Dana C. Jones" />
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Monday, September 25, 2023


SGA presidential candidates unprepared for questions not involving platforms

The SGA Presidential candidates face off in a heated debate for the votes of studetns | Justin Cross/The Cougar

Winni Zhang of the Spirit RED party, Robert Comer of the Vote for MEME party, Jordyn Chaffold of the House of Innovation party and Shawn Bhatia of the REDvolution party had a bout of rhetoric and campaigned for almost three hours on Feb. 22 during the SGA presidential debate.

Zhang had the biggest shift in strategy over the course of the debate. Though she was poised, factual and strong in her platforms, she quickly turned that into a crutch, and her delivery was stoic in the beginning.

In the first round, The Cougar’s managing editor Alex Meyer asked, “What is the biggest struggle current UH students face?” She immediately tied it into alleviating textbook prices, which is one of her platforms. She claimed that she surveyed 30 students and that is how she came up with that platform idea.

With one of these issues afflicting a small sample size of the those present, it showed in the crowd: whenever textbooks were mentioned, you could feel the energy shift to apathy and confusion because the students in the room seemed to not consider that their main issue.  

Zhang slowly started to have a change offense as the round went on. Chaffold fact-checked Zhang about her CAPS relocation initiative, but she rebutted with her extensive knowledge on her platforms. Every time one of the candidates would shoot follow-ups at her, she was always ready and could quickly come up with a strong, clear answer.

In the second round, she started to add passion and personality in her answers, which helped her become more personable and get positive responses from the crowd.

Definitely the most comical of the candidates, Robert Comer was the black sheep of the debate. If you only knew him for his campaign, then you would think he was a joke. With a Facebook page filled with memes, as the representative of the VoteforMeme party, his platforms included filling the campus fountain with gelatin and making it illegal to wear other schools’ paraphernalia.

However, he still had some more serious issues he wanted to solve. He spoke on creating an online advising tool to make academic advising more efficient and also give students more campus resources to help with post-graduation plans. With his extensive experience in SGA and leadership roles, he had clearer goals based on how SGA works to put initiatives in motion.

This is not to say he didn’t have downfalls. With his humor came issues. At times, he would use it at inappropriate moments or when he couldn’t formulate a serious answer. However, Comer was one of the candidates who finished the strongest when asked how to go about getting the fountain fixed. His response was for the students to “actually sit inside” the empty fountain in a form of protest, which, honestly, isn’t a bad idea.

The most energized of the candidates was Jordyn Chaffold. Through most of the first round, he was a ball of energy and exuded charisma. He was the first one to challenge one of the other candidates on their platforms, and his main strength was how involved he was with the masses of students. He himself is involved in numerous organizations and is one with the student body.

He pushed a rhetoric of transparency with SGA and gave a good plan on how to do so. He wanted to do a version of FDR’s “fireside chats” weekly on updates with his administration. This is perfect because media is the quickest and most convenient way to connect with this generation of students. Like the other candidates, his strength, when overused, was his Achilles’ heel. Every answer, he brought back to his vast knowledge of the student body.

This is an important asset, but with no mention of other skills it comes across as a one-trick pony. Also, he consistently asked for the questions to be repeated. This shows that he was not paying attention and the audience definitely noticed that. If you aren’t listening during a debate, it won’t make the students feel like you are listening to them.

Lastly, Bhatia was the most “presidential” of the candidates. He boasted an impressive résumé of governmental experience in and outside of school. He also was questioned early in the debate by two different candidates on the same question, but was poised, showing prowess.

However, this rattled him; it made him reclusive for the rest of the debate. A lot of the questions he fumbled or didn’t directly answer at all, especially when it came to the student leader questions. He was just not memorable from that point on and that definitely hurt his campaign.

There are a few main points that all of the candidates struggled with. The second round were questions from and by student leaders. Wesley Okereke from the NAACP, Kadidja Kone from the Black Student Union, and even incumbent SGA President Shane Smith all asked questions. These leaders were not playing around. Their questions were specific and also outside of the candidates’ platforms.

The most notable came from Okereke when he asked how they would make SGA seem like they are needed by the students. He expressed his grievances about how his organization made a lot of accomplishments without them and didn’t “feel a need” to have them. The candidates had a hard time explaining their role and when they would “Conway” a question, he had no problem herding them back in.

This was all of their downfalls.

They struggled heavily with any questions outside of their own campaigns. SGA President Smith had individual questions for them, and he chewed them up. His carefully crafted questions and his cunningness with his words picked them apart and showed why he is the current president.

Lastly, there was a lot of talk about diversity, inclusion and relations among underrepresented groups. Everyone generically spoke on diversity and that inclusion needed to be the topic of conversation. That is fine and dandy, but the real issue isn’t inclusion. It’s visibility.

Even though UH is a special case where white students aren’t the majority, there still seems to be a stigma that minority problems are just one singular issue that is faced by all. This is not the case. There are specific needs that blacks, Latinx, Asians, Muslims, LGBTQIA+ and even handicapped students have. And when everything is lumped together, it makes it seem like everyone is covered over one blanket that isn’t comfortable for anyone.

The one thing is if any of these candidates can get their platforms pushed in office, then the school will be in the right hands. They are extremely sound in what they are campaigning and show genuine passion.

As the people they serve, we must do our part in raising our voices, singularly and as a unit, and hold them accountable for their actions, while also meeting them halfway.

Opinion columnist Dana Jones is a print journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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