A large audience came out to hear platforms and politics from student body presidential candidates at Tuesday night’s debate – and also to have some fun.
Their laughter and cheers showed they got what they came for.
More than 100 students filled Fowler Hall to watch President France Córdova, athletics director Morgan Burke and the student government elections committee moderate the debate between the five presidential candidates.
It was hard to find a student who did not have predisposed ideas of a candidate or was affiliated with one campaign. Rows of football players and other student athletes came out to support Ishmael Aristide, a junior safety on the football team, and others donned shirts for the various campaigns. Julie Knapke, freshman in the College of Agriculture, was among the lone students who came out to simply make an educated decision when she votes.
Knapke heard a lot of things that she liked from two candidates: Joe Rust, sophomore in the College of Agriculture, and Briana Castle, junior in the School of Management. Rust, Castle and Aristide were joined on stage with Mike Pence, sophomore in the College of Technology, and Jessica Wardley, junior in the College of Liberal Arts.
The hour-and-a-half long debate covered topics such as student safety, student legal services and student access to 24-hour health care. Overarching topics were on transparency from the administration and inclusion.
Along the topic of transparency, much of the discussion was on student referendums, a core of Castle’s platform. A referendum is when the student body is asked to offer its opinion on an issue via voting. All students would be encouraged to cast their vote or opinion, so the data can be collected and referenced.
Castle spoke in favor of the referendum and brought it up as a good way to connect with students and their interests on different important issues. She said it was the most effective way to gauge the opinion of the student body.
“It’s impossible to meet with 40,000 students,” Castle said. “There is only one way to get their input, and that’s through a referendum.”
Per debate rules and format, Pence was able to offer his opinion on the
referendum issue and spoke out against it. He argued that budgetary and other forms of transparency were needed, not referendums.
“It’s impossible to get the input of 40,000 students,” Pence said. “I frankly don’t agree with this.”
Rust maintained the opinion he held as a student government senator against referendums because he does not find it to be a good representation. Rust pledged to devote one hour a week to going out and speaking with students, if elected.
“Students aren’t necessarily informed by the details,” he said. “If we want students to have a voice, let’s give them a voice.”
But referendums were not the only part of Castle’s platform that sparked discussion among all the candidates. Part of her platform includes the sale of beer at football games to students who can legally purchase alcohol.
Castle called this proposal in line with the importance her campaign places on student choice. She assured the audience that safety is their number one priority, and would be maintained under this policy.
“We believe in safety for students, not sanctions,” she said.
Aristide was quick to respond to Castle’s proposal, from the standpoint of a student-athlete. He said the athletics department would never implement the policy and went on to call it an unethical practice.
“Having beer at a football game that I play in every Saturday is an unethical practice,” Aristide said.
As the debate ended, Wardley finished with a resounding message that leveled the heated debate. In her final remarks, she was also the only candidate to compliment her fellow candidates’ performances.
“Don’t vote on popularity or who gives the best promise,” Wardley said. “Vote for what’s good for you.”
And after Knapke sat through the long debate, she left still without a decision made. Instead, it was narrowed down to two candidates – Rust and Castle – because their ideas aligned with hers.
Her final decision, however, will be made based on who gets her attention more in the final days of campaigning.
“The more things you see, the more they are trying harder to be known,” Knapke said.