On Thursday, April 9, the senate debate for the upcoming student government election took place in Smith Memorial Student Union’s Parkway North.
Of the 12 candidates running for Senate, eight were able to participate in the debate: Liddy Champion, Lucero Cortez, Monty Herron, Shanae Jung, David Martinez, Luis Perez, Patrick Vroman and Angel Ware.
A student media panel asked questions. Students also had the opportunity to ask questions by submitting them to a Google document beforehand or writing them on placards distributed to audience members throughout the debate.
Candidates discussed topics such as high turnover in student government, cultural competency, tuition increase, sexual assault, food insecurity and student engagement.
Role of Student Government
“It think the role of student government is not to be an interpreter, but speak directly to what students want,” Ware said.
Martinez said that the role of student government anywhere is to represent student interests. “The student government should not be afraid to challenge administrators, not be afraid to challenge anyone when it comes to benefits to students,” he said. “I think if we want to change the society we are living in it needs to start here because we are the students, we are the future generation, and the future is in our hands.”
High Turnover in ASPSU
Cortez said that combating high turnover was a matter of creating community within the Senate, backing each other up and sharing knowledge. “I think it helps to have similar ideas and passions,” she said.
Perez, who has been a senator for three years, also said it was a matter of community building. “People have lives. Schedules change, and people get jobs,” he said. “What we can do to retain more members is to create a better sense of community in ASPSU, hold more trainings.
Vroman, who is currently a senator, said he believes lack of student engagement is the most pressing issue on campus. “We’ve had quite a few events over the term and several issues that have come up, and I felt like the word could have gotten out better, and students could have been more aware,” he said.
Vroman recently hosted a Town Hall where students were able to express their views on various issues around campus. He said he plans to have more Town Halls in the future, and hopes that more students will attend to help combat concerns at PSU.
Martinez said that ASPSU needs to increase advertising and interact with students more.
Cortez and Ware both said that increasing ASPSU’s visibility would make student government feel more accessible and increase student engagement.
Jung, who is currently a senator, said that cultural competency is a matter of being aware of the personal histories people have and the things that can trigger hurt. “[It is] being respectful of other people’s opinions and differences and accepting those [differences] and people,” she said.
Perez said he is currently involved in cultural competency initiatives at PSU, and he would like to continue the work ASPSU is doing. “For us to establish cultural competency trainings for faculty and staff and other members of our community is extremely important,” he said. “We want our students to succeed and concentrate on their academics, and not to feel hurt…The sooner we implement it, the better.”
Herron said he met with each member of the Board of Trustees during finals week to advocate against a tuition increase. He said that freezing tuition goes beyond PSU. “Where we need to get compliance is with our senators. We need to spend more time at the Capitol lobbying for student body to get the kind of money this school deserves.”
PSU currently receives less funding than University of Oregon and Oregon State University, though the student populations at all three schools are comparable in size.
Martinez said that he would like to see ASPSU mobilize and lobby for more funding from the state.
Sexual Assault Prevention
Jung said, “Awareness is a good thing to raise. A lot of people are aware of sexual assault, but are not aware of the policies that schools have, and they are not aware of ASPSU’s attempt at changing those policies and creating a safer environment. I think people need to become involved in those things and get the school’s attention.”
Vroman said that his role is to educate himself about this issue currently but that he would like to see a shift in the discourse surrounding sexual assault. “One emphasis that has to be made is we have to help people understand that you shouldn’t rape. It’s the wrong focus to say, ‘Here’s how to avoid being raped.’ I would…get more attention on the issue and share what I learned along the way.”
Champion, who is currently a senator, said sexual assault prevention is something she has tackled as a member of the University Affairs committee. “A lot of the focus goes on making sure the university is aware that it is responsible, to a certain extent, for some of the things that happen on its campus and that it is in their best interest to have a healthy, safe community and student body, and they need to provide support for students who have been assaulted,” she said.
A recent campus-wide survey, which received 5,000 responses, found that roughly 60 percent of students suffered some type of food insecurity during the last academic year.
Champion is a coordinator for the Food Pantry located in SMSU. “The Pantry is not only for people who identify as ‘food insecure.’ The Pantry is for everyone, and that is so we can maintain people’s dignity, and I feel that is an absolute priority…This is not an exclusive resource,” she said. “[Food insecurity] affects students so much more than they realize. Going forward, I would like to see more community connection, because there is so much more we can do with community partners…Having resources that can combat institutional memory loss is extremely important. As far as advertising goes, we need to talk to students and create a framework for discussion.”
Herron said that he would ultimately defer to the experts, but that he would establish relationships with local grocers if possible.
Polls open April 13 at 7 a.m.