At the annual Student Government Association presidential debate, presidential candidates answered questions posed by the Cross Media Council and students in attendance.
Junior Jilanne Doom moderated the debate, and posed questions to the candidates on a variety of topics, including how they would handle negative publicity, the newly instated smoking ban, how they plan to keep SGA relevant to students and how to keep students on campus on weekends and at campus events during the week.
The event, which was televised and broadcast live on Channel 21, took place between presidential candidates, juniors Stephen Bollinger and Erik Muckey, and their respective sophomore running mates, Kara Fischbach and Clay Hoffman in the Al Neuharth Media Center conference room.
Both pairs of candidates stressed the importance of promoting diversity, inclusiveness and school spirit at the University of South Dakota, but they differed on how to accomplish these goals.
Bollinger and Fischbach proposed an open standing committee for diversity in which any student could be involved, regardless of SGA involvement, but without voting power. Muckey and Hoffman responded to this proposal, stating that including non-senator students as committee members but denying them voting rights would not address the issue and proposing instead that SGA focus on changing the “culture” on campus to be more inclusive of minorities.
Bollinger stressed the importance of continued communication between SGA and other student organizations.
“Some of the most involved students on our campus with the widest breadth of knowledge about the way our campus works on a day-to-day basis are those that are involved in student organizations,” Bollinger said. “Those are the students that our student government works with on a most regular basis. By ensuring that there is continued communication with all of these student organizations and their leaders we can make sure we have a lot of ideas going through our student senators to brainstorm on these major issues.”
Muckey voiced interest in reaching out to students who might feel intimidated coming to sit in on SGA’s weekly meetings.
“We need to make (SGA) more accessible to students,” Muckey said. “That’s a cultural issue. If we want to make SGA a true representation of the students, we have to be welcoming. We have to make ourselves more attractive to them by bringing ourselves to them. Clay and I would love to table once a week, and we’d love to have other SGA senators join us. Bring ourselves downstairs and say that we want to talk to you.”
During the latter half of the debate, students were able to ask candidates questions. Senior Taylor Moore posed the question of what would need to be done culturally to begin to create a foundation for a long-lasting Division-I atmosphere at USD.
Bollinger pointed to SDSU’s strong alumni base and high turnout for football games, and suggested USD’s weak alumni base was part of the problem.
“One thing USD really doesn’t have right now is a lot of alumni coming to some of our events to show us how much bigger this institution is and what it stands for,” Bollinger said. “That’s an action step. Reaching out to our alumni base in Sioux Falls, which is huge, our alumni base in Yankton, our alumni base in Sioux City, and saying we the students need support to move forward as an institution and we need you to be a part of it so that we can make a difference for our students.”
Muckey classified the problem as one of exclusivity.
“It’s an attitude thing,” he said. “It’s something that would have to start at the grassroots with our students. It’s an effort, and it starts with us. We wish to make everyone feel welcome on this campus and make it inclusive for all people. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you come from. If we want people to be part of a really great tradition on this campus, we need to make them feel welcome.”
Moore said he was satisfied with their answers.
“This is something that has to start with the culture,” Moore agreed. “Vermillion’s culture is very ingrained and institutionalized, and we need to try to make it a Division-I culture. There’s a difference with fans at NDSU than at USD. You hear them say they love being a Bison, and generally, students aren’t proud to stand up and say they are a Coyote. We need to make the school spirit something else.”