The Daily Gamecock interviewed candidates for student body president. The candidates discussed advocating for renaming campus buildings, in-person commencement and improvements to online learning.
Caden Askew, third-year finance and economics student
Askew, who is running with vice presidential candidate Ashlyn Osborne, said his day one priority would be advocating for an in-person commencement, which Askew said current Student Body President Issy Rushton has already laid the groundwork for.
“It’s less about creating something and more about ensuring that it happens,” Askew said.
Completing the 2020 Revision, a letter of six demands for improving diversity and inclusion at USC, is another part of Askew’s platform. His campaign’s goal is to accomplish the letter’s goals by May 2022, starting with renaming buildings.
“Even if it's symbolic, even if it goes to the legislature and they vote it down, the university, taking a firm stance on the names of these buildings, I think it would go a long way,” Askew said.
In light of recent druggings in Five Points, Askew said he would work with Student Health Services to implement free blood testing for students. Askew said he believes the health center can tackle this while also doing COVID-19 testing.
Askew’s platform also covers parking, proposing the creation of Monday, Wednesday, Friday passes and Tuesday, Thursday passes, which would sell at reduced rates. Askew said this would help open up spaces on campus and offer more “optionality” to students who don’t need to be on campus every day.
As part of the financial security portion of his platform, Askew said he would spotlight scholarships that are underutilized and create a “cheat sheet” for students to access. This sheet will be available on Student Government’s social media, websites and other platforms, Askew said.
Aidan Baker, third-year marketing student
Baker said his top two priorities if he were elected student body president would be to figure out how to “bridge this gap” between student organizations and Student Government and advocate for in-person commencement.
One of the ways Baker said he hopes to connect with more student organizations is through spotlight shoutouts on Instagram and by helping them receive funding.
“It’s really about taking that a step further and helping them better themselves and continue the great work that they’re doing,” Baker, who is running with Emily Dengler on the EVOLVE campaign, said.
Additionally, Baker said he wants to reach out to student body executives at other South Carolina universities, including USC's satellite campuses and historically Black colleges and universities, to work together and form relationships.
“I think us being the flagship university of the state, we have a responsibility to create connections with these other schools and share our resources and really unite college students across the entire state of South Carolina,” Baker said.
According to Baker, the student push to rename buildings is a large aspect of efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at USC and a great starting point, but there is more to the initiative. He said if he were elected, he would “make sure that our campus is not just about diversity and inclusion to check a box but is intentional about creating spaces on campus that are inclusive.”
Baker said his campus health and safety efforts would focus on “collaboration and cooperation” between the student body, Student Government and the administration.
Cameron Butler, master of international business student
Butler is entering the election as a newcomer to Student Government. With no past Student Government experience, he said he wants to show students that their concerns do have a platform in the organization.
“I feel like, personally, my time as an engineer has taught me when you’re trying to do things, you need to have goals that are measurable, manageable and meaningful. I feel like a few things that I lay out on my platform are in that realm of things you actually can do,” Butler said.
Butler said he wants to work with the Columbia City Council to close the streets in Five Points in an effort to keep people safe from cars during the prime time hours when students go to bars.
Butler said fostering diversity starts with individuals surrounding themselves with a diverse group of people. For renaming buildings, the university’s stance on a building doesn’t have to be the end, Butler said.
“I think if everybody, regardless of what the name of the building is, etched in bronze, if everybody called it the Ford building, it's the Ford building, and that's all that matters,” Butler said.
Butler also said he’d want the university to pay for students' internet when they're taking online classes. To achieve this and other goals, he said he’d work with the administration and use his voice to speak up.
“My opinion with any political office, let it be the Student Government, a mayor, president of the United States: People listen to you, and that's the point. It's getting people to hear what you're saying. You may not directly have that power, but you have the ability to make it known,” Butler said.
Alex Harrell, third-year political science and criminal justice student
In the third semester of online learning, students have a myriad of sites they have to navigate between for their classes: Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and more. Harrell said this current system is confusing for students and, if elected, said he would make the process of streamlining online learning his top priority.
“I want to consolidate that down to make it more effective and easier for students to learn online, because COVID-19’s not going anywhere, and we’re going to be learning online for a while to come,” Harrell said. He said he would want to make Blackboard the main platform.
Harrell said he also plans to work with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs to create a presidential task force on representation on campus. This task force would serve as an advisory body on issues of representation on campus, he said.
Additionally, Harrell, who is running with student body treasurer candidate Kate Turner, said he will improve communication between Student Government and university administration regarding issues of diversity and inclusion on campus.
“I don’t think that these issues can be handled correctly if administration doesn’t know the correct problems,” Harrell said.
Regarding the renaming of campus buildings, Harrell said it would be his job as student body president to listen, but it wouldn’t be his job to “put [his] finger on the scale either way.” However, if elected, Harrell said he would advocate for repealing the Heritage Act.
Harrell has worked at the Statehouse since his freshman year and said he thinks the relationships he’s made there make him uniquely qualified to get the Heritage Act repealed. Harrell also said these relationships, along with his lobbying experience, will help him to get a student vote on the board of trustees.
Editor's note: Caden Askew is a member of the Board of Publications, which selects executive leaders in student media.