The Daily Gamecock

Executive debate spotlights candidate platforms

<p>Student Government candidates addressed issues such as communication with the student body and how to unite students with the Columbia community.</p>
Student Government candidates addressed issues such as communication with the student body and how to unite students with the Columbia community.

With student body elections looming, the executive candidates all seem to agree that Student Government needs to be more actively involved with the student body and surrounding community. On how this can be achieved, they have a variety of ideas, which they presented and discussed at the executive candidates' debate on Tuesday evening.

Mayor of Columbia Steve Benjamin and former Student Body President Lindsay Richardson served as moderators.

The debate was divided by position, and within each category, the candidates were given time for opening and closing statements. Between these, Benjamin and Richardson posed questions to specific candidates, and the other candidates had the opportunity to give short rebuttals after each question.


The candidates for treasurer, third-year management science student Stinson Rogers and second-year political science student Nick Santamaria, began the debate.

Both treasurer candidates focused on streamlining the process by which student organizations can request funds. 

Santamaria said that many organizations' treasurers have not learned how to use the system, and therefore a relatively small portion of student organizations on campus utilize the funds. Much of his platform focuses on his experienced as treasurer of Mock Trial at USC, and he has seen the allocations system from both sides.

"My entire goal is to bring everyone to the table and actually figure out how we can make it easier for student organizations to do what they love," Santamaria said. "My platform is all about empowerment, and it's getting you guys your money."

Rogers recommended expanding the program to more organizations and instating a liaison between Student Government and organizations to make the process run more smoothly. He returned to school after serving in the Army. During his service, he was deployed to Korea, where he served as treasurer for Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers. In this role, he said he managed a budget of around $50,000.

Vice President

The candidates for vice president were then questioned about which issues they consider most important and how they plan to bridge the gap between Student Government and the student body.

Second-year public health student Ross Lordo's campaign revolves around three ideas: empowerment, engagement and innovation. He recognizes the disconnect between Student Government and the student body, and one way he seeks to remedy this is to make executive officers more involved with student organizations throughout the year, not only during election season.

"I think we can have all these initiatives, we can have all these programs and events, but the fact of the matter is students don't see what student government's good for," Lordo said. "They only hear from us one time a year, and I really think what we need to focus, as all three executives, on is regaining that trust and start actually interacting with students."

Second-year political science student Aaron Kirby, who admitted to being new to Student Government, seeks to represent the student body as one of them rather than as a member of Student Government. He said that there is a barrier between students and their elected representatives, and he would take down this barrier by personally seeking out students to hear their concerns and suggestions. The student senate is designed to represent the student body, and he hopes to do so in a more active role.

Second-year biology student Alexis Free-Jenkins believes strongly in support, unity and growth within the student body. One way in which she hopes to bridge the gap between students and student senators is a newsletter after the weekly student senate meetings, which would summarize what had been discussed or decided at the meeting. An issue that she feels is important on campus is mental health awareness.

"With my campaign, I really want to run a mental health awareness campaign that runs monthly," she said. ""So students know that they can go to the student health services office, and they can talk to people, whatever they need, and they know that it's okay to not be okay and it's okay to get help."


The presidential candidates were most closely and extensively questioned on issues ranging from students' perception of Student Government to how to connect students with the larger Columbia community. In addition to having as many candidates as the other two positions combined, there was a greater diversity of platforms for this position.

Third-year English student and current Student Body Vice President Lee Goble drew largely from his experience with Student Government to discuss his plans for the future. A couple of his primary concerns are to reestablish students' trust in Student Government and to continue to take an active role in advocating for their interests.

One idea that he mentioned multiple times was reinstating and expanding the Hall of Leaders, which is a group of representatives from student organizations that has the opportunity to meet with university administrators. It has been unused for several years, and reinstating it would include the addition of more multicultural student organizations.

"When we have the opportunity to outreach to organizations ... the student groups have the opportunity to directly advocate," Goble said. "They don't have to worry that Student Government's not doing it effectively. That perception is eliminated."

A responsibility of the student body president is to advocate for the student body in a meeting with the Board of Trustees, and when asked about how they will handle this responsibility, Goble reaffirmed his commitment to being a spokesperson for the student body.

"I think the most important job of a leader is remembering who he or she is the leader for," he said. "If they (the administration) want something and it's not in the best interest of the students, I'm not going to be scared to say no."

Third-year sociology student Cory Alpert discussed ideas to connect with larger companies in downtown Columbia and to foster an environment that would allow students to create change for themselves. He repeatedly stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion.

"This university deserves great leaders with a vision to see this university forward," he said. "This is a diverse and growing student body, and we gain our strength through that. We have so many opportunities on this campus."

Alpert used his experience of founding UofSC Flood Relief and the 2020 Vision diversity movement as examples of the influence that students can have on campus. He believes that this influence should apply to many different aspects of university policy.

"One thing that I think is incredibly important is making sure that students have the abilitiy to change these policies," he said. "It's about making sure this university allows for students to create changes and allows for students to change this university in ways they see fit."

Alpert believes strongly in action and service. He also said that being inclusive and expanding diversity will yield a more united campus, which will in turn allow students to reach more of their goals.

Third-year international studies student Dennzon Winley focused largely on reforming parts of campus, mentioning his 14-point plan that would restructure how Student Government operates internally. 

"This is not the year for vague campaign statements of intent," he said. "There needs to be a quota system for race and gender identities for executive cabinet and presidential appointments to ensure that no group on this campus ever says again that Student Government does not do enough to confront the race issue," he said.

He notices an ongoing racial and cultural divide on campus, and one of his ideas to fix this is to add a multiculturalism class to the Common Core requirements. He hopes to bring minority students more prominently into the conversation and to implement a "peer listening hotline" that students can call if they ever feel like they have to talk to someone.

Third-year finance student Michael Parks and third-year political science student Trey Byars both focused largely on engaging the student body to be more interactive on campus. In response to an audience question, they also both mentioned increasing the companionship felt in cabinet meetings.

In terms of connecting students to the rest of Columbia, Parks recommended partnering with locally owned businesses.

"Obviously, we have Five Points right down the street," he said.  "There's no reason that there's not more of a collaboration between USC and a lot of the groups down there ... We're a unique campus because we're in the capital city of one of the greatest states in the country. And that being said, I feel like we don't do enough with our Columbia community."

Byars believes that he would be successful at creating connections between student organizations and Student Government, and between individuals.

"I want to be known as someone who allows students to create their own Carolina community where they get the most of what's offered here," he said. "One of the things I want to do is make sure that we are actually...going and speaking to student organizations after we campaign visit."

The debate allowed candidates to discuss more in-depth aspects of their platforms. Some of the differences from one candidate to the next are subtle and come down to small discrepancies. Over the next week, candidates will be battling it out for votes, and these distinctions could end up making all the difference.