SGA Candidates Debate Before Elections

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SGA Candidates Debate Before Elections

Josh Defibaugh

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With the Western Illinois University Student Government Association (SGA) elections coming up, a candidate “meet and greet” and debate was held in the Heritage Room of the University Union on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

 The positions that are opening up next semester for SGA are president, vice president, senators at-large and student member to the Board of Trustees (BOT).

 For an hour the candidates pitched how they would improve the quality of student life at Western and how they would be the best in their respective positions.

 The debate, hosted by SGA Attorney General and political science major Aaron Terrile and moderated by professor Keith Boeckelman, focused on topics and issues that Western currently faces and those that could come to fruition.

 The debate started with the candidates for the position of senator at-large, which represents the student body as a whole for SGA: Mercedes Joyner, a junior communications major, Kori McElroy, a junior economics major, and Patrick Quinlan, a sophomore political science and economics major.

 “I’m really excited to potentially be a senator at large for SGA,” McElroy said. “I’m really involved with campus already. I’m in a sorority; I’m also really involved with other campus activities as well as community organizations, too. I’m very excited to potentially serve and be able to serve the student body.”

 Quinlan spoke of the budget impasse in his opening statement.

 “My platform is simple,” Quinlan said. “I just want to make sure that the budget impasse affects the university in the smallest way. Obviously it’s going to affect us all.”

 After opening statements, Boeckelman started questioning the candidates. Boeckelman asked about fostering better communication between SGA and the student population. He also asked about what the candidates thought could be improved at Western as well as what the candidates wanted to continue and improve regarding SGA.

 “I think one of the biggest things is to encourage students to get involved with SGA and let them know that SGA is a thing,” McElroy said. “Just asking students, ‘What’s important to you and what do you want to see happen?’ I think the biggest thing is just talking to people.”

 Quinlan wants to find a way to attract all students on campus to be interested in SGA.

 “I think that there’s a certain type of student attracted to the things that SGA does,” Quinlan said. “I think the best way to find those types of students is to make use of hall government.”

 Joyner highlighted the importance of communication and informing students that their voices are being heard.

 The debate then turned to the election for student member of the board of trustees. Wil Gradle, the current president of SGA, who is the only one running for this position. Gradle spoke of why he feels qualified for the position, pointing to his leadership on campus and within SGA.

 “My candidacy is really founded on the fact that I think we need a strong voice on the Board of Trustees following the footsteps of (current student member of the BOT) Michael Quigley,” Gradle said. “My candidacy is founded on the fact that I have the wealth of knowledge necessary.”

Dovilė Svirupskaitė and Garret Covington, both law enforcement and justice administration majors, are running on one ticket for president and vice president. On the other ticket is mathematics major Matthew Alwood and emergency management major Lukas Urbane for president and vice president.

Like the other opening statements, both tickets explained why they were the better ticket to lead
SGA and represent the students.

“I’m pretty relatively new to student government,” Svirupskaitė said. “It is actually my first semester. I currently sit on five councils throughout the university. I talk to students a lot. I talk to faculty and administration a lot. That’s something that I really enjoy. I’m really looking forward to possibly being elected as president.”

The opposing ticket, consisting of Alwood and Urbane, gave their opening statements, highlighting their involvement with the campus and the community.

“Currently, I’m a senator at-large. I’ve served in this position since the beginning of last year,” Alwood said. “I think all of my experience in SGA, and the fact that I’ve as a senator for two years, shows just how much I care about the university and how much I care about what happens to the students here.”

Urbane, vice president on Alwood’s ticket gave his opening statement.

“I currently serve as the College of Education and Human Services senator,” Urbane said. “What’s difficult about that job is that there are the senators at large, there are the residence halls, but there’s really no one protecting the interest of their majors within their college. I see myself as protecting the majors and kind of making decisions to make majors stronger.”

Questions for the two tickets were centralized on improving the quality of student life at Western as well as addressing current issues that SGA and the general students face
during the current budget impasse.

“As you know, the university is under severe budget pressure,” Boeckelman said. “If the administration were to approach you about prioritizing programs that were important to students, which programs would you prioritize highly and which programs would you prioritize less highly?”

“It’s difficult to make those decisions now,” Urbane said, as the question was directed at him and Alwood. “What we need to understand is that, this is currently under review by the university. It’s difficult to say which majors are better, which minors are better, it really just depends.”

Svirupskaitė responded to the question as well.

“Obviously this would be a really hard question to answer,” Svirupskaitė said. “But if the administration does their research and makes sure that students are being protected when programs are being cut then we could support the elimination of programs if there was no other option.”

The next question, directed at Svirupskaitė-Covington, focused on newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s efforts to diversify his cabinet.

“What would you do to diversify the cabinet in your administration as president?” Boeckelman asked.

“This is something that I’ve really thought a lot about recently,” Svirupskaitė said. “I think reaching out to students and inviting them to come and talk to me, if any of them need to, because I think I am very willing to work with different students on campus.”

In response, Alwood spoke of appointing students to his cabinet not by their skin color or gender, but by their merits.

“To answer the diversity question specifically, it’s very important to have a different set of beliefs among the cabinet. Just to see different opinions, that way you give people options,” Alwood said. “However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to make the cabinet 50 percent women or 50 percent ethnicity because that’s looking too much into that. We should be selecting people based on their merit only.”

Svirupskaitė rebutted by stating that diversity is more than just putting women or people of different ethnicities on the cabinet. Students from different backgrounds, whether it be Greek or athletics, need to be involved.

“This (next question) also kind of relates to the budget crisis,” Boeckelman said. “As a result of the budget issues, Western has received negative media coverage. What would you do to present a positive image in media and the larger community at Western?”

“I really think this is the biggest issue when it comes to the budget crisis because the budget is one thing,” Alwood said, “but the fact that all the negative press we’re getting right now is another huge issue.”

 Alwood noted that although there is $20 million in reductions, students are still receiving a quality and unique education.

Svirupskaitė responded by saying students have to be more informed.

“I think on this campus a lot of rumors start to happen because students don’t know what is going on with the state budget,” Svirupskaitė said.

The last question revolved around the budget issues and student enrollment.

“One thing that (SGA) is doing is writing letters, personal letters, to all of the incoming students,” Svirupskaitė said. “And also, to go along with that, something I do on my own time with the political science department is meet with Discover Western students. I feel like every time I meet them, those students, I feel like I’ve recruited them.”

“When I was actually coming to Western on a basketball scholarship,” Covington said, “I got a letter a student had written to me, and that was honestly one of the things that made me like this school. Personal letters mean a lot. They can go a long way.”

Urbane spoke of the lack of advertising for Western, describing an event Western hosted for marching bands.

“The important thing is that there was zero advertisement for Western,” Urbane said. “And what’s important is that these massive events where we have marching bands coming from all over the state, that we have recruitment here. And another thing that’s important is that we reach out to community colleges and their SGAs because many colleges also have student governments.”

During their closing statements, both teams highlighted the strengths of their campaign.

“A lot of great things were said tonight,” Urbane said. “And what is vitally important is that if you elect me as your vice president, I will work with the executive branch, with Matt (Alwood). I’ll do whatever Matt asks me to do. I’ll work with them to create a better, stronger SGA. One thing that I do is, I’m very on top of emails. I will respond within an hour. I’m extremely well up to date on what’s happening.”

“These are really uncertain times for the university, not knowing if we’ll get a budget,” Alwood continued. “But we do know we’re going to stay open, we’re going to stay here for our students and we need all of our student leaders to step up and lend their voice. It was commented that (Western has) one of the strongest student governments around. For that, everyone deserves a pat on the back. We need bold, creative ideas that haven’t been heard before and that’s just not something you’re going to get from any other candidate.”

Svirupskaitė and Covington ended by  have the students’ issues in mind.

“Something that we have to bring to the table is our diversity,” Svirupskaitė said. “We aren’t all from the same organization. We aren’t all the same. Other than that, I may not be the person who responds to an email in five minutes because I’d be out talking to students. I’m heavily involved on campus and that makes our campaign special.”

The election starts next week on Monday, April 11, and continues through the 15th. Voting is available via a student’s STARS account.