SGA 2019-2020 Presidential Debate

Candidates for the 2019-2020 SGA Presidential and Vice Presidential positions gathered in the Student Center March 28 for an informative debate.

The night consist of each candidates positions on issues that have been plaguing the Marist College campus since their enrollment. Students running for SGA administration include Pamela Armas ‘20 and her Vice President Louis Higuera ‘20; Joseph Sarci ‘20 and his Vice President Roda Mohamed ‘21; and Mark Palmer ‘20 and his Vice President John Sasso ‘20.

Dr. Elizabeth Kaknes and Tara Guaimano ‘20 co-moderated the event.

Dr. Kaknes is a Professor of Political Science at Marist. She has a B.A. from the University of Mary Washington, an M.A. from the University of Virginia, and she holds a PhD in Comparative Politics from the University of Virginia.

Guaimano is a junior studying Political Science and will be the Editor-in-Chief of the Marist Circle for the 2019-2020 academic year.  

SGA hosted the Muslim Student Association as guests of honor for the debate, and honored those who died in the Christchurch Mosque shootings in New Zealand on March 15. Each of the candidates, moderators, and some attendees wore white ribbons in commemoration of the 50 civilians who were killed.

Erin Eldridge ‘21, the Elections Commissioner for SGA, emphasized basic ground rules and allowances that will and will not be tolerated prior to the beginning of the debate. “There’s no rule encouraging silence during this debate, I want to make that really clear,” Eldridge said, “With that being said, absolutely zero hate will be tolerated, only good vibes in this room tonight, and if there is any heckling going on I am going to ask you to leave.”

Each candidate and their Vice Presidents were asked randomized questions that were either directed individually to them, or the entire presidential field. If all the candidates were being addressed, presidential candidate Armas with VP running mate Higuera gave their answers first, followed by presidential candidate Palmer and VP Sasso, then presidential candidate Sarci with VP Mohamed finished the dialogue.  

The questions will be focusing on the strategic plan for the school in the future, aspects about students, relationships with faculty and administration, and their vision for the next academic year.

The beginning question was directed to Armas and Higuera, with how their administration will act as the liaison between academics and clubs.

“We want to keep the idea that when I met with Ankofa starting Marist Votes, she said ‘how can we help.’ It's about not only being clubs, it’s being initiatives. How can we work with the administration to make things run as effectively as possible,” Armas said, “It’s ensuring the clubs on campus that are being made are going to be useful on campus.”

Armas outlined clubs that have recently been added to the Marist community such as STARR, Muslim Student Association, step team, and international student program. Specifically giving a shout out to the Muslim Student Association, who were the guests of the night.

Armas and Higuera are focused on working with students and faculty directly to improve the dialogue between the administration and club leaders. Not just for a club or organization initiative, but additionally for social good causes.

“It's also about getting rid of the red tape and the bureaucracy that is going on; especially for people on campus who have things that they believe in. Such as politics, or whatever it may be. It is giving them easier access to starting the clubs they want to have on campus,” Higuera said.

Palmer and Sasso were directed the next question concerning the implementation of the 2019-2023 strategic plan across campus.

“The easiest way to actually promote something, is to be quite simple, it’s to actually promote it,” Sasso said. “You talk to student activities, they do so much good, they set up this whole room,” Sasso said gesturing around the debate room. Sasso then paused allowing time for students to applaud the works of student activities.

Palmer continued by emphasizing the ideas Sasso had just laid out and continued the similar sentiment for the remainder of the question, adding the active use of social media and communication would be key to improve student involvement and education.

The following question was directed at all candidates and pertained to the priority point system that has been dominating airspace during their campaigning.

“Unfortunately the system is working for a specific type of student,” Armas said.

Armas continued to explain the broken system through a medium called Club Dash which to her is outdated and needs to be changed. “There isn’t a way to modify the system without leaving someone at a disadvantage,” Armas said.

Palmer began his time to respond with the admittance that there are weaknesses within the priority point system. “We believe that keeping priority points is the best way forward, the reason why we believe that is the solution because it promotes student engagement, and at the end of the day student engagement is not only good for the individual, but it’s also good for the school,” Palmer said.

Mohamed provided a similar sentiment to what Palmer was saying prior about increasing incentives to attract more members and participants to Marist club and community involvement.

“What it really did, it discriminated against those students who were working jobs and weren’t able to participate in clubs on campus. I felt like it was doing a huge disservice to the people that were trying to pay off their tuition,” Sarci said, “some people work two to three jobs and have student loans above $40,000 dollars, so we have to get our priorities right, and we have to make sure we’re representing everyone on campus, especially people who are trying pay off their loan.”

After all candidates presented their response to the question at hand they had time to respond to what other candidates have said and drive home the points they are trying to make Armas was able to put more emphasis on the importance of clubs on campus with the idea to create a similar campaign to the Marist Circle’s special initiative For the Record that ran last academic year — focusing on club leaders.

Palmer and Sasso doubled down on their stance pertaining to their idea for the priority point system and suggested a referendum be held regarding the flawed system.

During the last installment of responses concerning the question, Sarci specifically made remarks towards Palmer and Sasso and their “fundamental” disagreement in regards to the hybrid system that was proposed.

After two successful rounds of questions, candidates began to verge off topic into aspect that were not specifically asked in the question.

Guaimano posed a question to Sarci and Mohamed regarding disciplinary actions that have been taking place at Marist, such as drug violations and liquor violations, and how Sarci and Mohamed’s administration plan to combat underage drinking.

Trying to bridge the gap from underage drinking to a focal point of Sarci’s administration, mental health, he stated implicit bias was the way to combat it. He then transitioned away from the fundamental question at hand to the importance of increasing resources available on campus.

“We’re really focusing on expanding mental health services on campus, to meet that demand,” Sarci said, met with a round of applause from the audience.

Higuera took the lead for the next question Guaimano posed about diversity and inclusivity on campus. “I think it’s very important for us to talk about diversity training and discrimination training on campus,” Higuera said.

As the candidates and moderators moved further into the debate, there began to be confrontation about other candidates particular strategy concerning their policies. Sarci yielded his time to allow Armas and Higuera to go further in depth about creating transparency within the student government, which provides an awkward length of silence.   

“It’s putting a face to a name, who is your representative, giving those representatives a role, and then when those roles are accomplished, celebrating them for that,” Armas responded to Sarci.

The dialogue continued with Palmer signaling a question to Sarci and Mohamed, “Can you go more in depth and more in your plan, I feel like intentionally your plan is a little shallow to rely on an RA,” Palmer said.

Mohamed fielded the question and continued their discourse regarding the involvement of administration within the clubs and organizations.

Armas and Higuera, within the bounds of the question were able to directly ask a question to any of the candidates — they chose Sarci and Mohamed. “I’d like to know who you think your allies are?” Armas said. She then went to clarify a point regarding the time table of concerts and activities SPC organizes. “Who are you talking to in the administration?” Armas ended with.

“We’re talking to a lot of people,” Sarci said. Not willing to provide specific names as stated in Armas’s question, Sarci and Mohamed then briefly talked more about SPC before being cut off by the one minute time limit for the response.  

The final question was targeted to all candidates and focused around the overall goal of their administration and how they will implement such goals.

“It may be something really minute and small to start off, but starting with the SGA constitution, it’s important that we include class presidents,” Palmer said, “From there it’s cutting through bureaucracy and red tape.”

“It’s about creating a space where everyone is supported and heard and listened to,” Armas said.

Armas then went to discuss the not-so-easy subjects they plan to address and tackle on campus such as sexual assault and mental health, “in a realistic manner,” Armas said.

Armas’s VP Higuera transitioned into discussing his desire to bring on support groups and relevant positive groups into the Marist community.

Armas then began to speak on a article written by 2018-2019 Marist Circle Managing Editor Hannah Kirk titled, “Title IX Training at Marist”. To clarify, she mentioned the published date as a month ago, but correct publication date was May 16, 2018.

“How is the administration held accountable?” Mohamed said about international and inclusivity programs on campus.

That concluded the structured question segment of the debate, with a short intermission students would be able to pose their own questions to the candidates, which caused flair ups and intense dialogue.

Following the intermission, the floor was opened up to students to ask questions. Each student wrote down a question on the index card, then the card was given to the moderators to randomly choose which would be asked.

The last question of the evening, a question by Jon Ferris ‘19, “What is the weakest part of your opponents campaign/what do they need to improve and what is one aspect of your opponents platform that you want to incorporate into your own?”

As instructed, Armas gave her answer first. “Joe and Roda, the inconsistency in between your campaign, I...I don’t know. I am at a loss for words. At speech night, Starbucks and parking tickets were what was discussed and that is not what was discussed tonight.”

At this point Sarci began speaking at the same time as Armas. Dr. Kaknes then decided to allow for a reset of time for Armas, and reminded candidates to maintain silence while other candidates are speaking.

Armas continued, “Roda you are a powerhouse on this campus, and I respect you so much as a woman. I wish that your running mate did too. There are lot of things you celebrate on campus, and I wish to have seen your running mate there. I am sorry that is very aggressive, but it is true,” Armas said.

Armas then went on to speak on the positive aspects of their campaign platform, even mentioning she had wrote some of them down. While she did mention positive aspirations they outlined, she emphasized the lack of consistency with what administration individuals Sarci and Mohamed were specifically mentioning throughout their campaigning. “So, I appreciate where the conversation is going, but I wish it was consistent from the beginning to the end,” Armas said.

When the question was then directed to Palmer and Sasso, they refused to answer. “If you are going to vote for us because for what we bring to the table. I do not want to get votes for the way we put down our opponents,” Sasso said.

After being pressed by an attendee on not giving a positive critique, Palmer only said that the best thing was that each candidate has a positive agenda.

Sarci agreed with Palmer and Sasso in not responding to the particular question, and just wished for the candidates to get to know them better. Sarci says that he is deeply offended by what was said and wishes to resolve the issue behind closed doors.

Voting opens April 1 at 8:00 a.m. and will close on April 3 at 3:00 p.m. Be sure to become aware of each candidate’s agendas and ideas. It is important to be an educated voter.

The Marist Circle will release a full live recording of the debate as well as pre and post-debate interviews within the following days. Check our Twitter (@maristcircle) and website for updated reports on the SGA election.

To see previously recorded interviews with the candidates in the Marist Circle, Circle Spotlight hosted by Hannah Kirk and guest co-host Kenneth Guillaume.