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UPUA Candidates Talk Experience And Goals In First Debate

Our disclaimer regarding Onward State’s coverage of the 2016 UPUA Elections. 

The two official tickets vying for leadership of UPUA faced off in the first of two debates last night in the HUB. While there are now two write-in campaigns, only registered tickets can take part in the debate, so a small group in room 302 listened to Terry Ford/Katie Jordan and Divy Agnihotri/Megan Fleming describe and defend their platforms. The Elections Commission took care of moderating the debate which was, overall, respectful and orderly.

The first topic was diversity and inclusion, which is an important part of the Divy/Fleming platform — in their opening statement, the duo said their 35 initiatives are organized into four overarching pillars, one of which is diversity.

“UPUA has never put diversity at the forefront of its initiatives at all,” Agnihotri said. “There’s an important difference between tolerance and inclusion,” Fleming added.

Ford and Agnihotri disagreed about how to deal with diversity issues on campus. Where Agnihotri said it’s “important to notice the broad proportion of diversity,” Ford argued that an assembly won’t be able to solve the issue with broad legislation. “If we don’t have specific goals, then we won’t have specific outcomes,” Ford said. “We’re not going to make vague and outlandish policies.”

As the debate moved into how the hidden facilities fee funds should be allocated, Agnihotri and Fleming made it clear that their ticket is anxious to spend the money, but didn’t seem as clear on the fact that the fund is a one-time allocation only. Fleming apologized for misspeaking and Jordan spoke for pretty much the first time since announcing her candidacy. She and Ford want to spend the extra money on some way to keep students updated on campus-construction timelines, citing a desire for transparency.

The candidates were then given the opportunity to speak to why they are pursuing their desired positions. Jordan, who’s been in the organization since she was a freshman, believes vice president is “really the next step” for her, saying that UPUA as a whole prepared her for the role. Fleming on the other hand, new to UPUA internally, responded to the question of why she’d rather be vice president of the student body instead of her former position as Managing Editor of Onward State, saying she wants to “be a part of what UPUA is doing to make student life better.” Emily McDonald would be proud.

Agnihotri and Ford also had the opportunity to say what makes them qualified to be president, to which the former spoke on change and the latter relied on experience.

“I think I have the opportunity to make a big difference here on this campus,” Ford said. He referenced the relationships he built as vice president, citing his work with Old Main and the Board of Trustees, but noted it’s not the most important thing. “That alone doesn’t do a whole lot, but it gets the student voice out there,” Ford said.

Agnihotri argued he too has connections, but that’s not what makes the difference. “I’ve done great work,” he said. “This isn’t about titles at all, this is about improving the student life, and bettering the student life here at Penn State.” Agnihotri called on his experience on UPUA’s committees to say that seeing things from the inside shows him “all the work that still has to be done within UPUA.”

“I’m not here to make friends in Old Main,” Agnihotri said. “I’m here for the students.”

Seeing as both tickets have hefty 35-initiative platforms, the moderator asked the candidates how they will make things happen instead of just suggesting. Fleming said working with the administration is a “two-way street,” and there have been times UPUA only got half of what it wanted implemented. “I think that’s where the failure is and that’s where we can really improve,” she said.

When Ford was asked how he feels about the implication that what he worked on in the 10th Assembly was no more than a “suggestion,” he explained UPUA can’t just walk into Old Main, snap its fingers, and make things happen.

“We are an advocacy organization. We don’t have the ability to make everything happen,” Ford said. “Our outcomes have never been more tangible.”

“Everything starts with an idea,” Jordan added.

The campaigns then moved to discussing the prevalent topic of sexual assault and what they have on their platforms to address the issue. Both tickets spoke to the importance and impact of the Green Dot program, which Ford and Fleming participated in last semester. Ford and Jordan want to take existing programs, like Stand for State and “It’s On Us,” and further expand and adapt them to students while Agnihotri and Fleming want to create a new effort called “We Care.”

According to their campaign website, We Care would be a program that new students participate in during orientation and freshman seminar that teaches students bystander intervention techniques and partners with Stand for State. Ford complimented the idea of the program, but believes it’s more important to focus on one initiative.

“We have to unite our efforts behind one program, and that’s exactly what we have in the Green Dot program,” Ford said.

While Agnihotri and Fleming want to see some changes to UPUA, Ford and Jordan believe the job they are elected to do in the assembly is an important one. The tickets were asked how they would increase UPUA awareness, to which Fleming explained how disheartening it is that some students don’t even know what UPUA stands for. Divy/Fleming hope to raise awareness in student government by changing the idea that those UPUA works for are “peers” instead of “constituents” (which, if you’ve been to a UPUA meeting you know that’s a word that often gets tossed around to refer to all of you). The two want to drop the “facade” surrounding UPUA, and one of the ways they hope to do this is with an informal setting that includes pizza and open discussion where students can voice their opinions to UPUA.

Ford doesn’t think pizza will do the trick.

“I don’t think pizza nights is the best way to go about increasing the long-term relationship we have with students,” he said. Ford suggested instead building and strengthening relationships with organizations that he thinks will be more permanent. Jordan added that another important way to garner student attention and support is by doing things that students notice, like the removal of late-drop credits.

Both tickets were then given the opportunity to make closing remarks. Ford and Jordan were first to (literally) take the podium, summarizing what they had been dancing around all night.

“It is important that students know that they have a voice to represent them and we are here to do that,” Ford said.

“We’ve been running a very positive and clean campaign,” Jordan added.

In his final remarks, Agnihotri reiterated the balance he and Fleming bring to the table. “I’ve seen how work has been done in all the committees while Megan brings a great perspective by seeing what they’ve done wrong in the past,” he said. “I think this election comes out between ‘Work versus Title.’”

Fleming thinks the purpose the organization serves is an important one. “I’m not saying that UPUA has been wrong,” she said. “UPUA can do no wrong because everyone is working towards a better cause.”

The tickets will debate again next week in UPUA’s Grand Debate, which will take place Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Freeman Auditorium. We’ll have coverage on that as well as Election Day, which is the following day.

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About the Author

Lexi Shimkonis

Lexi is an editor-turned-staff writer who can often be found at either Irving's or the Phyrst (with the chances she'll have her backpack being the same). Lexi is a senior hailing from Spring City, PA (kind of) and studying Civil Engineering. Please email questions and/or pleas for an Instagram caption to [email protected], or for a more intimate bond, follow her on Twitter @lexshimko.

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