Following the heated Student Fee Committee debate last Tuesday, candidates for the Associated Students of Portland State University senate participated in a town hall debate on Thursday.
The debate featured 13 of the 20 students running for the ASPSU senate. Students will vote to elect 15 senators in the election, which closes May 23.
Candidate representation was largely dominated by the Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today platform. One of the three senator candidates from Community Rising was in attendance.
The slate not represented at the senate debate was Take Back PSU!, whose senatorial candidate is Bobby Zaman.
Also present was independent candidate Nathan Claus. Claus is running on his own platform, Your Senator, Your Advocate.
Senate candidates fielded questions from students, as well as the Student Media panel, which has served at all three ASPSU debates. Candidates discussed issues regarding the function of the student senate, ASPSU constitutional changes, PSU’s new Board of Trustees, online classes, identity politics and campus safety.
SFC candidate Romain Bonilla asked candidates to address campus safety and the proposed arming of Campus Public Safety officers. All of the candidates who spoke on this issue openly opposed the deputization of CPSO officers.
“Every day here I talk to so many students who are concerned about their safety on campus,” said Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Greta Gibbens. “My first week [at PSU], my freshman inquiry mentor told me the buildings I shouldn’t go into, so I wouldn’t get raped,” she said. “This is an issue. I don’t think having more armed people on campus is a solution—especially when CPSO is still something so many people on campus here fear.”
“I am of the opinion that increasing the amount of guns found on campus only increases the amount of bullets to find people,” added Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Galen Russell.
Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Saad Alnuwaif echoed the points made by others and added, “I think we do need better lighting. We need more officers, we need more security … I think most people on campus don’t feel safe.”
Panelist Whitney Beyer, editor-in-chief of the Vanguard, asked students to describe what they see as the senate’s most important function.
“In my opinion, the government serves to improve the quality of life for its citizens,” said Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Gregory Elkins. “Student government is no different…Their entire role is to improve the academic quality of the school, the life on campus [and] the culture the school has,” he said. “Really, nothing else matters because those students are the ones providing student fee money to us.”
Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Patrick Vroman echoed Elkins and added, “One important function is to encourage students to be civically engaged.”
Candidates responded to a question posed to address the new PSU Board of Trustees and its perceived threat to shared governance. Many candidates expressed a lack of knowledge about the Board of Trustees.
“I actually am not as educated on this as I would like to be,” said Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Melinda Joy. “We need more advertisement for student senate; more advertisement for student forums when there is going to be any sort of student involvement with the administration, so students can have that voice.”
“When we were campaigning to get people registered to vote in classes…one of the things I emphasized was that we are gaining a Board of Trustees—and making sure the students realize that now Wiewel has a Board of Trustees as his boss. There’s a student on that board,” Russell said. “I believe education and close communications are key to ensuring the Board of Trustees is a benefit, not a detriment.”
Candidates responded to a question from Student Media panelist Theo Burke of KPSU about the increase in online classes. They were asked to comment on the place for online learning in education.
“Personally, I am not a fan of online classes,” said Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Jefferson Wiley. “I definitely prefer the in-class experience, but if it’s something certain types of students are going to be attracted to, they should be able to pursue that.”
“I would say one of the university’s main jobs is to help teach students in the way they are comfortable learning,” said Claus. “Many students are more comfortable working at home alone. I personally believe, when it comes to online courses, we should continue to offer online, in-person and hybrid classes.”
Burke asked the candidates, “Do you feel … too much attention is being paid to identity politics at ASPSU these days, and why?” Burke followed up the question by pointing out that many candidates are running on platforms that emphasize the desire to promote underrepresented student populations.
“Cultural competency is one of the most important things we have looked at in a long time,” said Community Rising candidate Luis Perez. “I have talked to people who say that teachers don’t care enough about where they come from.” Perez said that no two people are alike, adding that “this needs to be taken into account by all staff.”
“To be honest, we could do a better job at diversifying,” said Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today candidate Andrew Von Tersch. “We have people from everywhere, but I don’t think we’re all as connected as we really should be and can be.”
Voting for ASPSU student government opened May 16 and closes May 23 at 7 p.m. Students enrolled in one or more credits during spring term are eligible to vote for ASPSU candidates. Students can vote by visiting elections.aspsu.pdx.edu. For coverage of the SFC debate on Tuesday, May 13, visit psuvanguard.com.