Advocacy and involvement voiced at student government forum
A large focus at the student government candidate forums was centered on student advocacy, the desire to get more students involved in student government and campus activities and to address the needs of students across campus.
The two forums were hosted on Tuesday, April 3 and Wednesday, April 4 from 1-2 p.m. in the multi-level lounge of the Wood Center. The crowd that gathered on both days was small. Among half the attendees were members of the ASUAF senate, a testament to the lack of general student interest candidates were voicing at the forum.
There was some tension that could be felt at the forum. Current senator, Diana Ramstad was in the audience and addressed the candidates with concerns of how this tension will be resolved in the future, and what will be done to better collaborate with one another.
“What’s your plan [after election] to work properly with other senators to get things done?” asked Ramstad, directing the question toward the candidates running for senator. “Are you going to show up to commit? It takes a lot of work to do this.”
Sen. Elect Kristopher Voronin was the first to address the question.
“My plan is to be respectful to other senators; there’s no reason to be rude,” he said. “We’re all here and working together to accomplish tasks.”
Sen. Elect Lisa Gilbert expressed the importance of working as a collective.
“Everyone has their own opinion; everyone is going to have their own opinion and not agree with everyone all the time, and that’s fine as long as you remain respectful,” she said.
Sen. Elect Chiebuka Lebechi stated that everyone comes from different backgrounds.
“We should put aside our diversity and focus on the issues,” Lebechi said.
Ramstad expressed concern over the qualifications of President Elect Daniel Vaziri, pointing out that he has failed to appear to any of the senate and committee meetings in the past.
“I haven’t been to the meetings. I was on club council, but I wasn’t able to go because I started a job,” Vaziri said. He said he hadn’t been to the office much either.
“Realistically, when I was senator—I think it was for a whole two weeks.
“I tried to pass five bills, but the senate completely rejected all of them,” Vaziri continue. “The senate was working in the interest of the students, so at that time the students apparently didn’t want those bills past.”
Vaziri did not address what these bills were.
Just prior to Vaziri having been asked this question, Gilbert stressed the importance of showing up to meetings and being on time. Lebechi and Voronin each mentioned their consistent ability to attend meetings, emphasizing their willingness to work hard within the student government. President Elect Dawson Mann also stated that a failure to attend meetings “can hurt ASUAF.”
Questions were asked addressing overall character of the candidates running for office. Dawson Mann’s running mate, Vice President Elect Melissa Clark, described herself as a hard-worker and being in it for the challenge. She also recounted her ability to take on a five-person job all on her own when organizing a fair on the Kenai Peninsula.
President Elect Mann addressed a question by the forum moderator regarding his cynical demeanor in meetings being published in previous issues of The Sun Star. He pressed, that regardless of his cynicism, members of the student government still come to him for advice.
“[I am] hoping to have less cynical comments because the senate will be less deserving of them,” Mann said.
Vaziri focused on letting students know the student body will benefit from his and his running-mate, Chris Martinez, rejecting presidential pay, though he never discussed how that money will be handled or what steps will need to be taken to allow that to happen administratively or if it were, indeed, possible.
Matt Roberts stepped up from the audience and directed a concern over Vaziri and Martinez’s statements regarding their pay.
“It’s kind of dangerous to moralize salary as a president as being a talking point,” said Roberts. “You should be compensated for the work you’re actually doing. What would you do to reinstate the salary?”
Roberts continued to explain the issue with budget cuts and that often, when funds get cut, those funds don’t always come back.
“We’re not cutting the pay out,” Vaziri responded. “We’re just not going to accept the pay. […] I don’t need the money right now. That’s why I want to do this. I want to be able to give back more.”
Presidential candidates were asked whether ASUAF should remain completely student-run or if there should be more collaboration with the administration. There was a shared sentiment that student government should remain student-run, but there was also an understanding that working with the administration could be beneficial.
“ASUAF is by the students and for the students,” said Clark. “If we join forces with the university and do not remain a private entity, our vision can alter. […] It makes sense that we are in collaboration with the university just to represent the students at a better stance.”
The ability to represent the student body was an important topic among the candidates. What can be agreed upon is the need for representation of student diversity in the student government office to support this.
“It’s important to get outreach out,” said President Elect Mann. “It’s important to change our image to work to improve ASUAF so people come to us.”
Clark expressed her desires to get upper campus more involved. The sentiment of inclusivity echoed with other candidates.
“If we outreach to upper campus student more, we will also get the people who live off campus as well,” said Clark. “I believe that all of these aspects play into a better student government because we don’t just get [one] perspective. We get an overall perspective of what the students want for the university.”
“Diversity reaches back to inclusivity,” Gilbert added. “It’s really important that every student, no matter the background, whether it’s LBGT, different race, or another religion, whatever they are, they come to our school to be a part of the student body. The most important thing is that they are included.”