5 things we learned from the Herald Town Hall

WKU’s Student Government Association participated in a town hall debate in the Downing Student Union auditorium on the night of Sept. 24. Executive Vice President Garrett Edmonds is running for Student Body President against MJ Mayo, senator for Potter College of Arts and Letters. Abbey Norvell is running for Administrative Vice President alongside Edmonds.

Tonight, SGA presidential and vice presidential candidates presented their platforms and thoughts on various topics relevant to student life at WKU.

The Garrett-Abbey ticket consists of presidential candidate Garrett Edmonds, who is the current Executive Vice President of SGA, and AVP candidate Abbey Norvell, who is the current Director of Academic and Student Affairs of SGA. 

Their opponent, presidential candidate MJ Mayo, is a Senator for the Potter College of Arts and Letters. 

The Role of SGA

Edmonds spoke on the issue of actively listening to students and incorporating their ideas into campus.

“We have to continue to reach back out to those students,” Edmonds said. “To let them know that we hear them, that we value them and we respect what they have to say and we want to incorporate their ideas, not in SGA, not just in other organizations, but on campus as a whole. I think that is our primary job.” 

Mayo spoke about fuller representation and taking care of students who are sick or in need.

“I want to make sure that students who are hungry are fed and students who are ill are cared for and that students that need help and assistance are receiving,” Mayo said. “I spoke on a platform of food insecurity, diversity, inclusion and equity, and connecting students to resources that will connect them directly. I will make sure that those chambers are no longer an unwelcoming or exclusive organization.”

Barnes Campbell & The Response to COVID-19

Disagreements between candidates arose surrounding the topic of living conditions in Barnes Campbell Hall, a designated quarantine dorm, and the university’s overall response to cases of COVID-19 that have appeared on campus. 

Mayo said the quality of meals and service given to students in quarantine does not provide adequate living conditions.

“There has absolutely been misinformation on the part of the university about what’s going on in quarantine and in the quarantine dorm at Barnes,” Mayo said.

On Tuesday, Edmonds said in an SGA meeting that 234 students currently in quarantine have received a total of 1273 meals.

Mayo used these numbers to determine that on average, students receive over 5 meals during a 12-day quarantine period.

Mayo also relayed student testimony from residents at Barnes that point to sub-standard conditions.

“I also have further student testimony on […] how bathrooms were never clean, on how his room wasn’t cleaned prior to arrival, on the windows being open and trash on the floor, on how trash bags were not provided and how of some of the goods in the vending machine had expired since last November,” Mayo said.

Garrett said the university response has been more than adequate, and that students in Barnes are well cared for by faculty and administration.

“I’ve heard testimonies from multiple workers and residents in housing about how to go out of your way to make sure student’s meals are delivered and how they make sure that they’re taking orders in a timely manner,” Edmonds said.

Edmonds agreed that the university has had issues with providing for the dorm and with efforts to keep the community well informed, but said after his most recent meeting with the Board of Regents he is confident the issues have been resolved.

Budget and personnel issues

The candidates were asked about budgetary issues and their effects on WKU employees. Edmonds, who as executive vice president had served on the budget committee, said that sometimes “tough decisions have to be made.”

“I have advocated and advocated against some of those decisions, but at the end of the day, sometimes you’re outnumbered on the forums,” Edmonds said.

He said there needed to be more transparency from the budgetary executive committee with the university. 

Mayo said she wanted to reiterate what Edmonds said about transparency, and added that the lack of transparency around Bruce Kessler’s, head of the math department, dismissal mirrored what happened with Potter College Dean Larry Snyder’s controversial dismissal in the Spring 2019.

Diversity 

Both candidates were asked a series of questions regarding diversity and inclusion on campus. 

In the opening question, Edmonds said that he feels the biggest issue on campus is students not feeling represented. 

“There are a lot of students that feel as though they are not being represented, and they are not being heard on this campus,” Edmonds said. “I believe it is our job and our sole mission as student representatives to reach out to those individuals to incorporate them in an inclusive environment that promotes diversity.” 

The candidates were also asked how they think WKU can be more inclusive in light of recent protests surrounding systemic racism and police brutality. 

“I believe there truly is a problem with… racial injustice in society, and we must show these students that we care, and that we’re here to listen and value what they have to say,” Edmonds said. 

In response, Mayo said that she agreed with everything that Edmonds said. One of Mayo’s primary platforms is to promote “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

“We need to be doing better to make sure that our students feel that WKU is home, and is safe. But I also heard last night at the protest, examples of students who experience racism not only beyond this campus, but on this campus,” Mayo said.  

When asked how the candidates plan to make sure Black students feel safe and included on campus, both echoed the sentiment of actively listening to concerns that students of color are voicing. 

“As I’ve entered the dialogue with so many Black student organizations throughout the past week… we need to ask them what they want from us as well,” Mayo said. 

Both candidates listed improving diversity and inclusion on campus as a primary issue they look to address if elected. 

Scholarships

During the debate, the recent announcement by President Tim Caboni that starting with the class of 2021 incoming freshmen who are Pell Grant eligible will receive free tuition and several new scholarships for out-of-state students was a topic of discussion for the candidates. 

“We’re all struggling and the important thing is all the nagging sense of areas of finance scholarships that can help them succeed financially, so [students can] focus on their academics,” Edmonds said.

Edmonds did not specifically touch on the scholarships at WKU, but opponent Mayo mentioned the new scholarships as well as there not being an increase in tuition. 

“The announcement from WKU this past week about the Hilltopper Guarantee, I think that’s a fantastic step in the right direction as well,” Mayo said. “I know there’s several new scholarships that are available for out-of-state students, particularly the WKU Border States scholarship, which all students in surrounding Kentucky states will be able to receive in-state tuition and be eligible for and merit scholarship or Pell Grant or other financial assistance.”

Mayo mentioned the recent scholarships additions at WKU, while Edmonds mentioned his work with the Center for Financial Success.

“We work with the Center for Financial Success this last year to promote their offices to show students the opportunity to seek financial resources, but also learn how to handle their own finances properly,” Garrett Edmonds said. “To help them better themselves, we continue to expand our reach with our alpha programs.”

Laurel Deppen can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @laurel_deppen.

Lily Burris can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lily_burris.

Debra Murray can be reached at [email protected] Follow Debra on Twitter @debramurrayy.

Michael Collins can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mjcollinsnews.

Jacob Latimer can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jacoblatimer_.