The Undergraduate Student Government at Stony Brook University held a candidates debate in the Student Activities Center Ballroom B Tuesday evening ahead of its election next week.
USG represents more than 16,000 students according to its website, but only a little over a dozen students attended the event.
The debate, which was also livestreamed on USG’s Facebook page, gave the candidates running for executive board positions a chance to inform the student body on their platforms. The executive board consists of a president, treasurer, executive vice president, VP of communications, VP of student life, VP of clubs and organizations and VP Of academic affairs. This year, four of the seven executive board positions have uncontested candidates, compared to one uncontested race in last year’s election.
“It is unfortunate that this year’s candidate pool is a lot smaller than previous years,” assistant to the Vice President of Communications, Kyriaki Sideris, stated via email. “However, the Executive Council does not foresee the candidate pool effecting the potential success of the following [academic year executive council].”
USG election board member, William Eddy, said that engagement in USG is cyclical.
“Every couple of years you get really big surges of people who run for the elections, then it starts to die down after that because there are the [incumbents], and people get intimidated by that,” Eddy said.
The only executive candidate running as an incumbent this year is Vice President of Academic Affairs, Nicole Olakkengil. She is running unopposed.
During the debate, several candidates discussed how they would improve communication between USG and the student body.
“Not many are very notified of what exactly USG does,” candidate for vice president of communications, Bansri Shah, said. “Because the students pay so many fees for us to have better campus life, I think it is really important for students to know what they are paying for.”
Neesan Haider, a junior biology major who attended the debate, said she went to find out what specific plans the candidates had for improving transparency.
“I believe the VP of clubs and orgs candidates talked about increasing awareness about different USG workshops that take place,” Haider said. “Things like this could really help. USG has done a lot but definitely could do a better job in promoting their resources.”
The candidates mostly focused on explaining their platforms rather than attacking their opponents during the debate. But one moment that garnered a reaction came from current Vice President of Student Life, Jaliel Amador, who questioned the fashion choice of presidential candidate Meelod Wafajow.
“Both of you said you were both aware of boards that you have to be appointed to if you became president, the fact that you are the leader of the executive council, the fact that you are the liaison to almost every department on campus when it comes to anything that’s USG,” Amador said. “You are the face, you are the exemplification of the new era of USG. Do you think that it is professional for you to come in a hat to a board meeting, and/or a debate?”
Wafajow, who donned a snapback hat, defended his choice to wear it.
“I’m a man of style, I’m a man who likes to have a little fun, I have no problem making a statement,” Wafajow said.
Wafajow went on to say that in more serious settings, he would not normally wear a hat.
Election board member Annalisa Myer said she was taken aback by the exchange.
“I thought it was inappropriate for Meelod to wear a hat to the debate, sure, but to put him on blast was equally inappropriate, especially coming from a member of USG,” she said.
Amador stood by his question, calling it “fair and deserved.”
“The Undergraduate Student Government is a self sustaining 3.4 million dollar organization led by a President that is expected to carry themselves in a professional manner,” Amador stated via email. “It is well within my right, as an audience member, student, and USG leader, to question a candidate’s perception of professionalism.”
Undergraduate students can cast their ballots on SOLAR beginning Monday, March 26 at 12 p.m. until Friday, March 30 at 12 p.m.