by Sammy Smith
Student Government Association (SGA) election season is among us. With the Ignite and the Rise campaigns trying to earn votes, both campaigns debated Wednesday night in the UGA Chapel. Breaking down section-by-section, we’ll take a look at who won Wednesday’s debate.
On Healthcare Access
Mental wellness was the focal point of this phase of the debate. With the main question surrounding mental wellness being healthcare access, it was the Rise campaign that dominated this stage of the debate. Rise vice presidential candidate Ripken Gorman outlined a strategy that involved lobbying the Board of Regents and state legislatures for funding specifically for mental healthcare.
When asked about improving UGA’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Rise’s candidate for treasurer, Brooke Carter, spoke about the difficulty students have with having follow-ups after initial appointments.
Ignite presidential candidate, Cameron Keen, really struggled to outline specifics on his plan to expand access to mental healthcare, saying that he would streamline and centralize resources. Keen did, however, highlight the issues that students have with waiting for services from CAPS.
With the Rise campaign being so strong on the issue of mental health, it would have been extremely difficult for Ignite, who had problems with clarity, to overcome the strength of their opposition.
On Student Engagement
Neither campaign was particularly strong on the subject of student engagement, often echoing each other’s sentiments. Both, Rise and Ignite, spoke about wanting organizations to collaborate with each other and solve their problems together.
Rise presidential candidate, Ammishaddai Grand-Jean had a great moment where called for more efficiency with UGA organizations. While, Ignite’s vice presidential candidate, Roya Naghepour agreed with Grand-Jean and asked that SGA continue to market student organizations and facilitate conversations amongst organizations. The Ignite campaign shined when their candidate for treasurer, Kal Golde, spoke of better funding for small organizations.
When answering a question about UGA’s service to the Athens community, Grand-Jean delivered a great line, proclaiming, “There is no UGA without Athens.” However, what followed that statement was not as great. Both campaigns praised service from student organizations but largely failed to address serious questions about the disconnect between the university and the Athens community.
On External Political Stances and Involvement
This section of the debate was a bit underwhelming with both campaigns missing opportunities to take hardline stances on important political issues affecting students, staff and faculty. More specifically, the campaigns were asked about the Georgia campus carry bill and President Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders and the university’s response to both.
In response to questions about campus carry, neither campaign answered questions directly. Rather, both campaigns stressed that the voices of students needed to be heard.
Maybe the more controversial topic was President Trump’s immigration stance, which both campaigns largely failed to upset the applecart, opting to support passive emails that UGA President Jere Morehead sent to the student body, following Trump’s signing of the controversial executive order.
The opportunity to take firm control of the debate was missed by both sides, and because of that, both sides missed the mark in this section of the debate.
On Campus Safety
The issue of sexual assault on campus dominated the conversation on campus safety in this debate, and while both campaigns showed a zero tolerance approach towards sexual assault, only one of the campaigns shined throughout the discussion.
The Rise campaign strategy centered around educating students and working with UGA Police. However, it was Ignite’s Golde who stole the show. He outlined a need for a specific flowchart that victims can follow. He also spoke of a specific educational program that he would like to see implemented.
Questions surrounding student distrust of authority also presented themselves in this section. Both campaigns said that they wanted to educate students on specific programs, improve communication with police and increase police transparency. Grand-Jean even outlined specific programs that Athens and UGA Police departments have come out to speak with students.
Discrimination in downtown Athens has long been a problem, and both campaigns addressed that fact. Golde said that the Ignite campaign has been in communication with the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement about stopping downtown discrimination. While Grand-Jean said that Rise would work with organizations like the UGA NAACP, who are already working towards stopping downtown discrimination.
Rarely, in debates, do you get policy specifics, and because of Golde’s performance in this section of the debate, Ignite was able to impress.
While most of the debate was pretty bland, the best moments came from the audience question section.
Throughout the entire debate, Ignite touted their experience, and in this portion of the debate, Rise finally got to respond. After proclaiming that experience is not required to be an SGA leader, Grand-Jean boasted about the diversity on the staff of his campaign, delivering another great line by saying, “If you vote for Rise, you’re voting for yourself.
Of course, questions involving the disqualification of the Redvolution campaign were asked, and while Keen spoke of accountability on behalf of the Ignite campaign, it was Grand-Jean who delivered, the most fiery part of the debate when he said that he “would not let students get hurt” again.
Perhaps the best exchange during the debate was during a question regarding affordability. Ignite, which includes affordability in their platform, spoke of wanting more transparency between students and administrators and the Board of Regents. Rise decided against promising affordability and cutting the cost of attendance. However, Rise did include efficiently, which they explained in their response to Ignite.
While both campaigns did solid jobs in this portion, debates are about moments, and the best moments came from the Grand-Jean and the Rise campaign.
Both campaigns had an up-and-down debate, being great in some spots and bad in others. Experience was really the bright spot for the Ignite campaign during the debate. In some areas, you could definitely tell that Ignite had the upper hand in SGA experience.
Unfortunately, experience doesn’t always win a debate. It was the charisma of Grand-Jean, who was as engaging as he was charming, that won the debate for the Rise campaign by the narrowest of margins.
We’ll see how the election plays out as voting opens Monday, March 20 and ends Wednesday, March 22 at 12 p.m.