Candidates for Student Government Association president and vice president participated in a debate Thursday evening in the Oklahoma Memorial Union.
The debate allowed for a 45-minute question period for vice presidential candidates: SGA External Affairs Chair and political science sophomore Dalton Gau and electrical engineering junior Rosa SanRoman. This was followed by a 45-minute question period for presidential candidates: Mr. Black OU and vocal performance junior Justin Norris, city planning graduate student and Graduate Student Senate Academic Affairs Chair Vivek Vijay, and Black Emergency Response Team co-director and African and African American studies junior Jamelia Reed.
Vice presidential candidate Behin Sanei was absent due to illness.
Moderators Emma DeAngeli, chair of the undergraduate student congress, Jordan Miller, news managing editor of The Daily, and SGA president Adran Gibbs asked the candidates prepared questions and then crowdsourced questions from Twitter.
Norris said he felt as excited after the debate as he was before it.
“I think that we really accomplished everything that we set out to do in the debate,” Norris said. “We informed the community about our platform, we talked about a lot of the concerns that we heard throughout our campaign and just really answered questions effectively.”
Gibbs said after the debate that he believes all the candidates want the best for the student body.
“I think it’s pretty enlightening to see that each of the candidates ... did their research,” Gibbs said.“They really have a pretty decent understanding of how SGA works and what they can do to impact the student body, so I feel pretty positive coming out of (the debate).
Vijay said during the debate that he sees his ability to relate to different groups on campus as an asset for impacting the student body.
“I consider myself as a human," Vijay said during the debate. "I don’t belong to a special committee, so ... I can go with (all kinds of students), try to understand their beliefs ... and perspectives ... and deal with them.”
Reed and SanRoman said they were disappointed by the focus on the blackface incidents in the debate questions, saying other issues faced by marginalized communities were ignored. They plan to continue meeting with students to find out their needs.
“Continuing to talk to students is something we don’t plan on ever stopping,” SanRoman said. “So even if we do win this election, we still want to talk to students every day as if we were still campaigning, keeping the conversation on-going and keeping their issues at the head of our administration.”
During the debate, the presidential candidates discussed what distinguishes each of their platforms from their opponents, and each candidate focused on inclusivity and unity initiatives.
DeAngeli asks what three things the candidates would focus on. Reed says making the campus united, accessible and inclusive is her focus. Norris says diversity & inclusion and sustainability is important. Vivek says creating a compassionate, respectful and safe campus.— ari??? ari!!! (@arriifife) October 25, 2019
Vijay said he wants to create a unified campus that allows for collaboration and research-sharing across colleges, as well as establish nonviolent communication training for all students. Reed said her campaign is focused on real change for the entire OU community, and Norris said his campaign’s integrity and respect for the other candidates is what makes it unique.
During the debate, the candidates were also asked how they’d interact with those affected by the loss of funding at the American Organ Institute, how they’d engage with university administration and how they’d respond to increased racial tension after the recent on-campus racist incidents.
Norris says the cuts to the American Organ Institute hits close to home as a music major, and taking the issue to administration is important. Vijay says the program doesn't have enough funding and it's impossible to run a program without enough funding.— ari??? ari!!! (@arriifife) October 25, 2019
Norris said after a racist incident, he’d focus on helping the affected communities in any way he could and would be proactive by establishing an inclusivity officer in each Greek organization. Vijay said he’d try to handle the issue before the media covers it and talk to the students involved, and Reed said she’d encourage the affected communities to seek counseling soon after the incident and ask the administration about systematic change they can make.
Each candidate also addressed administrative changes, saying they each had connections with administrative officials and could create more. Norris and Reed added that having an ongoing conversation with administrators, even through changes, is crucial.
The vice presidential candidates discussed why they saw the position of vice president as important. Gau said he saw the flexibility of the position, as well as the potential it has to help a broad group of students, as its assets. After making an indigenous land acknowledgement, SanRoman said the position would allow her to be more accessible for all students.
After the debate, Gibbs said he was happy to see different issues being addressed from last year.
“Every year, there’s a different platform point that’s salient to the student body, so I think it was really great to hear ... It’s not the same thing every year ... and time and time again, and it also shows that perhaps we’re actually doing something about those issues to address them in real time,” Gibbs said.
SGA presidential and vice-presidential elections are on Oct. 29 and 30.
This story has been updated to correctly describe Jamelia Reed's major.