By Paul T. Choate
March 21, 2012. BOONE — The Appalachian State Student Government Association (SGA) held their first and only presidential debate Tuesday, March 20, at the Plemmons Student Union, with three tickets vying for the presidency and vice presidency. Candidates faced a wide array of questions from a student panel, consisting of four members, as well as from the audience.
After opening remarks by Elections Board Chair Frank Byrne and debate moderator Dr. Jeff Motter, each ticket had three minutes for introductory statements.
Steven Hatley (presidential candidate) and Chelsey Hanna (VP candidate) kicked off introductory statements, stressing the need to improve student safety on campus, academic advising and trust in the SGA.
Evan Freemyer (presidential candidate) and Bobby Lee (VP candidate) were next, emphasizing their desire to be the mediators between students and the administration, as well as their past experience on several important pieces of legislation within the Senate, including 24-hour library operation during exams.
Jake Cox (presidential candidate) and Eric Barnes (VP candidate) closed out introductory remarks, emphasizing their experience within the SGA cabinet. Cox noted the need for improvement in sustainability and also that, outside of the SGA, he is president of the Theta Chi fraternity. Barnes referenced his experience as the director of legislative operations and head of the rules committee.
Betty Caulkins, staff member at CSIL (Center for Student Involvement and Leadership); James Terrell, III, president of the Club Council; Jessie Bumgardner, traffic and continuity director at WASU; and Meghan Frick, associate editor at The Appalachian made up the student panel.
Questions began with the tickets being asked what they would do to get, and keep, students involved on campus. Freemyer said that there was a need to involve more students in SGA and hold open forums between so students can get a better idea of what the SGA is working on. Cox stressed the need to give every student on campus an equal opportunity to join campus organizations. Hatley said involvement starts at the freshman level, and that freshmen should be given more information about organizations. He also noted the need to improve the SOUL (Student Orientation Undergraduate Leaders) program.
Posed with questions on improving sustainability, Cox said he would like to see the Ecobox and Yellow Bike Rental programs reinstated. Cox and Hanna both suggested the need for more gardens and trees on campus.
“Every time they take a tree out, I feel like it’s destroying a little more of my campus,” said Cox.
Hanna also stressed the need for additional solar panels. Lee said he wanted all residence halls to be LEED certified, put energy monitoring in place in all residence halls with incentives for those who use the least electricity, and have Environmental Affairs shift into a full cabinet position.
Candidates had very different opinions of how make the North Carolina Association of Student Governments (ASG) more effective.
Hatley said student awareness of ASG needs to be improved. He also said there is a need to bring back some of the money available from the ASG. “There is so much cash left that we need to bring back.”
“ASG is probably one of the most underutilized organizations that the SGA has,” said Freemyer. “As an SGA, we’re really limited with our jurisdiction on campus, but with ASG we can actually make change across the state in the public education system.”
Cox offered a very different viewpoint. He and Barnes have both attended recent ASG meetings.
“I have been to ASG twice – the past two events – and they were utterly, degradingly embarrassing,” said Cox. “These people don’t actually do anything. We need to fight for ourselves before we start fighting for the rest of the state.”
All tickets shared similar views on improving student safety on campus. All highlighted the need for more blue light boxes, particularly around Durham Park.
“We have heard that some people really are scared to go [on the east side of campus] at night,” said Barnes.
All candidates expressed the need for a revamped App State Alert text message and email system. Lee also emphasized better education for males about sexual assault on campus “because there is nothing masculine about forcing yourself on a woman.”
Cox added a suggestion for a “buddy system” service similar to Safe Ride, only on foot. He suggested having students on call that could accompany students who did not want to be alone on walks through campus at night. He also said Safe Ride needs to be improved because “let’s face it, those rides are horrible.”
Candidates had varying ideas for how to help transfer students.
Hatley suggested improving the opportunities for transfer students to join organizations. Lee said he would like to see major-specific student advisors help transfer students by informing them of what classes to take and what clubs to join. He also said he would like to see all of the registrar’s offices around the state to work together more so classes transferred more efficiently.
Barnes, a transfer student himself, said, “Transfer orientation was absolutely horrible. What people don’t understand about transfer students is that we’re freshmen too when we first come here – we’re just older. I want to make sure we implement some kind of system to make sure we can work with SOUL, [and] we can work with anything else to make sure transfer students are not treated like they know the university – because we don’t!”
Cox added that transfer students he talked to had problems finding housing. He said there needs to be measures taken to better help transfer students find housing, and joked, “Granted, yes, this is our home in general, but I can’t live out of a box on Sanford Mall to be honest with you,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
One of the final questions drew a shout of “good question,” from a member of the audience. Candidates were asked, “Why should I vote for your ticket over the other tickets?”
“We have the experience, the understanding and the depth,” said Cox. “What you guys need to be looking for is who can take you to the level that is the highest possible. We understand what that level is because we’ve been there, and we know where you guys need to go too.”
“I have not always been the most politically minded person because I don’t care for the game of politics,” said Hanna. “I care about the people. We know what it takes to get things done with people and not just to people or for people.”
“We’ve talked to students . . . and we’re running on a campaign to put the ‘student’ back into student government,” said Freemyer. “I would refer you guys back to our record,” added Lee. “We have a history of getting things done.”
Voting begins at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, March 23, and runs through Wednesday, March 28 at 8:00 a.m. The winner will be announced by no later than 5:00 p.m. on March 28.
For more information, visit sga.appstate.edu.
Photo Gallery of the SGA Presidential Debate
Gallery photos by Paul T. Choate.
Photos and quotes on graphic courtesy of The Appalachian.