Thursday marked the first debate for candidates vying for student government positions at Portland State.
This was the first of three debates taking place before voting opens on Friday. The debate, for presidential and vice presidential candidates, followed a formal debate format, with candidates spending two hours fielding questions posed by a Student Media panel, as well as answering student submissions. The panel consisted of representatives from the Portland Spectrum, the Vanguard and KPSU.
The debate featured candidates from the three slates, or platforms, registered for the upcoming election: Take Back PSU! with Eric Noll and Rayleen McMillan; Community Rising, with Phoenix Singer and Sam Matz; and Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today, with Marcus Sis and Erica Fuller.
Questions in the debate dealt with the prioritization of academics, strategies to involve and engage nontraditional students, improving student government relationships with PSU administration, campus safety and Associated Students of PSU accountability.
The debate was mostly friendly and highlighted common positions between the three teams.
All three slates have presented platforms that address current PSU issues of campus safety, sexual assault, tuition affordability and student involvement.
“We all agree on these issues, the question is how we get it done and what do we prioritize,” said Sis in his closing statement.
While many of these main points are similar, differences do exist in certain avenues.
For instance, Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today and Community Rising both take clear stances against the arming and deputization of PSU’s Campus Public Safety Officers. “This has measurable negative outcomes for the student community,” Matz said. “As advocates for our communities, we are strongly against it.”
Take Back PSU! does not mirror this position, which Sis highlighted in his closing remarks.
“Most of us agree on these common issues—except deputization of CPSO. That was a surprise to me,” Sis said.
The Take Back PSU! strategy report states, “We do not have (and will not take) a stance on CPSO deputization until the student body, as a whole, has a clear opinion on the matter.”
“When we see a divided body, how are we supposed to pick? Which half are we supposed to choose as representatives? We need to let the students decide first,” Noll said.
When responding to a student question about opening ASPSU senate meetings to the public, both Matz and Sis were critical of ASPSU’s track record regarding student inclusion.
Matz relayed an experience he had at a meeting of ASPSU’s executive committee, where he had been invited to speak. “[When] I was actually able to speak, I was treated begrudgingly,” Matz said. “As a community member who tried presenting to ASPSU, I think ASPSU needs to step it up.”
“Even if you do get the opportunity to speak, you feel like they have some better things to do,” Sis added. “I spoke to a student after President Wiewel presented at the [April 21] senate meeting who was waiting around for over a half hour to ask a question to [Wiewel].
“They weren’t allowed to because student leaders thought that their questions were more important.”
This view was not universal.
“Nobody on this slate thinks student leader voices are more important than students,” said McMillan, ASPSU’s current director of university affairs. “That was really disheartening. [Noll] did his best to make substantial changes to the way senate runs when he became chair. It was tough to hear that.”
“When we talk about student apathy and student engagement, it’s important to share our process with students,” Noll added. “Most students don’t know how to get on our agenda.
“Points of access for student involvement are absolutely key to getting students involved.”
Campus safety and addressing sexual assault were expressed as a priority for all three platforms. “Sexual assault on campus has been a problem at PSU for years,” Fuller said.
“Sexual assault is not just a women’s issue,” McMillan
added. “Students can be trained to identify and recognize sexual assault. It will empower and engage students to recognize this as it’s happening and attack the rape culture that’s much bigger than this university.”
Singer pointed out that ending sexual assault is a major platform point in this election for Community Rising. “We think the actual policies that administration has in place are not effective. We should have mandatory orientations for all students. There’s all sorts of levels of sexual assault,” Singer said.
Candidates running for ASPSU senate and Student Fee Committee positions will participate in a debate today at 3:30 p.m. in Smith Memorial Student Union, Parkway North. A town hall debate will be held in the Multicultural Center on Thursday. Debaters will field questions from the same media panel and student submissions via Twitter using #aspsuelections.