UPUA Candidates Talk Third Party Campaign Support In Heated Grand Debate
Two executive tickets are vying for the UPUA presidency and vice presidency this year — Samantha Geisinger with running mate Jorge Zurita-Coronado and Katie Jordan with running mate Alex Shockley. Though previous elections featured multiple executive debates, this year the election commission hosted just one: the Grand Debate.
As Head Elections Commissioner Eric Love explained, the tickets both agreed to tackle the hard questions during the debate, not just the typical “Why did you come to Penn State?” variety. When Love said the hard questions, he really did mean the hard questions.
It was standing room only in 233 HUB as candidates gave run-of-the-mill opening statements explaining their platforms and why they decided to run. If you’re totally unfamiliar, hop on over to our spotlight profiles on Jordan and Geisinger to learn more about their respective platforms.
Love and Reilly Ebbs, another member of the Elections Commission, served as moderators for the event. Even in last year’s tumultuous election, the debate questions didn’t breach hot topics like those the commission asked Jordan/Shockley and Sammy/Jorge.
The commission started with a softball, asking Geisinger and Zurita-Coronado what experience they have equal to the experience Jordan and Shockley have as UPUA’s vice president and speaker. Geisinger was UPUA’s academic affairs committee chair and the executive director for the Association of Big Ten Students, while Zurita-Coronado was the vice chair of UPUA’s student life committee and has made other connections with administrators in his previous position as vice president for external affairs of Latino Caucus.
Things got interesting when Jordan and Shockley were asked about their stance on the Greek social moratorium. “At this point in time, I can see the reasoning behind [the decision],” Shockley said. “Do I think the execution of it was the best? No.” Jordan said the ticket would work with the stakeholders involved, including their endorsers in IFC and Panhel, to make sure everyone affected is included in the conversation.
Jordan also addressed her role in winning two additional student seats on Board of Trustees committees, saying her contributions were probably about 60 percent of the total effort. Shockley chimed in, saying Jordan was too modest and he would estimate her individual contribution at 75 percent of the total organizing effort.
In working with CCSG on initiatives, Zurita-Coronado said one of the biggest challenges for change-of-campus students is their transition to University Park, especially when housing near campus is already leased for the following year. “I think there needs to be better communications between CCSG and UPUA,” he said. “When we are working on similar initiatives, we should be creating some type of task force.” Jordan rebutted, insisting relationships between UPUA and CCSG have never been better, but Zurita-Coronado said she’d feel differently if she spoke with Commonwealth students rather than just CCSG leaders.
One of the Geisinger/Zurita-Coronado ticket’s primary claims is the current culture in UPUA is unapproachable. The Elections Commission asked Jordan and Shockley if they take any responsibility for this supposed elitism showcased within the organization.
“When we started hearing the claims that the UPUA was elitist and unapproachable, it was not only hurtful to us, but to the rest of the assembly,” Jordan said, explaining the 11th Assembly was one of the most successful years of UPUA. Jordan and Shockley explained they hope to reach out to student organizations to start a conversation about how UPUA can help them accomplish their own goals.
The Commission asked Geisinger how she would be able to form the relationships Jordan and Shockley already have in the interest of accomplishing initiatives. “If we can tell our administration that Big Ten schools are doing this and we’re not, they don’t really like that,” she said.
Presumably in light of recent white supremacist postings around campus, the Commission asked Jordan and Shockley where they draw the line between free speech and hate speech. “Every student has a right to be on this campus and a right to feel comfortable and safe on this campus,” Jordan said, explaining she feels when speech makes someone feel unsafe on our campus then it crosses the line into hate speech.
Then things got interesting. In student government elections at other universities, a conservative organization called Turning Point USA has funded campaigns of candidates who align with their values. Penn State has its own Turning Point chapter, so the Elections Commission asked the Geisinger/Zurita-Coronado ticket if they think third party organizations should be able to fund elections.
“I do very much believe if there is an organization who has interest in a student government campaign, I believe they should be able to go out on election day and campaign,” Geisinger said. “Students should not be accepting money from outside sources to pay for their campaigns.”
Geisinger said her ticket was offered money from Turning Point, but declined. It’s important to note that outside funding would not increase the ticket’s $600 campaign spending cap but there’s nothing in the Elections Code forbidding outside organizations from providing tickets with that $600.
The Commission then asked Jordan, seemingly out of nowhere, if she’s involved with Skull & Bones or if the organization contributed to her campaign. If you’re not familiar, Skull & Bones is a notorious secret society.
“I cannot answer that question,” Jordan responded. “That is extremely inappropriate.”
The Jordan/Shockley ticket declined to comment further on any questions involving Skull & Bones.
After a brief intermission, the second act of the Grand Debate featured questions from the audience submitted on slips of paper to the Elections Commission. These questions weren’t nearly as scathing as the Grand Debate’s first act, so here’s a brief overview of what the tickets discussed.
Geisinger and Zurita-Coronado confirmed their commitment to UPUA, but indicated they would maintain involvement in their other organizations. Geisinger said it’s crucial for members of UPUA’s executive ticket to be involved on campus outside of UPUA, citing student governments at other institutions as her example.
Though she criticized UPUA for being unapproachable, Geisinger said she didn’t try to work on this alleged shortcoming because the concern was expressed to her in a sort of confidentiality and it wasn’t solely her responsibility to realize or fix the issue.
Jordan explained her involvement with Penn State’s multicultural community on the Diversity Commission, the All In Programming Committee, and in organizing diversity and inclusion panels between students and the Board of Trustees. Zurita-Coronado criticized Jordan’s extensive use of “conversation” in her narrative rather than action steps, saying her platform is “more of the same.”
Again regarding Turning Point, Geisinger explained the ticket is considering an organizational endorsement from Penn State’s chapter, but took an individual endorsement from the chapter’s president (Kylie Thomas) down from her campaign website after other supporters expressed concerns. She stressed Turning Point will not influence the platform or goals of the ticket.
Geisinger and Zurita-Coronado were also asked if they’ve ever attended a full Board of Trustees meeting. Neither have attended a BoT meeting, but they weren’t concerned with the potential learning curve they could have if elected.
Closing statements, as expected, reiterated each ticket’s commitment to serving the student body.
“We don’t wake up for that 7:30 a.m. meeting for us,” Shockley said. “We want you to be able to soar beyond the clouds and reach all your highest potentials so the day after graduation you’re ready to go in the real world.”
Jordan added, “We just want to make sure that everyone in this room knows going into election day that Alex and I are wholeheartedly dedicated to bettering student life at this university.”
“Our campaign and our platform is the idea that this university can work for everybody,” Zurita-Coronado said. “We will continue to support every single student here on this campus.”
Geisinger added, “What we’re doing here is fresh and new. Jorge and I are bringing an entirely new degree to what people have seen in other UPUA elections.” She said her campaign is about taking action, not just having conversations.
Editor’s Note: We reached out to Elections Commissioner Eric Love to learn more about how questions are formed and selected for the Commission-asked section of the Grand Debate. Love was unable to speak at length Monday night, but we’ll provide additional coverage on the formation of these controversial questions as further information becomes available.