SGA candidates face off in first-ever VP debate
Student Government Association vice presidential candidates faced off in the first debate of its kind on Thursday inside CoogTV’s studio in the Student Center South.
The Cougar’s assistant news editor Jasmine Davis moderated House of Innovation’s Farah Islam, REDvolution’s Seth Crawford, Spirit Red’s Adrian Hernandez and VoteForMeme’s True Furrh as they debated on campaigns and parties, diversity and inclusion, last year’s #RemoveRohini scandal and how they’d fund promises made during the campaign.
The candidates responded to a series of questions from The Cougar, then Davis opened up the debate to include inquiries from viewers on social media.
In addition to assisting the SGA president in their duties, the vice president is responsible for appointing students to University committees and boards which oversee hiring in various departments and occasionally give input.
This year, committee members failed to meet as frequently as they should. The candidates talked about ensuring that appointed members will remain active and productive.
As a former member of the Student Fees Advisory Committee, Islam said she recognized the time commitment might be a deterrent for any hopeful appointee. She said their personalities must be assessed on the same level as their qualifications to ensure an effective work environment.
Crawford said that committees should be positive environments where students want to work, stressing that enforcing more frequent committee meetings will increase productivity.
Hernandez said he will be involved in setting up meetings and encouraging his appointees to become more involved in them.
In the summer, SGA Vice President Rohini Sethi’s created a social-media controversy. Candidates disagreed on whether they would have resigned if they were in her place.
“When you stop representing the student body, there’s no reason for you to be up there,” Hernandez said, adding that if mediation with the affected students was ineffective, he would resign.
Crawford said he would not have resigned but would have worked to find a middle ground with the students.
“Of course the situation wasn’t handled correctly,” Islam said. “There was no precedent for something like that.”
Islam said that the student body’s concerns were not adequately addressed and that she would have resigned if she couldn’t remedy the situation.
Furrh, a freshman, was not a student at the time but said the situation appeared to have been mishandled from an outsider’s perspective.
‘We can’t push for that’
Because UH is one of the most diverse universities in the country, some candidates stumbled over a question from one viewer on how they could promote inclusion on campus.
“Person to person, there can be initiatives, but if the student body doesn’t want to be inclusive, then we can’t push for that,” Hernandez said. “There are really no projects or pushes I can do.”
Islam, who is running under first-ever special adviser for campus diversity Chaffold, said that inclusion exists at the University but it is not campus-wide.
Furrh said that although the University is applauded for being the second most-diverse public university in the country, UH can work more for to promote inclusivity among students.
“It doesn’t matter how diverse we are if we aren’t including the students of different backgrounds,” Furrh said. “No matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, you’re a Cougar.”
Student fees and where they’ll go
When asked by a viewer why the specific goals of REDvolution’s platform has not been fully explained on their Facebook page, Seth Crawford said this was a PR strategy. The party later released their full platform to The Cougar.
House of Innovation has not released its platform yet, and Islam gave no detailed indication of what it might entail when asked by a viewer. Jordyn Chaffold, the party’s presidential contender, said Friday that the party plans to release its platform in parts on social media in an effort to avoid overexposure.
The platforms that have been released enumerate several changes or improvements the potential administrations would make to the University.
Furrh said he would decline to raise student fees to pay for campaign promises.
“I think a lot of it has to come from more aggressively seeking donations,” Furrh said, referring to the recently launched Here, We Go campaign as a model for a possible fundraising endeavor by SGA.
Islam denied any money from SFAC will fund the improvements, saying the committee works to allocate a proportionate amount of funds to every fee-funded organization. Islam said SGA should work with SFAC and the administration to reach out to the local government for money and support, like having someone from the Medical Center work part time for CAPS.
Crawford said that the changes his administration wanted to make will not cost more money, except for a plan to improve the academic advising program.
Hernandez said the money to pay for such changes would have to come from the University, but that his party had not determined where specifically the funds would be drawn from, and suggested raising the current $255 student fee, which is capped at $270 and frozen for the next two years.
Hope to achieve
The debate opened with each candidate detailing what they and their party would work to achieve in their time in office.
Islam said HOI’s goal was to promote outreach to students not otherwise involved on campus. About 10 percent of the UH population actively votes in student government elections. Islam said the administration would have a diverse cabinet as well.
Crawford said REDvolution’s campaign is focused on goals that are easily achievable within one administration. The party’s platform centers on accessibility, affordability and diversity for the student body.
Hernandez said Spirit Red’s administration would build on the work the 53rd Administration has done.
“Parking is not an issue you can fix in one administration,” Furrh said. “It takes years.”