Candidates Engage In First UPUA 2015 Presidential Debate

The 2015 UPUA election moved forward last night as the four presidential tickets debated a slew of issues at the forefront of student life.

Ryan Belz, Hamsa Fayed, Emily McDonald, and Shannon Rafferty sat in front of their peers, accompanied by their respective running mates — Zach Longstreth, Dylan Sundy, Terry Ford, and Gokul Sundar. The mood felt light, as each ticket seemed to agree with each other’s plans, asking thorough questions with the hopes of gaining a better understanding of each ticket’s platform going forward.

Each ticket began the debate with opening statements, where they touched on their platforms and primary focuses. They all emphasized the importance of student engagement and making the voice of the student population heard by the university.

When asked what they thought was not accomplished by the ninth assembly, Belz noted that there are “many academic affairs-related issues that we are pursuing that still need to be seen through to their completion,” while Fayed said that “there needs to be more outreach to certain groups on campus, like minority groups and international groups.” Rafferty echoed the notion of reaching out to students more effectively while McDonald emphasized getting the foot in the door with officials in Harrisburg.

The next question tied into the idea of increasing engagement. Fayed said that she would work to “bridge the gap between UPUA and students,” and would like to create an advisory board to keep students in the loop regarding progress being made by the UPUA in addressing these issues. Belz touched on the overall strengthening and improvement of UPUA as a whole, while stating that he would work to “reach out to all student organizations, not just the big ones,” in an effort to get more students involved. McDonald emphasized the importance of roundtable meetings, while Rafferty echoed similar sentiments regarding mediums that could be used to track progress.

Candidates were asked their opinions on the most pressing issues facing students, with answers ranging from mental health awareness to the focus of getting degrees completed within four years. McDonald cited mental health awareness as “one of her biggest initiatives,” saying she wants to “put pressure on administration to create a task force to figure out exactly why these problems are occurring, and what we can do to fix them.”

Fayed’s main goal was to “make that four-year degree as functional as possible,” and having students get the most out of it as they can, becoming operational as soon as they graduate. Belz also emphasized the importance of a four-year degree, ensuring that “a degree from Penn State means the same thing now as it will in the future.” Rafferty felt quite strongly about making all voices heard, specifically from minority groups, and continued to say how issues of sexual assault and mental health awareness were both incredibly important problems facing the student population.

The final question from the moderators asked candidates what they would do to garner more respect from university entities like the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate, specifically relating to student government. Rafferty opened, stating that “one of the biggest things is getting more voices in those entities, and making sure that the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees really hear from us more often.” Belz echoed a similar sentiment, noting that he has done a substantial amount in UPUA to ensure that students’ voices were heard this year, but noted that “we’re continually meeting with these entities on a one on one basis, keeping them up to date with where we’re at.”

Among the various points discussed throughout the debate, the question regarding Greek life stood out amongst the rest. Rafferty stated that “we support the initiative to re-evaluate the Greek life system. We deserve better, and PSU women and men deserve better.” She noted that she plans to implement a 10-men plan, with the goal of educating chapter members on various issues pertaining to the student population, which they can then use to educate other members.

The candidates overall thought last night’s debate went smoothly, and that some very important issues were discussed. “I think it was a great debate, and I thought that people were talking about the issues and not biting on each other’s words,” said Fayed. “This is my first debate, and I was excited to get my voice out there.”

“I think this has been one of the most successful debates we’ve had,” said vice presidential candidate Sundar. “It just goes to show that these are four extremely qualified presidential candidates.”

The next debate will take place March 30, followed by election day on April 1.

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About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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