More than half a dozen candidates running for Undergraduate Student Government (USG) positions presented their initiatives and platforms on Tuesday, March 26 in the Student Activities Center (SAC).
The debate got off to a late start as the organizers waited for people attending a USG-sponsored vigil for the victims of the Christchurch mass shooting to arrive. The vigil and the debate were originally scheduled for the same time, but on Wednesday night, USG announced that the vigil would begin a half hour earlier.
About 30 people attended the debate, although the Facebook livestream of the event received almost 2,000 views.
Increasing USG’s student outreach was a common theme throughout the evening.
Maame-Esi Otoo, a junior business management major running for vice president of clubs and organizations, pointed out the difficulties that new clubs often have in communicating with USG. She said that she would like to implement workshops and biweekly memos to help emphasize the organization’s role as a resource for clubs and organizations on campus.
Otoo also said that she wants to continue to emphasize an open door policy to clubs and organizations and help them grow. She suggested incentivizing clubs to cater more to commuter students, which would help both groups.
Otoo’s opponent, Ilayna Guevrekian, a junior psychology and political science double major, said she wants to get commuters more involved on campus through meetings and office hours.
“You want to be involved,” Guevrekian, a commuter herself, said. “You want to be a part of what everyone else is a part of, getting the college experience and the best way to do that is to stay on campus, to have something here for you that’s keeping you here and that you can be a part of.”
Guevrekian also suggested creating an app or online platform where students can check up on club engagement and do a better job informing incoming freshmen about the opportunities available on campus.
Huntley Spencer, a sophomore political science major and the only candidate running for vice president of student life who was present at the debate, outlined a plan that he said would help USG avoid canceling another concert, like this year’s Back to the Brook.
“I don’t want the concerts to be on weekdays, Thursday, Wednesday,” Spencer said. “I know that it’s going to limit the choices of artists that we can choose, but if more students can come out, I think that’s more important. A lot of people have tests the next day, a lot of people are coming from tests, a lot of people have classes when we have our concerts. So that doesn’t really make sense to me.”
Spencer said that he would continue to poll to see which genres or artists students want and try to make committee minutes public to let students see where they’re going. He also wants to add more events like Spooky Brook, a Halloween-themed event added this year and plans to improve Wolfieland by making it possible for students to buy their tickets at the carnival, instead of only selling them in the SAC. He said that he would do his “utmost best” to make events more sustainable.
Patrick Scharf, a sophomore history and political science double major running for vice president of academic affairs, said he wants to help advocate for humanities students by looking into budget cuts and to encourage more people to go to University Senate. He also said that he’s working to advocate for a veteran’s position on the Senate and he wants to create more events around midterms and finals to help students with their academics. One other initiative that he’d like to push includes adding a presentation about USG to the freshman orientation so that incoming students know what the organization is and how to get involved.
“When I first came [to Stony Brook], I wasn’t so sure what USG was,” Scharf said. “It took a lot of digging around to find out all the information that I wanted, and so I want that to be more readily accessible for everybody. I want everybody to know that they can, who they are represented by, they can run, that somebody is out there working for them. I want to make our presence greater on campus.”
Justin Ullman, a sophomore political science and economics double major running against Scharf for vice president of academic affairs, said that he would advocate to bring back the G/P/NC option for business courses and support adding the option for other courses too, including health science courses.
“The lack of a G/P/NC option is a limitation on our academic freedom especially for those looking to seek a graduate education,” Ullman said. “Getting knowledge from other majors without taking a hit to your GPA is very essential to be able to explore other disciplines.”
Ullman’s other goals include improving internet accessibility on campus and hosting financial aid and scholarship workshops for international and out-of-state students.
James Edell, a junior economics and philosophy double major minoring in political science, was the only candidate running for executive vice president present during the debate. Edell said he wants to improve student representation in the USG Senate by adding positions for the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Journalism, as well as compiling a database of contacts and resources for USG senators working to complete their projects.
Shaheer Khan, a junior political science major running for USG president, emphasized the importance of progressing the diversity and inclusivity of USG, and within Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). He said that CAPS should have staffavailable to speak to students in their native languages, whether that’s Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Korean or any other language, emphasizing that it’s a life-saving service that all students pay for.
“When you need psychological help, when you need someone to talk to, you need to be able to communicate in your language,” Khan said. “That’s very important. And that’s something that the Counseling and Psychological Services hasn’t been able to do.”
He also plans on working to maintain healthy relationships within the Executive Council and increasing voter engagement on campus. He said that, among his 13 goals, he’d like to check in with senators on their projects more often, make sure that dancers have space to practice and give students more opportunities to have face-to-face interactions with USG members.
Lazaro Rivera, a junior psychology and English double major also running for USG president, wants to put in a transitory system for senators coming in and out of USG. He brought up the database that Edell mentioned earlier, saying that this way, future senators won’t have to start their projects from scratch. He also mentioned having retreats to promote USG cooperation and initiating more sustainability initiatives.
“One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of senators and EC [Executive Council] members, they start these wonderful projects, but they, unfortunately, do not get the opportunity to finish them because they’re only in USG for a semester or a year, or they don’t run again and then they graduate, which is understandable,” Rivera said. “But I want to put in place a transition reporting system, where all senators would — and this takes me back to what James Edell was talking about — creating a database, having a record of every step of the way and everyone’s senator projects so that future senators, when they come into the position, they don’t have to start from scratch.”
Four of the 12 candidates couldn’t make it to the debate due to academic obligations.
Students can cast their ballots on SOLAR starting Monday, April 1 at 12 p.m. Voting will end Friday, April 5, at 12 p.m.