The three candidates for president of the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly debated topics ranging from sustainability to sexuality in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium, Sunday.
The debate, moderated by government professor Clay Clemens, consisted of prepared questions submitted by each campaign, followed by questions taken from audience members.
Presidential candidate Sen. Ben Brown ’11 and vice presidential candidate Sen. Betty Jeanne Manning ’12 began the debate by highlighting their sustainability efforts, including a campus-wide recycling program and the possibility of a communal bicycle program.
“Our ticket is the only ticket that has been able to work with other organizations for sustainability,” Brown said.
In response, presidential candidate Jessee Vasold ’11 and vice presidential candidate Caitlin Goldblatt ’11 said their sustainability platform had been crafted with the input of members of the Student Environmental Action Coalition. Vasold said the campaign’s goals included phasing out blue books for exams and ending daily purchase of copies of the New York Times and Virginia Gazette.
Presidential candidate Chrissy Scott ’11 and vice presidential candidate Kaveh Sadeghian ’12 said they would continue the College’s current sustainability efforts.
“When it comes down to sustainability, I think we’re seeing a lot of initiatives already taking place on campus,” Scott said. “I think [the Committee on Sustainability] has been very successful in its funding of initiatives on campus.”
The candidates then discussed the ideal role of the SA.
Vasold said the SA should take an active role in College issues.
“We think that the [SA] is, by definition, an activist organization,” Vasold said. “Not a left-wing organization, but one that takes student input into consideration.”
Scott said that to be truly effective, the SA must increase transparency.
“We want students to be aware of what the SA is doing,” she said. “We want to be as accessible as possible.”
While the candidates agreed students at the College should have more input in SA decisions, they disagreed on the value of prior SA experience.
Brown and Manning said their time in the senate has given them the chance to affect student health and safety issues, including “know your rights” cards and potential alterations to the College’s medical amnesty policy. Collectively, the two have five years of experience in the SA.
Vasold also touted previous SA experience.
“As the only presidential candidate with extensive experience with the executive branch of the SA, I’ve worked with two SA presidents as undersecretary of LGBT affairs,” Vasold said.
Scott and Sadeghian said activity within the College also provides insight. Their SA experience is Scott’s tenure as treasurer for the Class of 2011.
“My involvement with the SA has been minimal, but my involvement on campus has been strong,” Sadeghian said.
Addressing criticisms about the distribution of SA funds, the candidates also described plans for financial reform within the senate.
“What the SA really needs is an attitude shift,” Vasold said. “I know what it’s like to be denied funding. We need to get past the petty nit-picking of funding events that we like.”
Scott said the SA should be more active in the promotion of new events and groups.
“New events just get zero [funding] right away,” Scott said. “If a group wants to hold a new event, we want to know the details and what they want to do, so they don’t automatically get zero.”
The candidates also addressed how their own sexuality would affect their campaigns.
“Sexuality is something that I think affects all of us at a personal level,” Brown said. “As far as my sexuality affecting my candidacy, I would never let my personal sexual preferences affect a policy decision.”
Vasold said that his involvement in the LGBT community influences the campaign.
“As a queer [identified] student, my sexuality has allowed me to work with different groups and organizations on campus,” Vasold said.
Scott said she did not have the same insights into sexuality as other candidates, but that the SA has made efforts to improve connections to diversity at the College.
“As a straight woman, I understand that I’m in a privileged position and that I don’t understand all the issues,” she said. “But that’s what great about exec — that we have an undersecretary of LGBT affairs.”
The debate ended with closing statements from each campaign.
Vasold encouraged students to vote, regardless of who they ultimately choose.
“Your voice is echoed through these decisions and elections,” Vasold said. “Caitlin and I have experience in the SA. We can get the job done.”
Scott reiterated her desire to make the SA a more inclusive body.
“We want the SA to be representative of the school,” Scott said. “I want the SA to embody the students at William and Mary.”
Brown and Manning said their history in the SA made them the better choice for president and vice president.
“Experience and hard work are two different things,” Manning said. “Ben and I are the only ticket to have worked on all the issues that were brought up.”
SA elections are scheduled to take place March 31.