Student Government presidential candidates said the university needs to be held accountable and listen to survivors of harassment when dealing with alleged cases of harassment at USC.
One audience question from Tuesday's debate asked presidential candidates Caden Askew, Aidan Baker, Cameron Butler and Alex Harrell about their thoughts on how the university handled the sexual harassment allegations against School of Visual Art and Design professor David Voros.
Baker, a third-year marketing student, said he should first acknowledge his “privilege as a man.”
“I'm not as close to the situation as many of the women who are on this campus are. I don't have the same fears that they do," Baker said. "But it's important that we first believe survivors, and we understand their stories and listen to them. Taking it further, we look at what's really going to serve our students best.”
Butler, a graduate IMBA student, said listening to "our sisters and friends" will help make victims feel comfortable sharing their stories. Once they do share their stories, the accused individuals should be held accountable for their actions, Butler said.
Askew, a third-year finance and economics student, said he believed the university should be “accountable” to its faculty and “take swift action” when incidents of sexual harassment occur. He also said he felt the university had done this by hiring a new Equal Opportunity Programs director.
According to Harrell, a third-year political science student, one primary role of the student body president is to listen to concerns about sexual harassment and voice those to the administration so that "nothing this sickening can ever happen again."
Student body vice presidential candidate Emily Dengler, who is running with Baker, said students should be educated about campus resources for harassment and discrimination throughout their college career so they can know their options.
"These issues are so important I think it's something that every student should know, to not have to try to look it up on the internet or ask their friends. Every student should have it ingrained in their brains how to help people," Dengler, a third-year public health student, said.
Ashlyn Osborne, the other candidate for student body vice president who is running with Askew, said her campaign aims to ensure the process for reporting harassment and discrimination is "continuously improving," and she acknowledged complaints against the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs. Osborne is a second-year marketing student.
All of the presidential candidates said they supported name changes for USC buildings whose names are connected to racist and controversial figures in South Carolina’s past.
“I make it my absolute priority to advocate for students of color and minorities in any and all circles … and that is exceptionally important when we're talking about the repeal of the Heritage Act and renaming buildings that are named after racists, and people who owned slaves,” Askew said.
Baker said he’d use the Student Government’s Legislative Action Network (LAN) to push for students to have the “autonomy” to rename buildings. The LAN works directly with the South Carolina State Legislature.
One audience question from Twitter asked Harrell about liking a Facebook page dedicated to Robert E. Lee from his account.
“I’ve had the outstanding privilege of growing up in the South Carolina public school system, and in that you learn about the South Carolina state history and their involvement in the Civil War," Harrell said. "As a naïve, 11-year-old child, I took to Facebook to understand what was going on, and personally I don’t think it’s fair to be held to a standard [as an] 11-year-old.”
Harrell un-liked the page the day of the debate.
Candidate for speaker and second-year journalism student Christian Phillips said most current senators are from the College of Arts and Sciences. He said he would like to reach out to students at different colleges and help those students run for senate.
The other speaker candidate, third-year economics student Morgianna McDevitt, said the current slate of senators running for election could be described as “diverse.”
“I think there's a lot that many different candidates have to offer, whether you are in the College of Arts and Sciences, or you're in Pharmacy or in the School of Music — your involvement on campus stretches far beyond what your major is,” McDevitt said.
In an effort to increase Student Government's transparency and accessibility to students, Phillips said he’d like to have the senate meetings live-streamed on Instagram, instead of just Facebook. He said this was the first step for reaching out to students.
McDevitt said she wants the different minority communities and groups on campus to be able to communicate with Student Government.
“We will never know what the student body wants from us if we do not reach out to them first and that is our job as elected student officials,” McDevitt said.
Students will be able to vote on a referendum to remove the position of treasurer from Student Government and replace it with a cabinet position chosen by the student body president.
Candidate for treasurer Sam Courson said he supported this referendum.
“The treasurer has very limited constitutional powers, and essentially we need to restore the one-to-one power between the senate and the president's office,” Courson, a third-year statistics and economics student, said.
Candidate for treasurer Matt Durant disagreed, citing concerns that the “advocacy role” of the office would be lost.
“I have made it very clear throughout my platform that I believe that the treasurer's office should stay. It should have that student voice, and it should have the student consent,” Durant, a third-year finance and risk management student, said.
Candidates for treasurer Jack Lind and Kate Turner said they will support whatever decision the student body makes.
Editor's note: Christian Phillips is a news writer with The Daily Gamecock. Phillips does not report on Student Government.