Candidates running for Student Body President, Executive Vice President and Administrative Vice President met for a round of debate during a town hall Wednesday, hosted by the Herald.
Will Harris, Garrett Edmonds and Kenan Mujkanovic of the WGK ticket debated Asha McWilliams, Jacob McAndrews and Symone Whalin of the MMW ticket.
Harris, who is running for Student Body President with WGK, said he believed recruitment and retention efforts were some of the biggest problems on campus. As a current Spirit Master, Harris said he takes great pride in representing WKU and has seen the enrollment rates decreasing over the past several years. He added although retention rates have recently risen, the role SGA plays can be pivotal in keeping students enrolled.
“I believe that we as SGA can help aid in that facilitation through different initiatives that we have, through different scholarship opportunities that are available to all students, through organization aid that is available to all RSO’s [registered student organizations] on this campus,” he said.
McAndrews, who is running for Executive Vice President with MMW, said the biggest concern he saw facing students was fear.
“With all this concern with the CAPE [comprehensive academic program evaluation] process and what is going to be going on with students, with their degrees, with their program, with their faculty they look up to, that is the major problem facing students,” he said.
In order to better represent the student body, McWilliams, who is running for Student Body President with MMW, said her ticket will reach out to RSO that may not hear from SGA regularly and create a regular dialogue between the two groups.
“We don’t want them to feel like they have to come to us, because they may not know how, or they may be scared to” McWilliams said. “We want to be there for them throughout the year, not just in campaign season.”
Harris said one substantial way he would implement better student representation was through appointing a director of outreach and subsequent committee, a position that does not currently exist in SGA.
“This is something that would be not only doing social media and tabling, but going out in the community and going out firsthand and interacting with those students,” Harris said. “It’s something that us as an executive team would be extremely involved in too.”
If elected, McWilliams said she would work to make sure the WKU administration understood she represented the voice of students.
“All too often, people think that if they talk to someone, they have to agree with them, and they have to agree with everything they say in order to have a good a dialogue,” she said. “That’s just our political environment today. People don’t realize that debate can be respectful and it can be productive if you disagree respectfully.”
She said her ticket will stand up to the administration with students’ concerns and make their voices heard since they would be appointed to committees that would give them the power to do so.
“It’s okay to disagree, and we’re not afraid to do that if it means getting student voices forward,” McWilliams said.
Harris said that as his current position as chief of staff, he advocated for SGA to send out a joint statement against Larry Snyder’s sudden resignation as dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters.
“Believe it or not, within 45 minutes of that occurring, Provost [Terry] Ballman at the time made a phone call and scheduled an open forum to have with SGA,” he said. “Although it was limited time and limited turnaround for students, it gave them the opportunity and the platform to voice their concerns.”
Harris also cited his experience within his current executive position and the various committees with which he has served, and said he has worked to vocalize student concerns through that position.
Both tickets were asked about resolutions that have recently passed that many have deemed controversial, including the recent resolution to remove a Confederate historical marker from campus and a resolution from a few years ago demanding reparations for African-American students on campus.
Edmonds, who is running for Executive Vice President with WGK, said he never wants to see a student feel threatened or uncomfortable by something they see on campus.
“I think the important thing going forward with these matters is making sure there are productive conversations between the students writing the legislation and representing the legislation to the administration to say this is a serious concern,” Edmonds said.
Whalin, who is running for Administrative Vice President with MMW and authored the resolution to remove the Confederate marker from campus, said she understands that resolutions can be seen as a “figurehead” and a way to open dialogue.
“With my resolution, it was a way for me to gather the census of what students actually want, and are there other students besides minority students of the people that I talk to that want to see this marker come down,” she said.
Considering the lawsuit filed by former Student Body President Andi Dahmer concerning sex discrimination, both tickets said they valued an open and transparent dialogue with students.
“We want to have that inclusive environment where we’re not afraid to have that open dialogue,” Edmonds said. “If a student feels that us three are not doing something appropriate, that there’s a way to have an open dialogue about it.”
Whalin agreed with the other ticket, saying she valued all opinions “no matter what.”
“We want to have a completely transparent dialogue not only with each other but with everyone,” she said.
Assistant News Editor Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.