Associated Students of Portland State University hosted its annual public presidential and vice presidential debate on Tuesday, April 11. The debate began at noon inside Smith Memorial Student Union and more closely resembled a press conference rather than a debate for unopposed presidential candidate Brent Finkbeiner and vice presidential candidate Donald Thompson III.
Watch the video report by Nicolas Lee
Thompson was first to speak, opening with an acknowledgement of the indigenous space the PSU campus occupies.
“It’s important to acknowledge the space that we occupy,” Thompson said. “The campus is built on indigenous land that was taken from those peoples. They have routinely been exploited and erased. When we have conversations about what’s going to happen to our campus, it’s important to acknowledge that we continue that cycle to this day of displacement and erasure.”
Thompson said he was driven to student government through desire to be involved on campus in a more direct way and explained how it related to his own personal goals.
“The need to take control over my own sense of self, that extends from me to taking part in my community and taking control of my own destiny as a student,” Thompson said. “If you see an issue and you feel capable of contending it, then you should.”
Finkbeiner’s draw to student government came from a personal place and his service to the country.
“The same thing that inspires me to do this job today is the same thing that inspired me to join the military,” Finkbeiner explained.
“I care very deeply about all the people in this country and in this world,” Finkbeiner continued. “There is so much that we can do for each other that we don’t do.”
“One of the biggest things that I’m about is dedicating myself to others,” Finkbeiner said. “When I joined the military, I joined as a medic because my goal was not to ‘have some fun and blow some stuff up,’ it was to save lives and that’s what I did.”
Finkbeiner felt he lacked a sense of purpose after leaving the military.
“After you save a life and you see people hurting, there’s nothing more tragic than realizing there’s nothing you can do,” he said.
Ultimately, Finkbeiner ended up in ASPSU as a student leader.
Leadership through listening
If elected president, Finkbeiner said he hopes to use leadership as a tool to advocate for fixing broken systems by banding together with others to create something better.
“To put our personal selves aside as leaders, to handle other people’s pain and to listen to other people’s problems and to do everything that is in their best interest in how they describe it,” Finkbeiner said, describing his leadership goals.
Finkbeiner expressed the belief that leaders who think they have all the answers without listening to others is a form of elitism that nearly got him killed in the military.
Echoing the need for listening, Thompson expressed a desire to increase communication with diverse spaces, multicultural centers, and resource centers.
“Use those connections to know what’s going on, to hear their concerns,” Thompson explained. He then added that he desires to see “the student body engaging with those groups in the different parts of the community that they are removed from.”
Response to tuition increase
In addition to questions about their personal leadership goals, Thompson and Finkbeiner were asked about other pressing issues on the PSU campus. They expressed concern over negative effects this may have on underserved communities adding they hope to use ASPSU to support those students.
ASPSU recently looked into altering the constitution’s grades stipulation that removes ELSA scholarships for ASPSU members whose grades fall. Finkbeiner stated he has a hard time imagining most people doing ASPSU’s work for free.
Finkbeiner stated the privilege of support from military service as a key factor in his ability to maintain his grades and wondered how much more students could get done if they didn’t have to constantly lobby against tuition hikes.
Thompson described his belief in a leadership team that supports each others’ workloads, picks each other up when they are tired or need extra support to focus on studies.
Thompson and Finkbeiner are hoping to check themselves and keep open ears to criticism from their peers within ASPSU and the student body.
The two also expressed hopes to do a better job of keeping students informed about ASPSU happenings, ways to participate, and making access to ASPSU updates and information easier.