GUSA presidential debate sparks heated discussion and sassy commentary

The 2014 GUSA Presidential Debate commenced Sunday night with candidates Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15), Zach Singer (SFS ’15), Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15), and Ben Weiss (COL ’15) standing behind music stands that held their prepared statements. Vox noted the candidates looked rather like a barbershop quartet, but alas the four began delivering verbal blows, rather than smooth melodies.

The debate was mediated by Election Commission Member Ethan Chess (COL ’14). With an unmistakably Canadian accent, Chess introduced the media panel members: Danny Funt (COL ’14), former Editor-in-Chief of The HoyaVoice news editor Claire Zeng (SFS ’15), and Liz Teitz (COL ’16), news director of GUTV.

In the opening statements, Lloyd humorously discussed his lack of ties to secret societies at Georgetown: “The last time I belonged to a secret society was when I came out of the closet in 2010.” On a more serious note, Lloyd said he was “frustrated by well-intentioned but misguided” efforts at student issues on campus. Tezel described Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15) and himself as a “team with a results-driven approach,” capable of executing their extensive platform.

Singer, in his opening statement, challenged Tezel’s lengthy platform and policy focus: “There are two kinds of GUSA candidates, those who define change as a laundry list of policy items and those who define change as a vision.” Singer described his campaign’s vision as “an active, not reactive GUSA.” Weiss expressed his commitment to the individuals at Georgetown: “GUSA should not be this institution that says come join us. It’s about GUSA working for these students.”

Media outlets and Chess led the first few questions until enough audience questions came in over Twitter.

Do you believe the use of a GUSA referendum to protest against the satellite campus was appropriate?

Singer held that it “changed the course of the satellite campus” but lost GUSA some credibility. Weiss called a referendum a “nuclear option” that should not be used arbitrarily lest it lose all value, but nonetheless gained GUSA credibility. Tezel recalled being a “team player” for GUSA and ran with the referendum, but worried that GUSA’s relationship with the administration was possibly “strained or harmed.” Lloyd quipped, “Nuclear option. Please don’t say that word…” He supported the referendum for the satellite campus as means to get things done.

Identify the main reason for a student-administration disconnect and what you would do to solve it. 

Weiss spoke to a short term approach as solution: “You can’t solve all the issues of the University in one year. Do what the students want, not what the president and vice president decided.” Lloyd held that demonstrations of the student body, like a referendum, shows the administration that “it’s not just people on GUSA… but it’s really the student body united behind something.” Tezel stated good relations with the administration was the solution, saying relations should be “not just with Dr. Olson, but with Todd.” Singer spoke to GUSA’s merits as a means to bring Georgetown together, but asserted that “the disconnect will always exist.”

What’s the most overlooked issue at Georgetown? 

Lloyd said it was a lack of conversation between student leaders and the administration, citing a Black House dinner where President John DeGioia replied to a question about institutional racism at Georgetown with “I had no idea.” Tezel agreed with Lloyd, saying that he plans to “bring in the voices that understand the issue most and give them access to the administration” with his Multicultural Council. Singer spoke to the socio-economic divide on campus and his commitment to “bridging gap that most often divides us.” Weiss responded by attacking Tezel’s Multicultural Council, saying “Who am I to say to these communities ‘Congratulations, you now get to be on my diversity council?’ My place is to listen to these student leaders and see how can I help.”

Do any of you have policy disagreements with your running mates?

Weiss spoke to Sam Greco‘s (SFS ’15) initial lack of support for GU Fossil Free, due to a concern that its proposals “might the constrain the ability of the university to give scholarships.” Researching the issue, they have since agreed this is not case and are both in support. Tezel discussed his and Jikaria’s different approaches to free speech: he believes it is “access to student benefits and student organization policy that governs free speech”, while Jikaria focuses on the problem as whole. Singer pointed to the third year on-campus housing requirement, but applauded his and Dan Silkman‘s (COL ’15) thorough discussions on the issue, an approach they would use at the helm of the GUSA exec. Lloyd discussed his and Jimmy Ramirez‘s (COL ’15) disagreement over how to approach the Code of Conduct reform, especially towards underage drinking, and whether or not to formalize changes in the Code’s language.

Many of you include access to benefits reform in your platforms. Where do you see unrecognized groups like H*ya’s for Choice fitting into Georgetown’s bureaucracy? (Question asked by Abby Grace, Vice President of H*ya’s for Choice via Twitter.)

Weiss proposed that the goal should be to “maximize student rights and make sure they can do programming.” Lloyd discussed his Tier System, that “respects the University’s conscious” allowing it to withhold its name and seal, but nonetheless ensures space and funding to all student groups. Tezel once again looked to policy to solve the issue, stating that “We have to look at access to student benefits because that governs whether or not unrecognized groups can reserve OCAF space. Granting access through the GUSA Fund is not sustainable.” Disagreeing with Tezel, Singer said, “I want to make changes right now using the GUSA Fund to grant access to benefits.”

As it is sometimes hard for voters to grasp the feasibility of campaign promises, what platform proposals do you believe are outside of GUSA’s purview? 

Singer again attacked Tezel’s Multicultural Council, saying “it’s not feasible a year or two down the line.” Weiss questioned Singer’s Student Campus Plan, saying, “I would be so concerned with how much time and man-power would be used in putting together such a document with the extraordinary likelihood it will be ignored by the administration.” Lloyd backed Singer’s critique on Tezel’s Multicultural Council, as well as doubted Weiss’s ability to stop construction on New South. Tezel again criticized the idea that access to benefits reform can be accomplished with the GUSA Fund. “I don’t think this is a feasible long-term solution,” Tezel said.

What percent of your platform do you think you’ll be able to accomplish?

Weiss: 75%

Singer: 95%

Tezel: 75%

Lloyd: “How do we come up with these numbers? We will achieve the effects we want, but what happens in the long term is up to the student body.”

Photo: Ambika Ahuja/Georgetown Voice

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