Student challenges SG candidates on minority issues
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin promised to revisit the Confederate flag issue and improve and integrate the city and university’s transportation systems during a Tuesday night speech to USC’s College Democrats.
“We’re going to have some active debates over the next year or year and a half about the battle flag,” Benjamin said of the Confederate flag that flies on the Statehouse grounds. “It’s going to be kind of fun.”
During his time at USC, Benjamin was part of the protests to take the flag off the Statehouse dome. It was moved to the Confederate Solider Monument on Gervais Street in 2000.
Benjamin moved on to outline his plans to expand, upgrade and integrate the city and USC’s transportation system.
He said he planned to replace the current buses with a fleet of electric and hybrid models equipped with Wi-Fi and security cameras. The mayor also said trolleys would be returning to USC, downtown, the Vista and Five Points.
The meeting got a little heated after third-year African American studies student Dominique Grate pointed sharp questions at Student Government vice presidential candidate John Cuenin. Sen. Cuenin visited the group to campaign and gave a brief speech that touched on SG’s connection issues with the student body.
“You said SG has a problem disconnecting,” Grate said. “You are in SG; you are the Senate pro [tempore]. Name three specific things you have done to bridge the disconnect with minority students, especially African-Americans.”
Cuenin, who has only been pro tempore for three months, replied, “I actually can’t give you anything I’ve done, but I do want to bridge that connect.”
Grate also complained about the use of the word “radical” to describe the control of USC during Reconstruction that appears on a historical placard at the top of the Horseshoe.
Benjamin said he wasn’t as offended, saying the term radical means one is seeking aggressive change.
Grate continued to list issues such as the university’s nonrecognition of black graduates’ degrees before 1947 and Carolina Dining’s special Black History Month menu.
“Are you insinuating that only black people eat soul food?” Grate asked of the menu. “It’s the perpetuation of a stereotype. They can call every Friday when they serve fried chicken ‘Soul Food Black History Friday.’”