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Thursday, April 2, 2020

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Campus safety, mentorship programs big topics of 2020 SGA presidential debate


Jasmine Khademakbari (left) Abraham Arackathazhath (center) and Isaiah Martin. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Jasmine Khademakbari (left) Abraham Arackathazhath (center) and Isaiah Martin (right) faced off Tuesday evening at the Student Center Theater in the 2020 SGA presidential debate. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

The 2020 SGA presidential candidates on Tuesday at the Student Center Theater discussed their plans to add a university-wide mentorship program and better campus safety.

Presidential candidates Abraham Arackathazhath with the YouH party, Jasmine Khademakbari with the Students Unite party and Isaiah Martin with the #ForTheStudents party answered questions from The Cougar debate moderators and submissions from students over Twitter.

Introductions

Arackathazhath began by explaining his journey campaigning for SGA president started by joining the orientation team, HOSA and being part of SGA for his freshman year.

Khademakbari introduced herself as a first-generation student, a daughter of two immigrants and someone who is proud of the diverse background she comes from and the diverse University she is able to attend.

Her and the Students Unite party’s goal is to raise the voices of historically underrepresented students, the working class, victims of sexual assault and more by bringing increased accessibility, diversity, a cleaner campus, affordable housing and other initiatives.

Martin said his inspiration to run for SGA president stemmed from a discussion that he and his friends had regarding the University’s SGA initiatives. They were dissatisfied with graduation rates, the resources for victims of sexual assault and lack of proper safety on campus.

Candidate questions

A recent complaint against #ForTheStudents was in regards to two members of the party using an anti-LGBTQ slur in a UH GroupMe chat in 2018. Martin said what those students said was disgusting and that the action is not representative of who they are and what they stand for.

Khademakbari said her quick replacement of her vice presidential running mate upon learning his plans of hoping to eliminate Greek Life speaks about her leadership ability.

Martin was asked a question about his support of the Cub to Coog mentorship program, which would place freshmen with upperclassmen in their major. Martin said this is a way for students to have a friend group as soon as they get to campus.

Upon being asked about his plan for campus safety, Arackathazhath said he would like to implement a safety team and utilize the security towers in parking lots.

In regards to Khademakbari’s plan to create affordable campus housing, which she feels will serve diverse and low-income students, she said SGA presidents need to advocate for the University administration to make these changes. She believes her experience as a senator in SGA has prepared her for this role based on communication and leadership.

Martin said he would like SGA to a few things differently regarding student retention, campus safety and response to sexual assault. For example, he would like to have free rape kits available to victims of sexual assault.

When Martin was asked for his step-by-step plan for this initiative, he said SGA will raise a voice loud enough for administration to take care of these plans.

Arackathazhath said helping improve CAPS and its waiting times will be of large service to victims of sexual assault. He feels CAPS is not that well known among students and would like for students to receive professional help faster.

After Khademakbari was asked about what previous SGA administrations she would model hers after, Khademakbari said she admired the work of former President Cameron Barrett and current President Allison Lawrence. She said they have worked to advocate for the homeless, working-class and historically underrepresented students.

Arackathazhath said he does not plan on changing the SGA budget, but would like to make room for having a heritage week, cultural events and maintaining diversity among students, for he feels that student involvement is important for student success and well-being.

Khademakbari was asked how her presidency will support students with disabilities and mental health advocacy, and she responded with her plans for action. These include advocating for repaving sidewalks, increasing mentorship for first-generation students, events to end mental health and sexual assault stigma and more.

Martin’s crime and safety plan focuses on parking lots, but current Lawrence, who asked the candidates a few questions herself, said UHPD finds that campus crime occurs in highly occupied areas on campus like the Student Center, the library and the Campus Recreation Center and Wellness Center.

In response, Martin said the parking lots are still an area where he has found that many students feel unsafe and that his administration would work to foster the relationship with UHPD to improve campus safety.

A question submitted from a student via Twitter asked the candidates about changes they would make to prices at the University’s child care center.

Arackathazhath said he’d like to see opportunities for financial assistance or payment programs. Khademakbari said the costs are exuberant and SGA needs to advocate for lower costs. Martin said the services they offer are well-deserving of their prices but would like to see a mentorship program that would support students that are parents.

When asked for their thoughts on gentrification near the University, Arackathazhath said he thinks gentrification is really good for the Houston area. He later clarified that he is in support of change in the area, but that we need to make sure the Third Ward is growing with us.

Khademakbari said gentrification is awful, and that we as students should support and uplift the Third Ward community. She feels raising the prices for housing and tuition is also bringing gentrification to the University, and we need to advocate for change against these matters.

Martin said SGA needs to realize what realistically can be done with administrators and the University, but should still be an advocate for student voices.

Closing out

In his closing remarks, Arackathazhath said he is a people person, a candidate that is not associated with controversial issues, organized and he is open to listening to the voices of all students.

Khademakbari listed the previous SGA bills she has co-sponsored or written and said her Students Unite party will always prioritize the needs and well-being of students. She said a vote for her and her party is a vote for a greener campus, first-generation students, ADA accessibility, more affordable housing and giving historically underrepresented students a voice.

Martin thanked candidates and moderators for discussing his plans for a better and safer campus. He said many students have shared their concerns for the University through social media and email, and that he is ready to listen. He said he wants to take that awareness about issues into action.

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