SA presidential platforms share similar points, but differ in delivery

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DeMarco, Vita raise the bar with well-researched action plans EMMA FORD / THE FLAT HAT

This year’s Student Assembly presidential election has raised the bar for future campaigns. Both presidential campaigns have released well-researched and relevant platforms for issues they would address if elected, laying out actionable steps for topics they plan to tackle in the coming year. 

The campaigns differ in their scope, with Class of 2021 President David DeMarco ’21 and running mate Nyla Pollard ’21 favoring a concise and readily actionable platform based upon data of student concerns. On the other hand, Class of 2020 President Kelsey Vita ’20 and her running mate Ellie Thomas ’20 are presenting a comprehensive and long-term policy plan that emphasizes communication to address issues they believe are most important based off of their extensive experiences working in SA.

There are some overarching issues that both campaigns agree are important and that they subsequently stress in their online platforms, most notably mental health and diversity. However, they clash over the level of prioritization for some issues as well as the  best approach to improving campus food, parking and Title IX.

Mental Health

Both campaigns emphasize the importance of improving and expanding mental health resources on campus. Vita and Thomas plan to push for the hiring of more therapists at the Counseling Center and the creation of a fund for students requiring off-campus care by appealing to the Parent and Family Council to allocate money. DeMarco and Pollard call for hiring new therapists using student fees, and then working to find a more sustainable solution in the future. Both campaigns agree that there should be a focus on hiring more diverse therapists.

In order to address the stress culture on campus that can exacerbate mental health issues, DeMarco and Pollard plan to advocate for a College Policy Wellness Clause, in which if a student has three or more exams over the course of one week, they would receive an automatic extension on one of them. Vita and Thomas would focus on creating a culture of wellness by working with Earl Gregg Swem Library to develop finals programming and hosting speakers on campus who destigmatize mental health. They also plan to implement programs that provide students greater access to information that would assist them in making decisions regarding their own mental health, as well as for the well-being of their friends. 

DeMarco and Vita disagree about the impact of care reports — Vita’s campaign strives to ensure that students feel in control and supported throughout the reporting process, and they plan to initiate open discussion about the necessity and impact of care reports, especially during orientation. In contrast, DeMarco’s ticket argues that care reports should be expanded to graduate schools, and that the fear and stigma around care reporting can be fixed by making the care reporting process more transparent to students. 

Both campaigns plan to continue pushing for an online appointment-booking process for the Counseling Center and developing more comprehensive mental health training for students.

Mental health is thoroughly addressed in both candidates’ platforms and there is consensus between the tickets on several points. DeMarco and Pollard’s plan is more focused and addresses concrete changes to immediately improve the lives of those affected by mental health, while Vita and Thomas emphasize changing the culture on campus and the College’s approach to mental health in a broad and inclusive manner meant to assist every student.

Diversity

Vita and Thomas’ campaign includes a broad range of initiatives that address diversity in the classroom, residence halls and administrative departments, while DeMarco and Pollard are incorporating diversity considerations into each of their five platform priorities.

Vita and Thomas said they want to advocate for a diversity committee in every academic department and increase student input in faculty hiring decisions as part of a broader initiative to hire more people of color. They also intend to push for the creation of spaces on campus for minority groups and encourage all students to attend events characterized as diverse, as well as incentivizing cross-cultural programming more broadly. While they acknowledge that Residence Life policy mandates placing students in a hall that corresponds with their gender identity, Vita and Thomas cite student reports that this might not always be the case and promise to advocate for transgender students.

In the DeMarco and Pollard campaign, diversity is woven into the main points of improved food and curtailing polarization by advocating for more cultural cuisines and speakers with unique viewpoints.

Between the two campaigns, the DeMarco and Pollard campaign has chosen not to focus as much on specific diversity policies, instead opting to pursue a more simplified platform. While this platform is based on student survey responses that show diversity is only the fifth most important priority to students, DeMarco and Pollard could work to more effectively fold diversity into their top five priorities. Conversely, Vita and Thomas have included a broad range of diversity initiatives to both change the overall culture of campus to be more welcoming and provide actionable plans to improve diversity on campus. 

Food

DeMarco and Pollard’s campaign prioritizes improving food options for students on campus, with many different avenues of action where DeMarco has already made some inroads over his past two years in SA. Vita and Thomas have taken a different approach to improving dining services, focusing more on improving dining halls for students with eating disorders and increasing access to existing food options.

DeMarco’s campaign would push for introducing new restaurant options for students on campus and work with Sodexo to improve dining hall food and add locations that would take flex and swipes. He would also advocate for juniors and seniors living on campus as well as residents of Sorority Court, Fraternity Row and Ludwell Apartments to be able to opt out of choosing a meal plan. DeMarco and Pollard emphasize the importance of continued communication with Sodexo and student feedback so effective change can be made.

Vita and Thomas would instead advocate for removing calorie counts from dining halls or imposing a QR code to help students recovering from eating disorders. They also want to improve food options for students with allergies, while simultaneously pushing for another Tribe Truck to be installed near Swem. Their emphasis is more on student advocacy within pre-existing groups, like the Student Culinary Council, in order to make student’s food preferences heard.

DeMarco and Pollard clearly have a comprehensive plan to make real change happen with food on campus, aided by DeMarco’s extensive prior experience communicating with Sodexo about changes with Tribe Trucks taking swipes and student surveys. Vita and Thomas’ plan includes actionable social and economic justice points but does not address the primary issue students on campus have with the food options available.

Title IX

The Vita and Thomas campaign deals extensively with Title IX and sexual assault prevention, and Vita said that this would be the first issue she pursues if elected. She wants to improve student training with sexual assault and have opt-in trainings for recognized student organizations. She also wants to switch the reporting software from Advocate to Callisto for Title IX reporting in order to give survivors more agency in the reporting process. Callisto has an option to create a confidential report of an assault, but the survivor can choose to wait to officially report it until they are notified that another person has named the same perpetrator. Vita and Thomas would also hold forums on Title IX and implement a Start by Believing Campaign in order to receive feedback on how current policies are working and to change the way that sexual assault is talked about on campus.

DeMarco and Pollard’s campaign platform does not explicitly reference sexual assault or Title IX. DeMarco said that is because so many organizations at the College, like Health Outreach Peer Educators and Someone You Know, are already engaged in productive work on this topic. DeMarco also said that he disagrees with Vita’s proposal to change the reporting software, arguing that holding off on reporting someone for sexual assault until they have already harmed someone else is dangerous. DeMarco added that it would be a better alternative to stop the perpetrator before they commit another crime.

The two campaigns have chosen to approach the issue of Title IX very differently. Vita believes that this is an issue SA should be actively involved in and that supporting survivors is one of the most important actions she would take on as president. This campaign clearly has put a great deal of thought into this issue and addressed it thoroughly in their policy platform, listing changes that they are ready to make. DeMarco has not officially addressed the issue in his platform because it is not listed by students as a priority based on his survey (“harassment” is listed as the issue sixth most important to students) and because he believes other student groups have already taken up this cause and are making great strides.

Parking

Parking advocacy is another point on DeMarco and Pollard’s five-pointed star of priorities. They point to student concerns with limited parking and heavy fines to shape their aims of constructing more parking garages and advocating for reducing or eliminating student ticket fines and parking pass costs. They also address the limited appeals process and propose implementing a peer advocate program for students to be walked through the process by students familiar with it.

Vita and Thomas’ campaign does not prioritize parking in the same way, opting instead to include it as a point on their public affairs and campus safety platform. They also identify creating more campus parking as a goal, and reference the possibility of more clearly labeling parking restrictions for students with passes.

While both campaigns address student concerns with limited parking and extensive fines, DeMarco and Pollard’s platform identifies this issue as a priority for them and creates more aggressive action items for their time in office. Vita and Thomas take a less assertive and detailed plan for improving parking, while still including it as a smaller issue.