Debates reveal candidates’ strengths and weaknesses
Student Body President and Vice President Debates
Last Monday, candidates running for student body president and student body vice president met with their opponents at a debate held by The Tartan and the Elections Board. The first pair of nominees consisted of Jake Flittner and Sangita Sharma, a junior dual mechanical engineering and public policy major and a sophomore dual materials science and biomedical engineering major, respectively. The second pair of nominees consisted of Turi Alcoser and Kelsey Briggs, both junior dual materials science and biomedical engineering majors.
Voting opened last Saturday and runs until tomorrow, April 5.
Although both groups of candidates agree on many issues, such as increasing communication with the student body, improving transportation services around campus and Pittsburgh, and working with the Graduate Student Association (GSA), the debates revealed the pragmatic versus idealistic differences between the two tickets.
With three years of experience as a CIT student senator, Flittner talked in terms of practicality and details, sharing stories about his past projects as well as explaining future programs he hopes to implement if elected.
“During my years in student government, I’ve been exposed to a wide array of problems on campus. My prior roles have given me the background knowledge necessary to work on these issues,” said Flittner. “Although I’ve enjoyed my past roles, I have been limited by the responsibilities that they have entailed. By being student body president, I will have the opportunity to create the solutions and implement them to improve Carnegie Mellon.”
Likewise, Flittner’s running mate Sharma stressed her experience in various campus organizations and detailed programs to implement if elected.
“We are the best candidates, because our partnership will be the most effective at implementing initiatives,” summarized Flittner.
In contrast, Alcoser and Briggs, who have not held any positions in student government, focused more on the larger ideals that they would bring to the administration and connecting those ideals with the general student body. “Our outside involvement in things like The Tartan, being an RA, and being involved in Tri Delta and Delta Tau Delta fraternities have taught us about leadership and values, things outside of student government that hold true and should hold true in student government,” said Alcoser. “We live those ideals through our platform.”
The differences between the two tickets’ approaches became most apparent when they were debating issues that they agreed upon, but for slightly different reasons. For example, one audience member posed to both candidates, “Why should graduate students care about undergraduate student government?”
While Alcoser came to the conclusion that “It’s every student’s civic responsibility to know who their leaders are,” in contrast, Flittner stated, “The best work that has been done ... was done by committees and task forces that have been led by the student body president or vice president that brought both GSA members and Student Senate members together to work on full campus initiatives.”
But while both tickets can agree that graduate students should care about the undergraduate student government, the candidates ran into disagreement over the issue of encouraging diversity.
“It sounds bad, but incentives are important to students, and we have to incentivize diversity,” Sharma said. Flittner and Sharma plan to implement a Cultural Diversity Honors program to recognize and encourage commitments to learning about other cultures. “By giving them incentives, students will feel this need to go to all different types of events throughout their four years here, so that by the time they graduate, we will award them with a stole and a certificate,” said Sharma.
“Our ideas follow the principle that meaningful engagement with cultural organizations is key to increasing diversity,” said Alcoser. “It’s not about going to events and it’s not about getting a point. It’s not about getting a certificate of honor. It’s something that you should find honor in within yourself.”
Student Body Vice President for Organizations and Finance Debates
Candidate My Le, a junior business administration major, ran uncontested for the position of student body vice president for finance. Her main platform consists of a pledge to increase collaboration between the Committee on Student Organizations (CoSO) and the Joint Funding Committee.
Candidates for student body vice president of organizations Will Zhang, a junior computer science major, and Varun Deshpande, a sophomore in the Mellon College of Science, met the following day to debate.
Although both candidates agreed on several issues, such as the need for more interaction between student organizations and representatives on CoSO, Zhang and Desphande differ in terms of experience and on the issue of space management.
Zhang described himself as the most qualified and experienced candidate for the job. “My wide range of experience in student government allows me to understand the system, its workings, and its limitations,” said Zhang, who, in addition to his three years as a Student Senator, has also taken leadership roles in a variety of student organizations, including the Association for Computing Machinery, Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, and the All University Orchestra.
“My active roles in these organizations have allowed me to experience what it’s like to run an organization and the problems student leaders face.”
Desphande took a different approach from his opponent, driving forward the issues and his platform, but also being candid about his own personal shortcomings.
“I’ve been involved in the whole gambit of student organizations, including — well, to be honest, my involvement [during] sophomore year has been a little more withdrawn. Let’s just call it the ‘sophomore slump,’ ” joked Deshpande, who, like Zhang, also has experience in student government and has taken leadership roles in a variety of student organizations, including the International Student Union and Deewane, the university South Asian a cappella troupe.
“It’s been a little more withdrawn, but I believe my involvement in all kinds of organizations ... has really given me an overarching view of the way organizations function and what they need.”
However, when asked the question of what made him the best candidate, Deshpande positioned himself against Zhang on the issue of space management.
“My initiatives take into account one thing that his don’t, which is space management,” Deshpande said. “With the limited amount of space on campus, while there is only so much you can do ... I can advocate for student organizations to have more space in the campus master plan.”
With plans to increase student organization real estate factored into his platform, Deshpande took a more lenient approach than Zhang did on the formation of new student organizations.
“CoSO should recognize new organizations so long as there’s not a complete overlap with another organization’s mission statement,” argued Desphande. “Let an organization find out whether they can be success or a failure all on their own.”
Zhang argued that with so many student organizations competing for limited space on campus, new organizations should only be recognized if they offer something unique.
“I am a realist, and we currently do have over 250 student organizations. With very limited space and very limited resources, we don’t want three very similar organizations,” Zhang said. “I want to give opportunities to everyone to be in organizations and be a part of organizations that they have a passion for, but I do have to be realistic.”