Zora deRham '27 and Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri ’25 field a series of questions in an April 16 presidential candidate forum.

April 18, 2024

Student Assembly Presidential Candidates Face Rigorous Questions

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Editor’s Note: An Elections Committee investigation disqualified Claire Ting ’25 from the presidential race on Thursday, April 18.

Three presidential candidates defended their records and advocated for their candidacies in a Tuesday, April 16 Student Assembly forum hosted by The Sun. 

Current freshman representative Zora deRham ’27, community organizer and Air Force veteran Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri ’25 and current executive vice president Claire Ting ’25 were the only candidates out of the five people running to appear at the forum. The event was moderated by Sun editor-in-chief Gabriel Levin ’26.

In the forum, Ting defended her motivations for providing S.A. internal documents to a progressive student publication, the focus of an ongoing Elections Committee investigation. Gonzalez-Mulattieri refuted past alleged violent conduct and deRham explained why the student body should vote a first-year student who hadn’t initiated any resolutions to the top position on the Assembly.

Voting and campaigning for the S.A. elections opened Sunday, April 14 and will close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, April 21.

Editor’s Note: This transcript has been edited for conciseness and clarity. 

LEVIN: [To all candidates], what is your message to students, and why are you running for Student Assembly president?

TING: My main message is that the Student Assembly is not meant to be a political arena. It’s meant to be a tool used for good. We have a lot of visionaries on the Assembly with many ideas to improve the student experiences across a wide variety of identities and colleges. What we need then is leadership who knows how to execute these ideas, or at the very least connects these representatives to the right people, administration, staff and other students within the community to make these ideas come into fruition.

I’m running because the work is simply not done … when it comes to [increasing] accessibility and healthcare, taking care of the basic needs of students. At the end of the day, we are here to study our majors. It’s only intuitive that we try to minimize any kind of basic struggle that takes away from this enriching college experience that we call Cornell University.

deRHAM: My message to students is fairly simple. I am a very practical person. I strive to bring the same no-nonsense attitude to the Student Assembly. As the child of a refugee, all I’ve been taught my entire life is that one’s ultimate life goal is to receive a strong, uninterrupted education. Cornell is a strong and important part of [uninterrupted education] for everyone. Student Assembly is a great example of a body on this campus that I believe has a lot of untapped potential.

I think that [the Student Assembly] can be a force for good and an efficient, uninterrupting body instead of a distraction as it has been as of late.

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: When I graduated from basic training, I got this coin [from] my training instructor. What they drill into us in the Air Force is the core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Not that I’m overly patriotic, but these core values have followed me since I’ve left the service.

Service before self is very important to me. I’m going to get real. I’m a real person, the people that are here that do know me, I’m very genuine. I don’t hold anything back. When I was 15 [years old], I was put into the position where I had to drop out of school and work to support my family. [I’m running for Student Assembly] because several students have approached me on campus from different organizations. They [had] concerns and they asked me to run.

I’m running to ensure that no student here at Cornell gets put in the same compromising position that I was in when I was young. I’m here as a non-traditional student, and I’m here to leverage that experience to improve the quality of life for students here at Cornell.

LEVIN: Can you share how your experiences as a veteran and community organizer contribute to your perspectives today and who you are today?

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: As a community organizer, I’ve been put in a position where I’ve often had to advocate for lots of people, especially in Tampa. I’m biracial, but I don’t look it. I [look] Latino. It took time [for me] to build trust with the Black community [in Tampa]. But over time, they were coming to me to advocate on [their behalf] for housing. Housing affordability in Florida is extremely out of control. I used my experience and skills as a community organizer to implement the Office of Tenant Advocacy. That was a tangible win.

[Regarding] these experiences, these tangible accomplishments — somebody said earlier that there’s $90,000 untouched by student organizations. Let’s use those funds to implement tangible things, and make material changes and improvements here on campus.

LEVIN: Zora, I will go to you for a policy question. This is something that is specifically mentioned in your promotional materials. Can you talk about your plans to introduce a financial services liaison, and why you believe that should matter to students across campus?

deRHAM: One of the Student Assembly’s primary jobs is to serve as a bridge between the student body and administration. Although many people are disengaged from the Student Assembly itself, or the Student Assembly doesn’t seem to affect their daily lives, it’s undeniable that [admin affects] thousands of students on campus [through] financial aid. There have been innumerable stressors and issues with that, just in this semester. It probably happens every semester. 

Since our financial aid organization under the Student Assembly has been defunct for a while, it’s important to have a specific point person for financial aid resources. In addition to that, I think that this point person would be able to provide services like seminars on how to do our taxes in March and April … our peer institutions offer the same services through their student governments for the same communications and blast purposes. So those are the two visions that I have for that position, and many more.

LEVIN: Claire, I’m going to come back to you. The Student Assembly Election Committee is currently investigating you for interfering in this election. What do you have to say to students about your integrity and why they should trust you despite this ongoing case?

TING: Thank you for bringing that up. I know that’s a hot topic surrounding my name right now. I want to clear the air: I’m not interfering with anything. In fact, any of the allegations, the alleged actions, happened way before this election even started. I will say that when it comes to my involvement with The Dispatch, I acted in the capacity [of] a whistleblower. I witnessed incorrect action, unethical action, and felt disempowered to say anything. Within my time on the Assembly as a member of the executive board, I felt marginalized. [At] my first meeting, I had to explain why I deserved a seat at the executive board table moving forward.

When The Dispatch [approached] me, asking me about these potential [collaborations] between the Interfraternity Council-affiliated candidates and Democrat-affiliated candidates, I felt empowered that I had a platform to describe what was happening.

I’ve always advocated for integrity and transparency, since last spring, before I was sworn in as executive vice president. During the Student Assembly succession crisis, when it was unclear whether I or Patrick Kuehl would be the next president, I advocated to pass the issue over to the Office of Ethics, as an unbiased judiciary, to determine the outcome. In spite of my push, several students refused to do so. It was like pulling teeth. I will continue to commit to that promise of integrity and transparency. And I hope the election investigation essentially clears my name.

LEVIN: Getulio, in 2020, according to the Tampa Bay Times, you were arrested and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer for striking an officer’s arm and pushing past another, along with some other charges that were later dropped. A spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office in Hillsborough County, Florida said it’s not immediately clear what happened to that charge as she could not find that in her database, but it was reported at the time in local media.

Today, I called that spokeswoman and learned of another incident. According to eyewitness testimony detailed in a police report, on July 20, 2021, you went to a Dunkin’ Donuts location in Hillsborough County, Florida and tried to return a food order that was from a different Dunkin’ Donuts location.

The police report says that after you were informed that the fast food restaurant would not accept returns from a different location, you apparently entered into a verbal altercation with the manager there, cursing and yelling at them. [This] allegedly escalated into you spitting on a fast food worker and trying to barge into the fast food restaurant through the drive-thru window … the fast food staff said that they had to close the window, an action that you said lacerated your finger. The manager even said that they hit you to prevent you from coming inside the restaurant through the window.

You called law enforcement to the scene and told them at the time that you essentially dared the manager to hit you in the face before the manager did. That day you reportedly got into a food fight with the staff with one employee throwing food in your car and you smearing food on the drive-thru window. The window was closed and other parts of the building were locked to keep you out because the employees deemed you a threat.

You then called the police and said that you wanted the manager arrested. No charges were filed because of a lack of evidence. The Dunkin’ Donuts surveillance camera that would have recorded the altercation was not working at that time. This is all according to the police report, your own statements and eyewitness testimony from the food service workers.

Keep in mind that, allegedly, this whole incident started simply because the employees wouldn’t accept your return, according to their testimony and the police report. The staff allege that you escalated the incident to begin with. 

What do you have to say about these two incidents to students who are skeptical of voting for someone who in recent years has been accused of violent conduct? Can you tell me why students should vote for someone accused of treating fast food workers in that manner?

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: [Regarding] the 2020 battery, that was dropped because the [then-]state attorney Andrew Warren decided to drop those charges because it was for protesting … at a Black Lives Matter protest that I was organizing at the time. 

The entire story goes like this, this is going to take a while [to explain]. We had a march in South Tampa. We had the routes and tried to obscure them from the police because it was civil disobedience. By the time the march was done, and we came back to where we had started, several activists and organizers were sitting down in a grassy area off to the side of a parking lot. They were speaking, it turned into a ‘teach-in,’ essentially. 

When that happened there were still students on the street. At the time, the chief of police Brian Dugan had gone to the Tampa Bay Times and insisted that counter-protesters start showing up for the police. That’s when the counter-protesters started running over protesters. 

One counter-protester was in a car and he started barreling into pedestrians [and] people who were protesting, and eventually the car hit me. I got onto the roof of the car [and] hit the car. [Then] the car stops, I get out of the way, and I yell for people to get out of the way as well.

Another activist friend of mine, Jason Stuart Flores –– if you look at the police report, he’s going to be in there –– he was hit by that car … at 45 miles an hour into traffic. He’s on the hood of the car. Desiree –– a nurse that was taking care of people at the protests in case some crazies did anything –– I hop in the van to see what happened to [Flores]. By the time we get [to him], we see that he’s being arrested. 

The officer asked me if I wanted to press charges on the person who had hit Stuart, and I declined. When I was having a conversation with the officer, one of the riot police pushed me … my fingers grazed his arm, and that was the battery. That was the assault and battery that happened, just because I simply touched him after he stiff-armed me.

LEVIN: [The news report] says you struck an officer’s arm and pushed past another. So do you refute that?

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: No, that’s not that’s not what happened. What happened was the officer stiff-armed me [and] I recoiled. I didn’t touch him. I didn’t hit him. I didn’t hit anybody. 

LEVIN: Understood. Now, I think students around this campus, especially student employees who work in retail and food service, might be more concerned about the second [incident].

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: [Regarding] what happened in that altercation, I did go to return food to the Dunkin’ Donuts and I put [the food] in the window. The girl took the food that had already been in the restaurant. I [explained to] her [that] I just [wanted] to return it. I [didn’t] want this [food] because … I didn’t order this.

She calls the manager, [who] for whatever reason didn’t want to take [the food] off my hands. The manager was like, “No, I’m not going to take this.” Again, I don’t understand why. I don’t know why. As I’m driving off with my window open, he throws the food all over me in the car. I was obviously angry because it had gotten all over me. It had gotten all over my car. I [got] out of the car and I asked him, “Dude, what’s your problem? Why are you doing this?” [Then] he punches me.

LEVIN: In that police report, you said something to the effect of “hit me.”


LEVIN: That’s what it said in the police report, that you said to the police officer.

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: No, I didn’t tell him to hit me. Why would I tell him to hit me?

LEVIN: That’s what the spokeswoman for the state attorney [said].

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: I got out of the car because he threw food all over my car [and] inside of my car as I was driving off. I was angry. And I spoke to him, I [said] “Dude, what’s your problem?” He [told me to] get away from the window. Things escalated. He hits me, and then my finger gets caught in the window. When that happens, I [report it to] the police. After it’s reported, he [tells me that] there are no cameras, there’s nothing [I] can do [and to] just leave. I left. That’s the long and short of it. I didn’t attack the [manager, but he] punched me.

LEVIN: Did you spit?

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: No, I didn’t spit at anybody.

LEVIN: Okay, so you refute [spitting] and trying to go into the restaurant through the window?


LEVIN: Okay. Is there any message that you have [for] student workers who work in fast food or retail?

TING: I’m sorry, could we start with that question? Because it feels as though this question — grilling someone’s past — has been going on [for] excessively long.

LEVIN: I just wanted to give him the time to address [everything].

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: No, it’s fine. Things have happened. If I was on the other side, I’d be curious too. 

LEVIN: Just whatever point you want to finish and then we’ll move on.

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: For fast food workers, they’re workers. I don’t care if you’re a fast food worker or if you’re an engineer. If you’re working, you deserve to be paid and you deserve dignity, period. If somebody believes that [this altercation] stemmed from [disrespect], that’s wrong. I support labor 100 percent. I’ve organized with the IBEW back home, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. 

LEVIN: Thank you for your thought-out answer. We’re going to move on back to our regular line of questioning [now]. That was a longer [question] that I wanted to address here because I thought it was important, especially amid the elections. 

Claire, I want to go back to you. Your campaign materials say that you’re pushing for community-driven projects. Can you talk about what those are, and why they are important to you?

TING: Of course, year after year, at the very least in the time that I’ve been on the Assembly, I have yet to see our [Student Assembly Infrastructure Fund Commission] funds being effectively used. This money comes to us every year, $90,000 just waiting to be used. I’ve seen other candidates bring up very similar ideas that we need to be connecting the right resources to the right visionaries and the right people. 

Other [Art, Architecture and Planning] candidates have tied this to their own internal communities, with the students’ perspective of what they think would not only have artistic and aesthetic value, but improve the physical quality and aesthetic of the campus itself.

I think that the SAIFC fund is severely underutilized and under-tapped, as well as the general financial support the Assembly brings to begin with. When we look at the history of the Assembly, we can see how we were the ones who helped support and fund Anabel’s Grocery, which is a large source of food for a lot of food-insecure students.

We also see how the free period products initiative initially took off from the ground starting from SAIFC before it switched to its own independent funding. We have these deep pockets ready to support students, and all we need to do is find the right people to connect the visionaries to the resources.

LEVIN: Zora, I want to move on to you. I’m going to ask some age-related questions to Zora and Getulio. We’re going to start with you, Zora. 

You are a freshman running for Student Assembly president, the most senior role. To be elected president while still a freshman would be highly unusual. Can you make a case for why students should vote for such a relatively young candidate?

deRHAM: First of all, I have more institutional knowledge than the average freshman, having served as freshman representative for the class of 2027 for the past semester and a half. I also see being a freshman and a sophomore in this role as entirely advantageous. I will be at Cornell for at least three more years. I am fairly engulfed in life on campus and enamored with Cornell at this stage, and my visions for the office and for the role have the same, if not more, longevity than I do.

LEVIN: Okay, Getulio, I’m going to go back to you and ask a question in a similar vein. You are running for Student Assembly president while in your thirties. It’s unprecedented to have a Student Assembly president who comes from a different generation than the student body they represent. Can you make a case for why students should vote for a candidate who isn’t from their generation?

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: Going back to my ‘why,’ people approached me to do this. I guess what I’m here to do is to leverage my experience in accomplishing things in the community or getting bills passed, to change things on campus. And that goes for everyone. Whether that’s bolstering the Investment Commission or a variety of things. I hear that people are dissatisfied with how the administration is treating the Student Assembly. I think just having somebody there with [my] experience to bridge that gap would be a benefit.

I think that I can bring a perspective to the conversation that Gen Z just doesn’t have. I’m not here to talk down to anyone, if anything, I’m here to punch up. If I can help do that, then so be it.

LEVIN: Zora, I want to come back to you. You haven’t initiated any resolutions throughout your term. Is that correct?

deRHAM: That’s correct.

LEVIN: Okay. You haven’t initiated any resolutions throughout your term. What do you have to say to students who are concerned about that? How will you be more involved in policy in the future if you are elected president?

deRHAM: I would like to start by saying that none of the freshmen on the Assembly have initiated any bills. I’m not unique in this respect. I have, however, have been very active behind the scenes and beyond Cornell as a representative from our Student Assembly. So I’ve been very active in the fall and the Appropriations Committee in determining who gets what funding from our Student Activity Fee.

I’ve also been active in the Internal Operations Committee, hoping to make the Student Assembly a more efficient organization, and maybe bring back some of the institutional knowledge from alums. 

I’ve also served — and I’m very proud of this — as a Cornell delegate on the State University of New York Student Assembly, where I’ve been involved in [initiatives such as that which] Adam [Vinson] mentioned in the EVP [panel] for suicide prevention, as well as one that I’m really passionate about, which is ending student hunger as a statewide program, which, considering Cornell’s contract colleges do provide pressure to the administration, I think is a unique avenue that I’m learning to navigate and hope to bring to the greater role of president.

LEVIN: Thank you. Now, Claire, I’m going to give you one minute and 30 seconds to answer this next one. Then we’re going to go to a more positive line of questioning. These haven’t been easy questions, but thank all of you for answering truthfully, honestly, or at least your guys’ truth.

[Claire], perhaps one of the most controversial, polarizing resolutions from last year was one that you drafted, which urged professors to provide trigger warnings on syllabi about potentially traumatic content. Free speech experts and the University’s leadership have said that the resolution stood against free inquiry and academic freedom. What lessons have you learned from the divisiveness of that policy proposal? How will you as president, if elected, ensure that different perspectives will be adequately represented on the Assembly?

TING: Absolutely, and I might touch back base with you just to see that I’m [addressing] all the elements of the question. Now, the first thing is that [this] resolution came from a time when I was still learning and understanding the shared governance system. 

It came from a place of good intent, namely supporting a sexual assault survivor, who is bravely litigating against her assailant in the Title IX office. Over time, I have found that there are ways that we must balance both academic freedom and students’ mental health needs. In fact, after the resolution became widely known — and it’s featured in The New York Times — many students began to message me privately thanking me. 

Many students approached me explaining different situations that they had encountered: having to watch movies where someone was being beheaded with no warning, [while sitting] in the middle of Libe Café at 10 a.m. Or seeing violent acts of police brutality with no heads up. 

Now, [regarding] a content warning, scholars unanimously agree from studies stemming all the way from 1985 to 2023 [that] there is no standard definition of what is considered a trigger or content warning. It can be as specific as ‘blood, gore and sexual violence,’ to something like, ‘hey, guys, this is really difficult to watch, viewer discretion is advised.’

I think that moving forward, we need to approach questions surrounding students in the higher education environment from a place of compassion. And in doing so, we need to be consulting faculty for their input as well, to further this conversation. Its controversial nature is the very thing that pushes the needle forward.

LEVIN: Now, I’m going to start with [Ting] again, we’re going to go down the line [of candidates] like we did at the beginning. What do you think your greatest accomplishment has been either inside or outside of the Student Assembly, that speaks to who you are, that you would want to highlight to potential voters?

TING: The Student Assembly taught me how to fearlessly advocate for the underdog. This is a value that I’ve always grown up with and one that I am always holding as an ILR student. I inherently see the world through these power dynamics and social response relationships. 

Going back to the last question that we asked about Resolution 31, it’s making waves on a national level to catalyze change. We saw a ripple effect across the nation, and discussions began to happen about content warnings, [about] how far is too far and redefining the lines of what a content warning is, and this discussion about sensitivity, empathy and compassion. 

Again, it was controversial, yes, but the discourse is needed to push the needle forward. The Student Assembly has also taught me what it means to be an AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander], child-of-immigrant, woman to lead in a predominantly white environment. Being in this position has not only granted me access to policy opportunities, but also leadership workshops made for people just like me. I think one of the biggest parts of my Cornell experience surely has been learning the ins and outs of policy writing and its application.

deRHAM: I am very proud of the way that I have shown Cornell off and exhibited my Cornell pride to the connections around the state of New York that I have built through the SUNY delegation that I’ve been lucky to be a part of. I hosted the SUNY Student Assembly executive committee about a month and a half ago now, all in the hopes of rebuilding those connections between Cornell and this vital resource with the state. 

It’s also a great opportunity and institution in our state to learn from students at community colleges, more commuter-focused schools, to then have perspectives that we can bring back to our own students who fit those same roles on Cornell’s campus, or who have backgrounds with the same perspectives on Cornell’s campus. And really just bringing like that diversity from a larger scope of students back here to Ithaca.

LEVIN: Getulio, you haven’t been on the Assembly. So I’m just going to ask you a general version of the question: What do you think in your life has been your greatest accomplishment that you want to highlight to people who might vote for you?

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: It’s April 2020. Everything’s locked down in the state of Florida. And I couldn’t not do anything about it. I got with a group of people, friends of mine, and we started going door to door and talking to people, [asking] “Are you going to be employed because of this lockdown? What are you going to do? How are you going to pay rent?” 

We drafted a petition to hold a moratorium on rent and mortgages. And we got in about two weeks, if I’m not mistaken, about 3,000 signatures. This is [a situation where] everybody’s fearful. They’re scared. They don’t know what they’re going to do because of the uncertainty of the pandemic. With those 3,000 signatures, I was able to take it to Tallahassee.

That’s how we got an eviction moratorium, and we got a mortgage moratorium. That’s the biggest one because I was concerned that, with the pandemic raging, it would have made things a lot worse if the houseless population would have [increased].

Also, five pantries and food banks. Pierce Middle School had like 45 percent food insecurity. So I’m proud of [what we did].

LEVIN: As we start to wrap up, I wanted to ask everybody on this panel here on this forum: How do you think your lived experiences have influenced your perspectives today that you are going to potentially bring to the Student Assembly presidential role? Claire, can we start with you?

TING: Now, I’ll start with some time on the Assembly. I am the only candidate who has the following three: executive level experience as the executive vice president, institutional knowledge from working with admin, the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, housing, residential, Cornell IT, et cetera. And finally, community-driven values. This is very much so reflected in my interpersonal relationships with many student leaders. I think these things uniquely set me up to be not only a leader for the people, but leader of the Assembly, someone who knows how to run the ship. 

Now, in terms of my own lived experience as an Asian woman, I often am subject to the model minority myth. In rooms where there are not a lot of people who look like myself, I’m often overlooked. So I understand how to look for the voices that aren’t being included — who’s not at the table if you will. And I think that by virtue of this experience, I lead with the value of inclusivity and accessibility first. Now tying back to what I mentioned about my father and the values that he taught me, he always taught me to look for the underdog first. He taught me to reevaluate what my privileges were, the things that I don’t have to worry about and how that might affect someone else’s life. That’s why on the assembly, I lead with the perspective of securing basic needs, and making sure that the playing field is somewhat level for the students on campus.

LEVIN: Zora, I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Claire. What do you bring potentially to the presidential role? From your lived experiences and your background, what kind of insight has that given you?

deRHAM: To start with my experience in student governance, all through high school, I served in my student government in a very similar legislative, but also admin-oriented, body. There are many resolutions there that I’m very proud of that I worked tirelessly for multiple years on. I strive to bring the same patience and care to my role here, in whatever capacity as an active student [during] my remaining time at Cornell. 

In terms of my lived experiences, as a white-passing mixed child, I’m very used to being overlooked or people not assuming a lot of me that is just not true. I’ve gained from that an ability to look at the world with a very detail-oriented mindset. I often think before I act. When I played quiz bowl in high school, my team captain was always proud of me for knowing that whenever I was there to answer a question, I was 80 to 100 percent sure, because I don’t operate below that standard for myself. 

It is with that, that I hope to bring to this role on the Assembly and my future at the school the same patience, care and detail-oriented belief and passion that I always have.

LEVIN: Getulio, I’m going to ask the same question that I asked everybody else to you: What do you think you’d bring to the Student Assembly in terms of your lived experiences and your background? 

GONZALEZ-MULATIERRI: I am a child of immigrants. I’m a first-generation American, working class or working poor, [a] non-traditional student, Air Force veteran, Black on my mom’s side, [and] Latino. I have a very unique worldview. When I was younger, I always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, but I belong everywhere. That’s made it easy for me to relate to people from different backgrounds. It also made me curious. It’s made me want to talk to other people, and find out more about them, find out more about their worldviews. It’s like ‘reach one, teach one,’ it’s incorporating these things to make a better whole. 

My lived experience: I’ve seen a lot, I’ve done a lot. I’m here just to serve the student body. That’s what I’m here for. If I’m elected, that’s what I would do.

LEVIN: Thank you, everybody, for your time and all of your reasoned responses. Now, whoever wins, whoever doesn’t win, The Sun looks forward to continuing to hear your perspectives and working with all of you. Thanks a lot for coming out here today and facing some of my tough questions, but also some of my positive questions.