Citizens across the United States watched the presidential primaries of Super Tuesday unfold this week. Election season is in full swing at Allegheny as well, with four students currently running for president and vice president of Allegheny Student Government.
ASG held its annual Presidential/Vice Presidential Debate at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, in the Henderson Campus Center lobby. David Roach, ’21, with running mate Melanie Torres, ’21, debated against Abdi Lugundi, ’21, and his running mate Patricia Gaxiola, ’21. Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Campus Lauren Trimber, ’20, moderated the debate.
The debate began with opening statements from each candidate team. Each were given four minutes to present their arguments. Roach and Torres began due to a preceding coin toss.
Roach opened by thanking the audience members for coming to the debate and by talking about his and Torres’s experience in ASG, which they have been a part of since their first -year in multiple capacities. These include Torres being an ex-officio and a senator, and Roach being president of the class of 2021 and also Director of Communications and Press.
“(Torres) and I have gotten the chance to talk to many people over the past month about the ways that you wish Allegheny and ASG were different,” Roach said. “We will take this feedback as our guiding principle, because your voice, your representation and your passion are paramount and why we are running for your ASG president and vice president.”
Next, Roach talked about the campus being in “a time of great change,” citing the reaching of the college’s carbon neutrality goal, along with the welcoming of President Hilary Link to campus. He also discussed the multiple Title IX incidents that have occured on campus and the desire for change in that area as well.
Roach said another goal of his and Torres is to work on creating a better connection between ASG and members of the campus community.
“We want you to know that we are here to fight for you and your interests,” Roach said. “Your passion for change and reform on this campus has helped (Torres) and I to form our platform.”
Roach continued talking about future plans, including the creation of more positions on ASG cabinet to help combat the most pressing issues on campus.
“Our platform is your platform, because these are issues that affect us all,” Roach said.
Following Roach, Lugundi and Gaxiola presented their opening statements, focusing on previous leadership positions and commitment to giving a voice to those who may consider themselves unheard. Lugundi has previous experience as a co-president of the Islamic Culture Association, along with experience working with a nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh that aims to create a youth program that he then connected with Allegheny.
“As far as why I’m running for ASG president, in terms of representation, I think that is something that is very prominent and important,” Lugundi said. “Using this platform, I want to reach out to those voices and show that they have the right resources … and make sure those needs are met.”
Gaxiola continued the team’s opening statements by introducing herself as one of the co-founders and current president of Latinas on the Rise, which is in the midst of its first full year as an ASG-recognized club. Gaxiola then moved into the candidates’ platform, which focused on community relations and fixing structural barriers in that relationship.
She also cited how there have been questions about her and Lugundi’s ASG experience, saying that their previous presidential positions help to qualify them for the positions of ASG president and vice president.
“We want to focus on unity in Allegheny,” Gaxiola said. “We feel as if there is a lack of community here, and we feel as if a lot of problems stem from that as well. The goals solicited by Allegheny are something that we have been working on for a while, this is not something new.”
Additionally, Gaxiola said she and Lugundi have met with Link and discussed concerns of both students and themselves.
“Overall we want to bring community to Allegheny and have an integration of various roots,” Gaxiola said.
Following opening statements, the debate flowed into a question and answer session. While the candidates answered pre-written questions, audience members were allowed to write down their own questions on pieces of paper and pass them to the front to be read by the moderators. The candidates then took turns answering each question.
The first question focused on improving Allegheny’s involvement with the Meadville community and how each side would work on fixing that relationship.
Lugundi and Gaxiola answered first and discussed working with the Martin Luther King Jr. Mentoring Program in Meadville, along with similar programs to help bridge the gap in the relationship and work more with high school students.
Roach and Torres discussed planned cabinet positions that they would add or continue to refine, including the current director of community relations position on cabinet. They also discussed working with local businesses on things similar to student discounts to help merge the two communities, and the potential of bringing back the I Heart Meadville club.
Another question was posed regarding sustainability on campus and about Allegheny reaching its 2020 carbon neutrality goal.
“(Torres) and I were really excited this week to learn that we have achieved our carbon neutrality goal,” Roach said. “It was wonderful to see something as lofty as this goal be fulfilled, and it has been a huge milestone for our campus community with all of the work that has been done here.”
Roach added that he and Torres plan on bettering collaboration between the ASG director of environmental affairs and different sustainability clubs across campus, which would include work on the current green box system and projects like installing motion sensored lights in places where safety was also a concern.
Lugundi provided a similar answer in that he and Gaxiola also plan on working with clubs across campus.
“I think the simple answer to this is working with other clubs and organizations that have already been doing this work and bringing more prominence to them and their work, because we feel that that should be acknowledged,” Lugundi said. “(We want to) bring more prominence to them and award them for achieving that goal because that’s not something that many Allegheny students know about.”
Another question posed to the candidates was regarding the recent safety concerns across campus. Lugundi and Gaxiola discussed working on finding out ways to help first-years get over the “culture shock” that many experience when first coming to Allegheny, and working on the overall student and Office of Public Safety relationship.
Roach and Torres discussed being a part of the director of public safety search last semester and working with the new director, James Basinger, to have public safety officers be more visible to students across campus.
The candidates were then asked what they would do to help representation of all students across campus in terms of diversity.
Lugundi talked about making a consistent effort to include multicultural clubs across campus. Gaxiola referred to the team’s platform focusing on representing the voices of students who might not feel like their voice was being heard.
“We really want to bring to light the unheard voices of the Allegheny community, and something else we want to work on is the integration of ASG with other organizations who feel as if they are underrepresented,” Gaxiola said. “But this is also a two-way street, that means having those who feel underrepresented come to ASG, and as (Lugundi) mentioned before, we need to get to those uncomfortable spaces before we can get comfortable.”
Torres then brought up Roach’s and her plans for increasing diversity on cabinet.
“The first point that (Roach) and I want to make is diversity representation on cabinet,” Torres said. “I think ASG has been really working towards showing that representation through all of our positions, not just director of diversity and inclusion. … Overall, I know that in part for myself as a Latina from an immigrant family I know some of the difficulties that we face. … (Roach) and I don’t claim to know all of the problems that our groups face, or the solutions, but we are definitely here, and we don’t stand for the status quo. We are here for all of our groups.”
Later in the debate a similar question was posed, asking what each candidate would do to reach people who did not think they could normally speak up to ASG.
“Through our platform, referring to those unheard voices. … I was one of those unheard voices, and I share some of their stories of not feeling able to speak up because I didn’t think the school could do anything for me,” Lugundi said. “But just being in this position sharing this platform, I’m seeing influence on those unheard and marginalized voices.”
Roach voiced that he and Torres recognized that the current way of talking to ASG through constituent comments might seem scary to some people, and discussed working on visibility of ASG cabinet and senate, which included a planned revamp of the weekly event held by ASG, Talk About It Tuesday.
“Another way that we think we can do (Talk About It Tuesday) is to reach people where they are,” Roach said. “Going to different residence halls throughout the year and making sure we are getting into contact with people who … might not have the general knowledge of how they can get in contact with (ASG). Also another way that we could increase this would be to educate people on how ASG can help them and what ASG can do for them, whether it just be everyday things like not having options in the dining hall for you to eat. … We want to make sure your voices are heard, and not just to the student government, but to administration and even to the Board of Trustees, which we do meet with here on campus.”
Another question involved mental health resources for students on campus. Both platforms focused on increasing wellness programs across campus, and increasing mental health resources in any possible capacity.
The final question posed was why each team thought they specifically would be the best for the position of ASG president and vice president.
Roach and Torres discussed their love for Allegheny and how working on ASG has made their time at the college the best three years of their lives. Roach also said that they hope to be able to leave Allegheny a better place than it was when they arrived.
Lugundi and Gaxiola reminded the audience of their previous leadership experience and their want to represent the different unheard voices across campus. They also emphasized that their leadership would bring something different to the table, and that if audience members continued their support, they would “show (them) real action.”
The candidates then gave their closing remarks.
Roach and Torres ended first, discussing their dedication and love for ASG and what they do.
“Experienced, innovated, driven,” Torres said. “Those three words have led our campaign and represented the spirit of our years of experience and ambitions for this campus. … ASG isn’t the end all for change on campus, we recognize that. But as a government of the student body, it is a strong resource with close connections to a variety of groups and individuals on campus. As individuals we all can bring amazing changes to Allegheny. … We have established trust in each other, in our drive and our capabilities, and now we ask that you trust us. Trust us to represent you, trust us to advocate for you and join us in unifying our community together.”
Lugundi and Gaxiola finished by returning to the original culture shock that many students feel when arriving on campus, and that there is often a difference between uncomfortable and comfortable spaces for students on campus.
“Graduating from high school, I never thought I would make it to Allegheny college,” Lugundi said. “That was just one of my top shot goals. … No, it’s not always a good time, no things aren’t always fun but the different experiences and the different people around the world with different backgrounds, people who you may not agree with, who you might actually be able to sit down and have a civilized conversation with, that’s a real part of diversity. … We are very thankful and we couldn’t ask for very much more.”
ASG general elections will take place from Wednesday, March 4, to 5 p.m. on Friday, March 6. Voting is open on WebAdvisor.